St. Louis County Library hosts an evening on African-American history | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Library hosts an evening on African-American history

Oct 11, 2016

The St. Louis County Library will explore the disappearance of African-American sites in the region at a presentation tonight.

The panel discussion is the third event in the library's "We Are St. Louis” series exploring the nuanced identities of the region’s residents. It will be held at the Lewis & Clark branch in north St. Louis County.

The percentage of African-Americans in St. Louis County has largely remained constant at about one fourth of total residents. But vital African-American cultural and historic points of interest have disappeared, said Daniel Gonzalez, the St. Louis County parks historian and a lead organizer of the event.

“Sometimes it’s like Greenwood Cemetery where historic sites are literally being overgrown," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes it’s communities of people who are finding that their historic place of living is no longer affordable, it’s not as welcoming as it once was and people are leaving or being forced out.”

That doesn't mean St. Louis is losing its connections to African-Americans, he said, but it is losing key parts of its history.

“So the way that these communities disappear is different but what connects it all is the fact that we’re losing important connections to the past and the pasts of our region,” Gonzalez said.

A before and after picture displaying the volunteer efforts of those preserving the historic Greenwood Cemetery in Hillsdale. The cemetery opened in 1874.
Credit Historic Greenwood Cemetery

The panel will include volunteers who maintain Greenwood Cemetery in Hillsdale. Organized in 1874, Greenwood was the first commercial, non-sectarian cemetery for African-Americans in the St Louis metropolitan area. It serves as a prime example for how the destruction of historic points of interest impact people living today.

“The people who are involved, by and large are involved because their families are buried there, this is so personal for them,” Gonzalez said. “It’s about respect for people’s sites, for the sites that mean the most for their family.”

The "We Are St. Louis" series was started with more than $9,000 from the Spotlight on Literacy grant through the Missouri State Library. After the grant period ends next May, the library has plans to keep holding quarterly events in the same vein.

The next planned event in the series is on American Indian Heritage.  

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn