As a child, filmmaker and artist Jane Gillooly was oblivious to the fact that Ferguson was an all-white town during the Jim Crow era. Gillooly did not realize this until the day she went home with her babysitter.
Her sitter lived in Kinloch — Missouri's first incorporated black city. It borders Ferguson.
At the age of 5, her parents had yet to discuss why blacks and whites were segregated, but she recalls asking the sitter, 'Why does everyone look the same in Kinloch?' and her babysitter said, 'Because all these people are Negroes.'"
With her latest film, “Where the Pavement Ends,” Gillooly, 61, sheds light on the physical roadblock that played a role in Kinloch’s segregation and the city’s dwindling population. From a high of 10,000 residents, Kinloch today is home to about 300 people. She also highlights how the blockade connects to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown Jr.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Andrea Henderson spoke with Gillooly about the film, the roadblock protests in the 1960s and how the barrier is connected to the decline of the city of Kinloch.
This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.
Andrea Henderson: As far back as you can remember, while growing up in Ferguson, there was this roadblock to keep black residents from Kinloch out of white Ferguson. Tell me more about this roadblock.
Jane Gillooly: Yes, the roadblock no longer exists. I was a little confused myself as a child. I remember the first time I saw it, it being a metal-like corrugated guardrail that was cemented into the ground — like what you would see running along the side of a highway or something at the end of a dead-end road. I mean, it was certainly something you would need a piece of heavy equipment to remove. You couldn't open and close it. As I spoke to other people throughout the film, you hear different people describing their memory of what it looked like, and it’s interesting to discover how many different descriptions I received. From doing research, I realized that I think what was happening is that some kind of blockade would go up and then the people in Kinloch, or maybe the people in Ferguson, felt like it needed to change, or it was falling apart and need to be more sturdy, or that the people of Kinloch would take it down and then people in Ferguson would put something else up. You never hear two people describe it in the same way.
Henderson: Since the blockade would go up and get taken down for various reasons, do you remember any fights or protests about the roadblock being there?
Gillooly: I know for a fact that there were a lot of arguments going on among the city councilors in the city of Ferguson as well as the city of Kinloch, and you get to see some of this documented in the film. Also in the film, you see the reasons given for why it was there are very numerous.
Henderson: What were some of those reasons?
Gillooly: The understanding that I had was that this was a way to keep people from Kinloch from entering that section of Ferguson, and it was clearly there to keep people from Kinloch from driving down Suburban Avenue as a cut-through. There was another street that did connect Ferguson and Kinloch, and that one had always been left open.
Henderson: You incorporated a lot of reflections of residents from both Kinloch and Ferguson, but how was this possible with the declining population of Kinloch?
Gillooly: There are a few prominent families who lived in Kinloch who were sort of leaders in their community and also still live in the surrounding areas. So the first person that I met was Nicole Gibson, and she is the granddaughter of Sylvester Smith, the first black superintendent of schools in the state of Missouri. And once I found Nicole, then she connected me with many of the families who were working in the city of Kinloch. A number of archival materials that are in the film are from Smith’s estate. I discovered people little by little. One person would tell me about another person.
Henderson: Was there anything surprising about those two cities that you found out while filming?
Gillooly: I was really shocked and saddened when I realized that Kinloch was being torn down. In 2012, I was working on another film in Missouri and I happened to drive to Kinloch, and most of the buildings were gone, and I was startled because I didn't realize that was happening. The biggest shock for me is that Kinloch has almost virtually disappeared and Ferguson is pretty much unchanged. Now, Ferguson is more built up and the chain stores have replaced some of the things that used to be there. Many families from Kinloch have moved to Ferguson, so Ferguson is still a very similar feeling kind of community that it was when I was growing up. It's just that the racial demographics have changed.
Henderson: Some people seem to think Kinloch is disappearing for various reasons, but why do you think the city’s population is on the decline?
Gillooly: While researching, I looked at some city plans from the mid-1950s and I saw that most of Kinloch was already designated as an enterprise zone, and that is just code for, 'This is an area that can be torn down.' I also saw on some early highway map from the late ‘60s where the future highways were going to be. There were these red-dotted lines of where the highway would be, so I could tell that Kinloch was going to be some sort of divided city and cut off once the major highways went in. I was completely unaware of the airport buyouts until I started working on the film. The fact that Kinloch had an enterprise zone designation on some map that I saw just made me feel like this was being planned decades before. I don't know that there was any one reason why all this has happened, but the airport was just a piece of it.
Henderson: What do you want people to take away from this film?
Gillooly: I think it’s the divided communities who were and are still so prevalent in the United States. I feel like there's a way for people to see this film and relate it to their own lives and their own experiences. I don’t want people to walk away and feel like, “Oh well, this is the kind of thing that happens in Missouri or that kind of thing that happens in the South,” but I want people to realize that many communities are complicit in the same kind of racial division and that we should be looking at that at this point in our collective history.
Henderson: What kind of racial questions would you want people to raise after viewing this film?
Gillooly: I think the kind of questions that people are addressing now, like housing segregation and income inequality and real estate steering. Also, the way certain parts of communities are allowed to decline and other cities get investments and it's not shared. I also want people to look at the tax structure and how it affects the school system unequally. I mean, there are many things that I think that are systematically a problem that loops with city structures, and it's not just black and white, it's really an income inequality thing as well.
This documentary-feature is part of ArchCity Defenders Racial Justice film series and will be screened today at 7:00 p.m. at the Grandel Theatre.
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.
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