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Officials hold inclusive ribbon cutting at Arch grounds

Attendees at Friday's "People's Ribbon Cutting" celebrate near the Gateway Arch grounds in St. Louis.
Wiley Price I St. Louis American
Attendees at Friday's "People's Ribbon Cutting" celebrate near the Gateway Arch grounds in St. Louis.

Darryl Gray made something abundantly clear at Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Arch grounds: The diverse gathering of elected officials, candidates and St. Louisans wasn’t a do-over.

After a group of white officials cut the ribbon in front of the Arch’s new visitors’ center and museum sparked public outcry Tuesday, Gray emphasized that Friday’s event was aimed at showcasing St. Louis’ diversity — and sending a message that racial and ethnic minorities need a place at the decision-making table.

“We’re here today because diversity is who we are,” Gray said. “We can not and must not allow ourselves and our history and our contribution to history be erased or forgotten.”

Friday’s event, which St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones dubbed “the people’s ribbon cutting,” drew elected officials, candidates and speakers of all races. That included Jones, state Rep. Bruce Franks, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

It was a stark contrast to Tuesday, where everyone who cut a ribbon in front of the newly renovated Arch grounds was white. Images of that ribbon-cutting spread across social media, and many people noted how tone deaf the ceremony was when many of St. Louis’ elected officials are black.

The Gateway Arch Park Foundation ultimately issued an apology. A statement from the group said they invited “political leaders from the St. Louis region at the federal, state and local levels to participate on stage at the event.” That statement went onto say that “we did not invite some elected officials who represent the park to participate on stage at the event and we should have done so.”

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, said in a statement that he was invited to the ceremony, but had a prior commitment to be with his son.

Eric Moraczewski, the executive director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, apologized at Friday’s event.

“For years, we’ve focused on making this museum the story of everyone involved in our community,” Moraczewski said. “That’s why we are so sorry the ribbon cutting on Tuesday did not reflect this commitment. We missed the mark.”

Seat at the table

Officials and National Parks Service staff cut the ribbon to the new Gateway Arch visitor center and museum Tuesday, July 3, 2018.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Officials and National Parks Service staff cut the ribbon to the new Gateway Arch visitor center and museum Tuesday on July 3, 2018.

Jones noted that she played a role both as a state lawmaker and treasurer in making hundreds of millions of dollars of improvements on the Arch grounds a reality.

She added that “we need to stop leaving our racial equity lenses at home and start asking the hard questions everytime we’re in a room about who’s at the table.”

“St. Louis needs to change,” said Jones. “Not polite, incremental change. But real change — the change that hurts.”

Franks, whose district includes the Arch, said Tuesday’s event “speaks to a bigger issue than just the picture.”

“I think it speaks to a systemic issue of when we talk about representation what representation looks like in the city of St. Louis,” said Franks on St. Louis on the Air. “We live in a diverse community and I think that should be reflected on many different levels including when we have things as big as a ribbon-cutting of a monument that represents St. Louis and might be, in some areas, the only thing people know about St. Louis.”

Some speakers at Friday’s event, such as Cori Bush, noted how African-American residents were displaced from their homes to make way for the Arch.

“This is St. Louis,” said Bush, who is running against Clay in the 1st Congressional District primary. “We move this city. We move this county. Because we are the people and we’re standing together.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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