Amid #ArchSoWhite controversy, black officials to hold second ribbon-cutting
The Arch grounds reopening is happening again after photos of the initial ribbon-cutting on Tuesday showed a lack of racial diversity.
As the common saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The photos showing city officials and guests cutting the ribbon at the ceremony organized by Gateway Arch Park Foundation were worth three: “Arch So White,” or #ArchSoWhite on social media.
The hashtag started to trend locally after the release of photos showing St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and others cutting the ribbon at the ceremony. All are white, which evoked feelings of past moments when people of color were deliberatly excluded.
“This photo exists alternatively as an embarrassingly effective example of the region’s inability to evoke the essence of non-white leaders effecting change in the physical and social redevelopment of our city,” activist De Nichols wrote in a blog post about the photo.
Nichols and other well-known St. Louis activists criticized the city for what they believed was a blatant disregard for the presence and contribution of black city officials and residents in a city where black people make up about 49 percent of the population, according to the 2010 Census.
Activists also pointed out in tweets and other social media posts that the Arch grounds reside in the legislative district of fellow activist and Democratic state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. Franks is the organizer of the second ribbon-cutting involving black residents and leaders on Friday.
“I’m so glad to see the Arch grounds reopened. But this? This is not my hometown,” Brittany Packnett, activist and Teach For America vice president of National Community Alliances, said of the photo on Twitter on Tuesday.
St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones said on Twitter after the photo went viral that in 2012 as a state lawmaker she was a part of helping the state legislature pass a measure that established a tax raising money for Arch renovations.
Her office said in a statement Thursday, “She received the general event invitation, but she was not invited to participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony.”
Programming Note: Treasurer Jones will be a guest on St. Louis on the Air at noon Friday. You can listen live. What's your take? Respond on Twitter @STLonAir or send an email to email@example.com.
It is unclear who all received an invitation to participate in cutting the ribbon. The Gateway Arch Park Foundation had not responded to questions by the time this story was posted Thursday. The foundation apologized on social media on Wednesday for not reflecting “the diversity of our community” and “for any hurt it caused.”
“The Arch is a symbol of St. Louis and the Gateway Arch Park Foundation is committed to doing better to represent the people of our great city,” the Facebook post read.
While the Arch may be seen as a symbol of the city for some, to some others it represents another instance of excluding black residents. While the Arch was under construction in 1964, activists Percy Green and Richard Daly used a ladder that was meant for the workers and climbed to about 125 feet high on the structure and then stayed up there for five hours to protest the the erasure of a black community there and the lack of black workers on the project.
“People lived there (in the 47 blocks on the riverfront that were cleared for the Arch site in 1939). It was a community. That whole area was blighted. The politicians claimed they were going to do this, and the business people claimed they were going to do that,” Green told St. Louis Public Radio in 2015. “I would rather have not seen the Arch but have seen those people have their community and made a decent salary.”
Decades later, the Arch still stands and the development around it has evolved to what it is today. And yet, some still ask why black residents are not seen as an integral part of the city.
“It is about affirming that the Arch — the icon of our city — is a place for all of us,” Nichols said.
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.