The Griot | St. Louis Public Radio

The Griot

Hundreds of people participate in a die-in at police headquarters in downtown St. Louis during the fall 2017 protests against the Stockley verdict.
Eric Pan

Updated at 4:12 p.m. with clarification — When early photos of the 2014 Ferguson protests flashed across photographer Eric Pan’s phone and computer screen, he mainly saw active confrontation — and wondered if there was more to the story.­

Pan brought his camera to Ferguson, where protesters took to the streets after then-officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot and killed Michael Brown, a black man. Three years later, he joined marches against a judge’s acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who is white, in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith.

Pan’s perspective on both protests is the subject of an exhibition opening Saturday at the Griot Museum of Black History and Culture called “Civil Unrest in Review.”

Former Mayor Raymond Tucker (at right) and then-civic leader and bond issue chairman Sidney Maestre look out over an area of Mill Creek Valley slated for clearance in this photograph from 1956.
Missouri Historical Society

Lois Conley of St. Louis grew up in Mill Creek Valley, where everything was in walking distance, and neighbors kept a close eye on each others’ children.

“You felt safe; You felt protected. Everybody knew everybody,” Conley said.

But in the late 1950s, the area between Union Station and Saint Louis University was condemned in the name of urban renewal. Families moved away and lost touch.

Now St. Louis is a finalist in a national contest that would help fund a public art project documenting the destruction of Mill Creek.

These photos were salvaged from a condemned home in the former Wendell-Phillips community in Kansas City.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Lois Conley was a teenager when her parents lost their Mill Creek neighborhood home to eminent domain. A portion of her former backyard became Market Street after the city leveled the area in the name of progress.

Conley is the founder of St. Louis' Griot Museum of Black History, which sits across the street from the site of the future National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency, in a demolished area that was part of the  St. Louis Place neighborhood.

Through Dec. 15, the north St. Louis museum is hosting an exhibition exploring how the government’s power to condemn mostly black neighborhoods has affected people in St. Louis and Kansas City. Conley and photographer Matt Rahner co-curated the display.

Conley talked with St. Louis Public Radio’s Nancy Fowler about the exhibition, “Eminent Domain/Displaced,” as well as her personal experiences of more than 50 years ago.

This photo of the Griot Museum of Black History at 2505 St Louis Ave. is from February 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Urban League of St. Louis and the Griot Museum of Black History are forming an alliance that the museum’s founder hopes will keep the museum going for generations.

This group of 40 students from Arthur Smith Middle Magnet School in Alexandria, La., stopped by the Griot Museum of Black History last week on a spring break trip.
The Griot Museum of Black History

Things are looking up for St. Louis’ struggling Griot Museum of Black History.

Last fall, Griot founder Lois Conley could barely pay the bills. Plunging attendance meant the museum was only open three days a week. But so far this year, the number of visitors has at least doubled. Conley doesn’t have a hard figure because she hasn’t had time to add up the numbers.

“We’ve just been too busy,” she said. “We were open every day in February and had visitors every day."

Students from the Science Center's YES program examine the slave hold at the Griot Museum of Black History. Notice the rat near the baby on the upper right-hand side.
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

Fifteen-year-old Chassidy Buckner thought she had already learned all about slavery from school and her mother. But at the Griot Museum of Black History, the lesson became personal.

"Because it is my ancestors,” Buckner said.

Looking at the life-sized figures chained together in the hold beneath a slave ship is different than seeing pictures in a book.

"I didn’t know it was that cramped and with, like, blood everywhere," Buckner said.

Griot Museum hopes new name will spark new life

Jul 21, 2011
Griot Museum (2011)
File photo | Constance McCollom | St. Louis Beacon

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When meeting Lois Conley, you quickly learn that the Griot Museum of Black History & Culture she founded has a specific purpose. As a child during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Conley wanted to develop an awareness of black culture in St. Louis.