‘Pillars of the Valley’ cements the nearly forgotten history of Mill Creek Valley
Mill Creek Valley — the predominantly Black neighborhood that was torn down in the late 1950s — was nearly forgotten by St. Louisans despite its rich history and relevant connection to notable Black leaders. St. Louis City SC has officially unveiled a new monument called “Pillars of the Valley” to encourage soccer fans to remember and recognize the history of the land on which the stadium stands — and the ills of the past that led to its demolition.
Vivian Gibson, former resident of Mill Creek Valley, has fought the narrative of her childhood community being a “slum” deserving of being torn down to make way for a highway. She wrote “The Last Children of Mill Creek” to share her first-person perspective of what she calls a “a very lively, close knit community.”
Gibson and multidisciplinary artist Damon Davis joined Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air to reflect on the official unveiling of “Pillars of the Valley.” The monument is the result of Gibson’s efforts to set the record straight — and it’s Davis’ largest work to date.
Davis’ work on the public art installation started nearly five years ago. The East St. Louis native was surprised that he had not heard of Mill Creek Valley despite growing up just across the river from the area.
“I come from a family that was very militant and pro-Black. I was getting taught Black history all the time. So it was really mind-blowing that [there was] such a thriving community — with so many prominent Black people and an ecosystem of Blackness in the center of St. Louis — and I never heard that.”
In preparation for “Pillars of the Valley,” Davis received a personal history lesson from Gibson and other former residents of Mill Creek Valley. “I wanted to make something that resonated with [them]. The whole time I was thinking about their specific history.”
Referencing the art installation — which is comprised of eight 15-foot-tall black, granite, hourglass-shaped statues — Gibson was all smiles. “I’m so excited for Damon because this is a beautiful art installation,” she said. “It so represents the community that I grew up in and love. I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m proud.”
A public celebration of “Pillars of the Valley” will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at CityPark on the corner of Market and 22nd Street.
To hear more about “Pillars of the Valley” and the friendship formed between Damon Davis and Vivian Gibson listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.
What: “Pillars of the Valley” Permanent Art Installation at CityPark
When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 19
Where: 2019 Market St., St. Louis, MO 63103 (At the corner of 22nd Street and Market Street)
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.