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Race, Identity & Faith

Creve Coeur Leaders To Rededicate Park For Black Doctor Forced Out In The 1950s

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Chad Davis
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Creve Coeur will rededicate Dr. H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park on Saturday. Venable was an ophthalmologist who was forced to sell his land in the early 1960s after city officials acquired the land through eminent domain.

Creve Coeur officials will rededicate a park Saturday for Dr. H. Phillip Venable, a Black man forced to sell his property more than a half-century ago.

City officials will honor Venable during a 1 p.m. ceremony at Dr. H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park. The park was long named for former mayor John Beirne, who compelled the sale.

Creve Coeur officials used eminent domain in the late 1950s to take the land from Venable, an ophthalmologist at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a historically Black hospital in St. Louis. Venable and his wife, Katie, fought the issue in court but lost in 1960 and had to sell.

“We've known about it for all our lives,” said Allen Venable, Venable’s nephew. “We've been knowing about this, carrying this burden for a long time, and finally it has come full circle where they've decided that they would like to do something about it.”

City officials passed a resolution in 2019 apologizing for the harm they had caused the family and renaming the park to honor Venable, who spent the rest of his life in Ballwin. The next year, the city created the Venable Park Task Force to decide how to continue to honor him. Members of the Venable family participated in the process.

Venable’s niece, Rossalind Venable Woodhouse, said people should know that what happened to her uncle happened to many Black landowners.

“We know that the same circumstance is going on today as we speak, in other places,” Woodhouse said. “We think that it's important that people who not only visit the park, but explore the history of this area, understand that this area was not exempt from that sort of bigotry in the past.”

Task force members and city leaders plan to erect a monument at the park to honor Venable. Mayor Robert Hoffman said the city can’t correct the wrongs officials committed decades ago, but he wants the park to help teach people about the harm done to Venable.

“I think it's impossible to fully right the wrongs. Let's state that upfront; that happened. We have to live with that,” Hoffman said. “But we can correct it by educating and I hope inspiring people to be more inclusive.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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