Goodbye, St. Louis: Fleeing the Ghosts of My Hometown



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Ironically, both Chicago and

Ironically, both Chicago and Milwaukee are more segregated than St. Louis. I'm from the East Coast, lived in St. Louis and Chicago before returning to Philadelphia to be near family. Chicago is far more racist than St. Louis from my experience.

Steve L. more than 1 year ago

Brilliant, brilliant writing.

Brilliant, brilliant writing. St Louis' racial problems are so entrenched that I doubt things will ever change. I left for Minneapolis in 2005. The difference is night and day. People genuinely love their neighbors in Minneapolis without regard to race or sexual orientation. I can't remember the last time I saw a conservative-oriented bumper sticker. Refreshing.

Greg Edwards more than 1 year ago

White people get arrested for

White people get arrested for failing to pay traffic tickets too. At their homes and on Sunday.

NickD more than 1 year ago

Maybe the most peculiar

Maybe the most peculiar aspect about St. Louis is its take on the narcissism of small differences. Usually citizens like to cite differences to build up their hometown, but a lot of St. Louisans seem to enjoy accentuating the negative. For instance, like Mr. McKissack, many cite Dred Scott as an example of its backwardness; not acknowledging that there was a second trial which recognized Scott's citizenship, and that it was the US Supreme Court which overturned that decision and plunged the nation into a war from which it has yet to fully recover. In matters of statistics, things are skewed in St. Louis because of its boundaries being set in 1876, but as a metropolitan area it is average. This is something that not many in the press and public seem to want to hear; that it's not just "Ferguson"--it's the entire US which must change.

Bob more than 2 years ago

Vote for Democrats in St

Vote for Democrats in St Louis and this is what you have gotten. Big government... Powerful police that enforce ridiculous laws to fleece money from the middle and lower classes (traffic violations, etc), and corruption. If you want to enact change... Stop blindly voting democrat. Make the politicians work for you. Right now all they do is use you for votes and then forget about you as soon as they are in office.

ChrisC more than 2 years ago

love you. Fred.

love you, Fred.

Tim more than 2 years ago

I am appalled !!I had NO IDEA

I am appalled !!I had NO IDEA that St. Louis had such a long-standing, continuing race problem. . . .
I knew about Dred Scott, and I've eaten at then Underground Railroad station - not restaurant in Alton, Illinois.
However, I always thought St Louis was a haven, an equal place for people of all races.

THANK you, Gloria for sharing this . . . it haunts me. It has forever changed my concept of reality. Racism is not confined to an area or a race of people. . . . It is global.

Rm more than 2 years ago

I live near Ferguson but I'm

I live near Ferguson but I'm from Iowa. I cried when I read this writing, because it doesn't matter what city, state, or county we live in the fear of "the white man" is present. We teach our children to be proud of their heritage then in the same sentence we say if ever questioned by the police DO what ever they say for fear of your life. I wish I had answers or even time left to see change but I doubt change will come in my life time.

BETTY more than 2 years ago

St. Louis did not go through

St. Louis did not go through the riots of the 60s because it was not mature enough to do so. Ferguson riots is our 1960s. We are 50 years behind everywhere else and will be until we can learn not to teach our children fear of the unknown and there must be a social hierarchy that puts others beneath you for circumstances beyond their control.

Carol more than 2 years ago

I too live in the St. Louis

I too live in the St. Louis Metro area and have been working in the northern part of STL as a social justice advocate for about 4 years now. I know the people there as well as an "outsider" can and have been "on the line" in Ferguson since it went off. I wish I could tell you it's getting better, but the truth is not a SINGLE thing has changed for Ferguson or any of the other 81 communities that surround STL. A friend in Milwaukee said I have the same problem she does, we hate it so much because we love it and believe it can do better. Keep on keeping on wherever you are at brother. We're still here.

Arianna Norris more than 2 years ago

In September I was on

In September I was on vacation, sitting on the beach in Maui, HI. wearing my Cardinals baseball cap. A man sitting near us asked out loud "are you from St. Louis?" "Yes", I replied. "How fucked up a place is that?" I'd never been more ashamed to be from St. Louis in my life. He was, of course, referring to Ferguson and the Michael Brown incident.

I didn't wear the cap again that trip.

Kevin more than 2 years ago

As a resident and girl that

As a resident and girl that grew up on Crest Ave in University City I can relate! I both love and hate my city at the same time. Excellent article.

Cheri Lynch more than 2 years ago

When is white flight not

When is white flight not white flight and when is a racist action not a racist action? When it is perpetrated by the authors family. He calls white flight and the desire to move away from high crime areas racism but he then tells us of how his family fled the high crime city for the low crime suburbs. Instead of fighting the crime along with his neighbors his family moved to the county. If the people in his narrative were white he would be calling them out as racists. but since it was his parents it was absolutely fine.
Maybe part of his antipathy towards his home town is the fact that instead of fighting for his neighborhood his family did the exact same thing that he calls people racist for.

southcity resident more than 2 years ago

I was born in St. Louis in

I was born in St. Louis in 1949 and lived in the City until a job opportunity took me to California in the early 1970's. I'm always so very grateful that I moved away. I visited often to see parents, other family and friends and usually plan a visit now each year. Your essay put into words many of the conflicting thoughts and feelings I hold about my hometown. Thank you for sharing.

Janice King Crawford more than 2 years ago

What he writes is true. I

What he writes is true. I left too for the same reasons, but returned later. St. Louis is a city that it seems like the Civil Rights movement skipped over. It has sun down neighborhoods as well as surrounding towns. I'm more than shocked that it's the epicenter for the new Civil Rights movement. This city has so much potential to be great if it wasn't for the engrained racism ahd bigotry.

Reggie more than 2 years ago

I share some of the same

I share some of the same sentiments about St. Louis. I was born and raised in St. Louis and I moved to San Francisco in 1988 because, frankly, I couldn't take the mental complacency anymore. I would come back to visit every year and a half or so and I looked forward to the visits. As excited as I was about coming to visit, I was even MORE excited about leaving. I couldn't shake the feeling of being in an environment where the populace appeared to be proud of being behind the times. After 14 years in San Francisco and another 4 and a half years in Los Angeles, I moved back to St. Louis. (I know the question: WHY? Long story) Although there has been some progress made in the areas of diversity and public transit, St, Louis is worse in some regards than it was in 1988 when I left. The mindset of many of the people is frightening. I have often thought about leaving again. I have had a degree of personal success upon my return, though. I have hosted two topical radio talk shows here and I met a wonderful lady that I have been dating for going on two years now. August 9, 2014 changed everything for me. This town is more polarized than ever and it needs healing. I want to contribute to the healing and I can't do that from afar.

Craig Riggins more than 2 years ago

And now these horrible things

And now these horrible things you experienced as a child and as a teen are happening to white people primarily because black boys are not brought into manhood by caring fathers in St. Louis or any towns in America for that matter. Well, I guess payback is the game played by today's racists. Sadly, this will not lead to better neighborhoods or friendlier neighbors. And there is absolutely no national leadership in place currently to help heal the racial divide; much room for improvement with no energy making it happen.

Buck Redstone more than 2 years ago

Mr. McKissack thank you so

Mr. McKissack thank you so much for a beautifully written essay. It just so happens I live on Maple Ave not to far from your parents old home. My mom would tell me similar stories about her childhood and it's sad that St. Louis will remain the epicenter of racial divide and we continue to build up all around it. It's the Mayors, the numerous municipalities, etc.

Melissa Quinn more than 2 years ago

I'm a white male, the son of

I'm a white male, the son of a dentist, and grew up in a mostly-white municipality in St. Louis. I was arrested by a white police officer for ONE outstanding parking ticket. And I was handcuffed. (I weighed all of 120 lbs at the time.) How does the author qualify the incident with his mother as harassment? If you have outstanding parking tickets, even 1, you have to know there are consequences to not paying it/them. I'm not knocking the article, I condemn racism, but that particular incident doesn't strike me as racist or harassment.

DJ more than 2 years ago

One more thing your piece

One more thing your piece doesn't seem to know. The top elected official of St Louis County, which is 77% white, has been Charles Dooley, a black man, for the last 11 years. He was strongly endorsed by Democrat Bob McCullugh until the election last summer when a stronger Democrat beat him in the primary. Unlike NY, Democrat McCullugh released all grand jury transcripts. Why hasn't NY? Like the Grand Jury here, Attorney General Holder found similar results. Some people get so invested in their own bad experience story, they want to make broad generalizations of large population groups that are just not accurate.

Gary Kreie more than 2 years ago

Yet St Louis City and St

Yet St Louis City and St Loius County, which is 77% white, are two of only 4 counties in Missouri that voted for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012. We cannot all be racist. Especially whites who chose to live in Ferguson when they could have lived anywhere in the metro area. We are a liberal city and county. How about a story from a liberal who moved here, loves it, and stayed because of the progressive liberal population. That is my story.

Gary Kreie more than 2 years ago

About ten years ago, we were

About ten years ago, we were newly retired New Yorkers seeking lower expenses without moving to some boring suburb or retirement community. St. Louis, with its substantial public institutions, beautiful residential architecture, and a small but growing neighborhood revival movement, seemed like a reasonable possibility, As a long-married interracial couple visiting the city, we attracted more stares than we usually do in most settings, but the stares seemed curious, not hostile.Sure, we were uneasy about Missouri's right-wing politics, but after doing some online research and visiting twice, we'd met some great people and felt pretty sure we'd find our niche.

In the end, we remained New Yorkers, and for two reasons. First, we couldn't make the move work financially; and second, the legendary heat and humidity of St. Louis summers proved a deal-breaker for my wife. Since then, more aware of the the truly bizarre character of Missouri politics, we've felt relieved that we decided against the move. But a part of us nevertheless wishes that somehow, it could have been otherwise. We love the place.

bencharif more than 2 years ago

I moved from St. Louis 6

I moved from St. Louis 6 years ago. I was a white college graduate who lived in the suburbs all his life. I grew up less than five miles away from where Michael Brown was killed. My family moved a few months after the first black family moved in to our small neighborhood. They fancy themselves kind, open-minded people and while I think in most instances they are - there are so many in St. Louis who follow the social norms of segregation and speak in generalizations about race like it isn't anything to worry about.

This mindset has allowed the city to literally collapse over the past century as the "post-racial" upper middle class continue to flee ever westward while the poorer communities inhabit what they left behind. The remnants of the poor are left to nature until they are empty lots. Parts of downtown look like a war zone from 50 years ago that never recovered.

I went home for Thanksgiving this year to one of those western suburbs where my parents now live. I made the mistake of asking over the dinner table what all the blue lights were on people's front porches. That was new. I was then told that this was a sign of solidarity with the police. Mind you, this is before the grand jury. People know absolutely nothing about this case but an unarmed kid gets killed and this neighborhood's first reaction is to broadcast to all their neighbors that they know the police were in the right. We kicked off a long argument over whether this would happen if a white kid down the street was killed by police officers. Would we see blue lights then?

And people in this town are delusional to answer yes to that question. St. Louis has a race problem and so many of the folks who have the time and resources to do something about it aren't even willing to acknowledge that it is there or that they can do anything to help.

I too have seen the good in our mutual hometown: its amazing music, free public resources, sports, that incredible farmer's market. And I miss it. I miss my friends who live there. I miss seeing my family more regularly. But I can't go back.

Behind all of those good memories are worse memories: the tired looks on the faces of the black kids bussed in from the city to our suburban school. They'd have to get up at 5 in the morning in order for the bus to pick everyone else up from all over town. Some of them wouldn't get home till 8 or 9 at night if they played sports. And at lunch time you'd see hundreds of white tables and one black one. Dozens of white hallways and one black one.

It seemed weird at the time but now some 10 years later, it's clearly one of the most screwed up things I think I've witnessed.

St. Louis did away with the bussing only a few years ago. The county still regularly fights the extension of public transportation out of fear of "crime" though it's not like we see lifted plasma screen TV's on the light rail in other cities. Really, it's all about racial quarantine (although again, people will argue otherwise) because of a belief system based on upbringing and experience revolving around two distinct racial cultures.

And I know there are exceptions to the rule. I've seen them. But it can't override that bad taste in my mouth.

I can't even imagine what your family has been through. I can't imagine what the people of Ferguson, Hazelwood, Blackjack, North St. Louis - what any of those folks have been though. Because for the first part of my life it was all hidden. But at a certain point the problems can't be ignored. And once you see them, you can never stop seeing them.

Felix more than 2 years ago

I admire this and can

I admire this and can understand your story and feelings. However, when you said St. Louis doesn't need you; you were wrong. We do need you. Confront your ghost and help your hometown move forward. Perhaps you already have in writing this. But please, please don't write us off.

Bwn more than 2 years ago

For what it is worth, check

For what it is worth, check out this timeline for Protester Progress.
Change is coming and it is good.

Barbi Click more than 2 years ago

It's interesting that the

It's interesting that the dump is now so much bigger than the Cahokia Mound. Perhaps both should be monuments to people who have fled the flood plain. Growing up in East St. Louis during its transition from an "All American City" to third world status. I feel some longing for the way it was and can never be again.

Herb Niemeyer more than 2 years ago

I can wholeheartedly relate

I can wholeheartedly relate to your personal story, as if we lived the same lifestyle, phobia's, and taboo's. I resent my fears while attempting to raise my st.louis city kids, which have now been residing in Ferguson Missouri. I'm a disabled veteran that moved from the city in 2003, after a BBQ pit was stolen from me; that had toured around the would. I thought that because the neighborhood kept up the grass, gardens, and spoke kindly; was the place to trust and be. But that was shortly lived once I was there less than a year. With my kids away to college along with my self attending college, I saw police ruling over the neighborhood with total disregard, which prompted me to question my kids surprise arrivals back home unannounced! I'm 54 years olds military brat and grew up east of Grand ave, attending Carver Elem. and Vashon high school as a young man. I protect my family with regards to their safety being lawful as I thought, but by know means would I let a uniform white baby to me, even think about hurting MINE! I'm always in survival mode when I leave home, which I have tried to flee from the thought; and not teach my kids about my past. But after realizing my college kids with weapons legally carried, they know that if they ever feel like their life is in danger(by police); be judged by 12 know matter what, than be carried by 6. You would think after being around the world protecting the freedoms of America, I would be supporting the police and local laws of the land. But contrary to the laws, which seem to target my community and my freedoms I fought for. My unit in the military was " Kill them all, let God separate them", so I'm always thinking about survival for mine everyday. It won't be a court to decide if it was wrong for a police to kill mine, because they were taught the we all die, if I have to die; over a ticket!! I truly feel it would be just a dead kid of mine, being handled be a bias prosecutor like McCullock which is unacceptable. If mine has to die, then his threat should die to; over a parking ticket!!! If you can't do your job with a citizen over fear, then you should face your fears along with the citizen. I'm not moving because the department licensed stupid trigger happy racist officers, they will just have to face military trained men who have dealt with this kind of situation many times; and lived to talk about it. I'm law abiding citizen when you practice fair laws, but I'm a military trained soldier when you practice racist unfair police brutality; especially against mine!!! I speak for many veterans facing this BS as if we are going to sit quietly will this continues, especially when you hurt one of ours; over MONEY illegally gained anyway!!!

Timothy Gist Sr. more than 2 years ago

Great article...I've grown to

Great article...I've grown to feel the same, which is why my family and I are currently planning our exit.

Keke more than 2 years ago

It makes it harder for change

It makes it harder for change to occur here in STL when our smart people who care like you keeping moving elsewhere instead of staying and "fighting the good fight". : -D It certainly can be frustrating and challenging at times to live here and wonder why we haven't progressed faster, but I think that makes living in this city more meaningful, now more than ever. It's brought the dialogue back into the spotlight, let's just hope it leads to something better for the overwhelming majority of peaceful and respectful people that live here and everywhere.

Pete M more than 2 years ago

It's sad that Mr. McKisack's

It's sad that Mr. McKisack's failure to believe in the teachings of MLK has diminished is life to the point he apparently even hates himself. Very sad.

John Howard more than 2 years ago

"McCulloch, a Democrat, is

"McCulloch, a Democrat, is part of a power structure that had long courted black votes but continues to play white overseer rather than act as true guardians of truth and justice."

Let's dump the overseer. Supreme Court of Missouri: Disbar Bob McCulloch.

Now at 27,366 signatures.

Merrill Cole more than 2 years ago

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