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Why St. Louis County removed a memorial to ‘white colonists’

St. Louis County Historical Marker
Geoff Ward
Removed in November, a historic marker in Clayton paid respects to "white colonists" who arrived in the area in the early 1700s.

In 1955, a sign was erected in Clayton, Missouri, that recounted the history of the founding of St. Louis County. According to the sign, that history began when the county was “first visited by white colonists” in the early 1700s.

In November 2022, the sign was gone. It was quietly taken down by the St. Louis County government – and that act represents a victory of sorts for advocates like Geoff Ward, who has spent years asking for its removal.

But Ward, a professor of African and African American studies at Washington University, was disappointed by the fact that the removal was done without announcement. The action was only reported months later by the Riverfront Times.

“I suggested that it would be critical, in removing the marker, that our city leaders or county leaders be vocal about why this is happening,” Ward said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “So that we use this as an occasion to really see deeper commitments to equal rights, to human and civil rights, and to disavow the white supremacism that is reflected in the marker.”

Ward said that it was also the sign’s placement, on a prominent corner in downtown Clayton, immediately outside St. Louis County Police headquarters, that first drew his attention.

“What's remarkable to me about the sign is that it very explicitly sort of defined St. Louis County as a white place,” he said. “It essentially says history begins here, with the arrival of white people.”

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 produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org. 

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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