The story that Alana Woodson has devoted so much of her time over the past few years to telling is far from a simple one. After all, it’s about Kinloch, Missouri, a once-thriving suburb that has nearly disappeared. Her father’s childhood home there is no more. And what was once a community of 6,500 black St. Louisans has dwindled to less than 200 residents today.
But Woodson, who goes by Alana Marie professionally, has stayed the course, interviewing dozens of people and gathering countless hours of footage for her ongoing documentary project, “The Kinloch Doc.”
A short version of the film was screened at festivals in 2018 and 2019 and is available to view online. The feature-length iteration is currently in its rough-cut stage, and Woodson has been crowdfunding to help cover post-production expenses. She and her team launched a Kickstarter campaign April 10, and with just a handful of days left to raise funds, they’ve now surpassed their goal of $20,000, drawing support from several hundred backers.
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Woodson talked with host Sarah Fenske about why this mostly forgotten history matters — both personally and in terms of grappling with America’s long pattern of displacing black communities.
Kinloch, which is situated in north St. Louis County between Ferguson and Berkeley, was one of the largest all-black towns in the U.S. during its prime.
Woodson noted that while Kinloch was formally incorporated in 1948, and at that point regarded as Missouri’s first black city, there were also several other thriving African American communities at the time as well.
“You have your Meachum Parks, you have your Westland Acres, you have [the] Ville … back then there were only a few places that blacks could call home in the first place,” she said.
During Woodson’s interviews for the forthcoming film, she heard over and over again that the community was once almost entirely self-contained.
“When I speak to people from Kinloch who were born and raised there, one of the [things] that’s often communicated is that Kinloch literally had everything but a bank,” she said. “They had churches, they had schools, they had the confectionaries, mom-and-pop shops, taxicabs, libraries, YMCA — literally everything but a bank. So they didn’t need to go out of the city for anything, unless they needed to go to the bank.”
Woodson’s sources also had a lot of pride in that self-sustaining community.
“The beginning of the word ‘Kinloch’ is ‘kin,’ so they regarded each other as kinfolk,” the filmmaker explained. “So even if they weren’t blood-related, they had a mission to support each other for whatever they needed.”
But in the 1980s, plans to expand St. Louis Lambert International Airport changed everything.
“[There were] expectations of Lambert airport becoming this huge hub, so they had to create more space to be able to land two planes at one time,” Woodson said. “And because Kinloch was directly across the highway from it, they were one of the communities that was pinpointed to purchase property, to buy them out.”
And while Ferguson, Berkeley, Hazelwood and Bridgeton were also impacted, Kinloch suffered “the gravest impact.”
“Even now in 2020, the residual effect of having all of that property bought out and then [lying] dormant [and] infested with a lot of trash and just weeds and overgrown grass … it became unkept,” she said.
Now, Kinloch is a shadow of its former self. But it does still exist.
“I feel like there’s a reason that Kinloch is still incorporated,” Woodson said. “It’s hanging on by a thread, but it’s still there, and there are people, especially a lot of people within my age frame — I’m a millennial — who are wanting to bring better light to this community and see it have better days.”
Take a listen as Woodson describes the past and present of Kinloch — and some lingering hopes for its future:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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