East St. Louis

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Governmental and religious officials rallied Thursday for the Illinois Department of Transportation to build a high-speed rail stop in East St. Louis. 

IDOT working on a high-speed rail line connecting St. Louis to Chicago. Construction is already underway on rail improvements between Joliet and Alton, where a station is under construction. 

Flickr/Rob Lee

East St. Louis has paid off more than $20 million in bonds it’s owed Illinois for nearly two decades.

Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. says the $21.4 million it borrowed 19 years ago helped bail out the city in a time of crisis, but paying them off has been a financial burden ever since.

“This is a huge deal,” he said. “What it does is send a message that East St. Louis has handled its responsibilities to the state of Illinois and we have never defaulted on our loan from the state of Illinois in terms of refinancing the bonds.”

(Erin Williams / St. Louis Public Radio)

An East St. Louis museum dedicated to late choreographer and civil rights activist Katherine Dunham is getting a $100,000 state grant for fix-ups, but an unpaid utility bill could cast the site into darkness.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports administrators of the landmark need to pay St. Louis-based Ameren $486 by Thursday to keep the lights on. Dunham considered East St. Louis her adoptive home. She pioneered a dance technique combining Caribbean and African styles. She died in 2006 at age 96.

Erin WIlliams / St. Louis Public Radio


When Katherine Dunham - world dancer, former professor, and part-time East St. Louis resident - died in 2006, she made it a point to make sure that her legacy was remembered. She held workshops and gave personal instruction to other dancers on how to perform her flamboyant, graceful, Africa-influenced Dunham Technique; she wrote books, gave talks, and did interviews at length on overcoming racism and 

  discrimination while traveling the world with her troupe, the Katherine Dunham Company; and, most importantly, she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Katherine Dunham Museum in East St. Louis, housed just across the street from the three homes she owned and occupied during her time in Illinois.

Unfortunately, memories can’t make money. And that’s what you need in order to run a museum.

Though the museum receives grants from time to time, there’s no trust or steady income, visits are by appointment only, and paying members of the museum are few. In fact, if you call the number listed on the website to book a tour, you get the cell phone of Laverne Backstrom, board president of the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities - and tour guide for the museum. Unlike the lights and the phone line at the museum, she can guarantee that her phone won’t be turned off.

“I think that her plan was by continuing to certify instructors, she then had these persons understand that they were more than dancers, that they were perpetuating a way of life, and it was the way that she thought that life ought to be lived,” says Backstrom, a retired schoolteacher.

Ideally, Dunham envisioned the museum as a bastion for artist to dance, make music, and learn about other cultures – and for the most part, that’s still happening.  The studio located in the backyard still serves as a place for instruction and weekly classes, and there’s still a yearly intensive held at Wash U every summer. If she were ever in financial trouble, Dunham could quickly call on friends like Harry Belafonte to help her cover costs. Her daughter, Marie-Christine, lives in France and leaves the day-to-day operations of the Museum in East St. Louis to the Board.

“You’re always subject to losing all of it. But you don’t think about that on a day to day basis. You continue to think where the next grant is going to come from or where the next resource might be,” says Backstrom. “I’m not going to be very effective screaming and yelling by myself that this is what needs to happen.”

Paul Sableman / (Via Flickr/pasa47)

Over the past six decades, the Metro East has gained a nasty reputation for dangerous crime. The news headlines reflect a cycle of poverty and crime made worse by a lack of local resources for adequate governance.

Three government officials charged with tackling these problems joined us to discuss their vision for creating a more positive future for the Metro East: U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Stephen Wigginton; State's Attorney for St. Clair County, Brendan Kelly; and the mayor of Washington Park, Ann Rodgers.

Erin Williams

Public officials and religious leaders gathered in East St. Louis Saturday to celebrate the expansion of a major housing project aimed at providing low-income residents with an affordable place to live.

The Mount Sinai Development Corporation has secured land to add 30 homes to the original 30 that were completed two years ago in the Winstanley Industry Park Neighborhood.

Drug Operation In East St. Louis Nets 58 Charges

Aug 15, 2013
(via Flickr/Michael Velardo)

Officials have charged more than 50 individuals following a three-month long investigation into drug-dealing in East St. Louis.

The operation, called "Wild Wild East," was carried out by Illinois State Police. St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said the defendants are at the middle tier in the drug trade, and were involved in dealing out heroin and cocaine.

58 charges ranged from delivery and armed violence to conspiracy. Kelly said the good news is that the arrests will have a serious impact on the area.

(via Wikimedia Commons/J. Pelkonen)

An East St. Louis police detective is in federal custody today on charges that he and six other men helped distribute more than five kilos of cocaine in St. Clair and Madison counties over the last month.

Orlando Ward, 41, has been with the department for more than a decade. He will remain in jail until a hearing on May 15.

(Courtesy: Andrew Theising / Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)

The citizens of East St. Louis once believed their town was destined for greatness.  They thought the town was poised to outdistance Chicago as the premier industrial giant and railroad freight node of the Midwest.

According to Andrew Theising, political scientist at the Institute for Urban Research at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and series editor of the East St. Louis Sesquicentennial series, “In the 19th century residents really did think it would be the new Pittsburgh. (Early) documents are just gushing with civic pride.”

former East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks Jr. has been appointed city manager.
Alex Heuer/St. Louis Public Radio

Less than one week ago East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks announced a list of new measures in an attempt to curb recent violence in the city.  Among the new rules is a curfew for all youth after 10:00 p.m.  A ban from wearing royal blue or bright red clothing was also in effect for all men though the Mayor has since backed down.

Host Don Marsh talks with multiple guests about the new measures which stem from a deadly weekend in which an 18 year old man was stabbed to death and three young men died after being shot in the parking lot of a local club.

(via Flickr/davidsonscott15)

East St. Louis’ mayor has put a strict curfew in place for teens on the heels of four killings earlier this week.

Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. says police will arrest teenagers 17 and younger who are NOT in school between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Teens younger than 18 also will be arrested if they’re out later than 10 p.m.

Parks says he knows some people will consider the curfews too strict, but he wants to keep the city from losing more young people.

(Flickr Creative Commons User essygie)

A former East St. Louis police officer who stole a Rolex watch planted by federal agents as a test has been sentenced to 66 days in prison.

Larry Greenlee, of Belleville, pleaded guilty in May to stealing the watch, which agents planted as part of an integrity test. Greenlee came across the Rolex, encircled with diamonds, in what he thought was a stolen car, which agents had bugged with recording devices.

The sentence was announced Friday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in southern Illinois.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Mayors from 19 cities and towns are in St. Louis this week to launch a new initiative aimed at bringing greater attention to issues affecting the Mississippi River.

A total of 41 mayors, so far, have formally agreed to the partnership, which is set to begin lobbying congress in March of next year.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said mutual interests trump party politics.

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

The East St. Louis Housing Authority will use a portion of a federal grant it received in February to boost security at its seven main housing projects in the city.

The funds will allow for the construction of a perimeter fence at the John DeShields homes, new exterior lighting at the same site, and security cameras at all seven of the authority's major properties. The authority will also be able to hire eight full-time security guards.

(via Flickr/alkruse24)

Five members of East St. Louis' elected school board are suing to reverse the state's takeover of the city's public school system.

Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has pushed for East St. Louis to limit the liquor sales that he believes fuel violent crime in his hometown, and the city now appears poised to do just that - against the mayor's wishes.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports the City Council voted 3-2 to approve a measure ordering East St. Louis nightclubs to close at 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

(via Flickr/IndofunkSatish)

Study says region needs more immigrants

A new study to be released this morning says the St. Louis region needs to attract more immigrants if it wants to thrive in the current economy.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch got an advance look at the study, written by Saint Louis University professor Jack Strauss.

(via Flickr/IndofunkSatish)

Ill. DNR director cannot rule out park closures

Amanda Vinicky contributed reporting from Springfield.

The director of the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources says his department will do all it can to keep the state's parks open after the failure of a $2 increase in license plate fees that would have provided a funding stream the the DNR.

But Marc Miller says he can't rule anything out, because the department has seen its budget slashed by 50 percent over the last decade.

Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio

Trayvon Martin's father returned to his hometown of East St. Louis Friday to honor the memory of his son and spread the message of peace.

Several hundred community members congregated at North End Missionary Baptist Church to hear Tracy Martin and Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, talk about ways to end gun violence.

Tracy Martin says many things have changed since he graduated from East St. Louis Senior High School in 1986.

(via Flickr/steakpinball)

Updated 3:24 with new headline, information on sentence.

The man who stepped down again as East St. Louis' police chief after admitting he stole video game boxes planted by federal agents has been sentenced to a year in prison.