When Alana Marie was growing up in Hazelwood, she listened to stories of her father’s happy childhood in nearby Kinloch during the 1970s and '80s.
By the time she was born in 1990, Kinloch had deteriorated. Now, the African American city that formerly boasted thousands of residents is home to just a few hundred.
Marie’s curiosity about the family’s roots drove her to make a documentary about the once-vibrant city. Its demise came after schools were desegregated in the 1970s and the Kinloch school system closed.
A final blow came a decade later, after the St. Louis Airport Authority bought out hundreds of homes for a runway that was never built. In the next decade, Kinloch lost 2,500 residents.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Nancy Fowler talked with Marie and her father, Gerald Flowers, 56, about “The Kinloch Doc” and the area’s heyday and downfall.
What inspired you to create this documentary?
Alana Marie: It actually started when I was a grad student at the [Washington University] Brown School of Social Work. One of my professors, Dr. Jack Kirkland, taught a class about institutionalized racism and poverty, specifically in East St. Louis.
And then we took a tour through what I consider to be disappearing black cities around the region, Kinloch being one of them. And I was like, “I want to learn more about where my family's from, and I want to learn more about the city and what happened to it.”
Tell me about growing up in Kinloch.
Gerald Flowers: We had literally everything, you know: our own post office, dentist office, furniture store, grocery stores and obviously a fire department.
We had … a sense of community even with like, discipline. You know what I mean? When we were coming up, if our parents didn't see us actually doing something mischievous, then Ms. Johnson, Ms. Smith, Ms. Baker, they were our, you know, mom and dad. And I miss it; I miss that.
What’s it like to go back there now?
GF: It’s hard to see it now. There’s a lot of emptiness. But the people who are still there, they take a lot of pride in Kinloch. They’re not letting that go.
I’ve been gone for years, but when people ask me where I’m from, I always say, “Kinloch, Missouri,” not St. Louis.
Do you believe racism played a role in the downfall of Kinloch?
AM: There are Kinlochs in every part of this country. The story of Kinloch and what happened to Kinloch isn't any different from what's gone on in The Ville, in Robertson, in Meacham Park, in Westland Acres.
The frustrating part about Kinloch is it was Missouri's first black city.
And so racism is always a part of it. That was the founding of America, not just this little city in Missouri. It’s the founding of America.
When do you hope to complete the film?
AM: February 2020 is our max. I’m just ready to get it finished; I’m just ready to get the story out. Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my closeup.
Watch a trailer of “The Kinloch Doc.”
Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL
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