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New Documentary Explores “White Flight” In Spanish Lake

Brent Jones/St. Louis Public Radio

In 1990, the population of the Spanish Lake community in north St. Louis County was 80 percent white and 20 percent black. By 2010, the population was reversed: 80 percent was black and 20 percent was white.  Today, much of the township lies empty.

In what is being called an “unflinching” documentary, film director Phillip Andrew Morton takes a look at the causes of this population shift in the film "Spanish Lake.” It premieres Friday, June 13 at the Tivoli Theatre.

Morton grew up in Spanish Lake, and was driven to produce the documentary by the changes he witnessed in his hometown.

“Returning to Spanish Lake after all those years to see my old house abandoned, my school abandoned, my church abandoned, was a very heartbreaking experience,” said Morton. “To make peace with that experience, I decided to make this documentary as a support system for people who have had the same experience of seeing their hometown decline and /or abandoned.”

In making the film, Morton discovered that real estate tactics played a large role in bringing about the population shift, commonly known as “white flight.”

Preying on fears that blacks moving into the neighborhood would bring down their property value, realtors encouraged white owners to sell their homes before their property value declined, said Morton.

Despite the racial implications, Morton believes white flight is as much about class as it is about race.

“I actually think it has more to do with class than race, because race and class are so intertwined in St. Louis,” said Morton, who links the population shift to the construction of apartment units in what had largely been a community of houses.

"In 1969, 1970, a whole bunch of apartments started going up in north county. In Spanish Lake, 2000 apartment units were put up in a year. That changes the composition of the population of an area so you have a primarily lower-income population," he said.

When asked what can one person do to change the situation, Morton responded, "It comes down to fear. This whole myth of black people bringing down your property value needs to be lifted from St. Louis. That is not the case. The realtors want you to believe that and they want to scare you out of your homes. If you don’t move then areas don’t change. When you move and there is a mass abandonment of your area, there will be decline. So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Just think about that."

Related Event

The Tivoli Theatre shows "Spanish Lake"
Friday June 13 - Thursday June 19, 2014
Various Times
Tivoli Theatre in University City
For more information, call (314) 727-7271 or visit the Tivoli website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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