African Americans | St. Louis Public Radio

African Americans

For African Americans and people from Africa and the African diaspora, the 2020 census is already raising questions.
DAVID KOVALUK | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

Growing up in the 1960s, Carolyn Kidd Royal experienced racist incidents that, combined with the way African American history was taught in schools, affected her sense of identity for the worse. 

“In that mid-’60s timeframe ... you weren’t happy that your skin was brown, that your hair was a little different; and overall, we did not have a sense of pride in our race and in our individual selves. At least, I didn’t,” she said.

But, as the civil rights movement gave way to the Black Power movement, shifts in culture made a difference. Specifically, the 1969 James Brown classic “Say It Loud.”

Gena Stringer labors in the hospital with doula Benetta Ward as Brittany Ferrell captures the moment for her film project.
Provided | Brittany Ferrell

When a Ferguson police officer killed Michael Brown in 2014, St. Louisan Brittany Ferrell left nursing school to join the protests. Five years later, she’s pouring her activism into another outlet: a film project.

“You Lucky You Got a Mama” focuses on how African Americans are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and childbirth as white women.

Ferrell wants to show people that the higher risk to African Americans is a complicated situation with a simple cause.

“Let’s name it for what it is, and it’s racism,” Ferrell said. “It’s racial bias.”

An illustration of African Americans questioning their origins.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

It took nearly 30 minutes for Eric Depradine to extract a saliva sample from his dying grandmother.

Depradine, 35, of Kansas City, wanted to have his grandmother’s DNA tested to confirm his suspicions that her ancestors came from Madagascar. He’d read author Michael Twitty describe in "The Cooking Gene" how African Americans who lived in eastern North Carolina — like Depradine’s paternal grandmother — very likely descended from Malagasy people, an ethnic group in Madagascar.

Arnold Krekel founded a German language newspaper and helped other abolitionists establish Lincoln University.
Missouri Historical Society Collections

It’s the early to mid 1800s in Missouri. The state’s German population is seeing an increase, especially in the cities of St. Louis and Hermann. Many are traveling to the U.S. to seek a better life, free of injustice from German rulers. Amongst those immigrants is Arnold Krekel.

Krekel’s story is not known to most St. Louisans.  He arrived in America at 17 years old and eventually became a federal judge. He was also one of many from his region to fight for the abolition of slavery in Missouri.

(January 31, 2019) (L-R) Carol Daniel, Linda Lockhart and Eric Rothenbuhler discussed how the industry covers African-American communities on "St. Louis on the Air."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Earlier this month, local TV news anchor Kevin Steincross mispronounced the name of Martin Luther King Jr. with what some considered to be a racial slur. Steincross apologized for the slip up and has since stepped away from the anchor desk in order to “regain trust” in the community, he said during his on-air apology.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with local media professionals about how the industry covers African-American communities – what has changed over the years and what's stayed the same. The discussion began with addressing Steincross’ mispronunciation.

Coffee Wright founded the St. Louis Inner City Cultural Center Enterprise 20 years ago. This year, the organization is partnering with the Missouri History Museum for a Friday night Juneteenth event. This photo is from her group's second annual Juneteenth
Derrick Phillips

St. Louis is known for its elaborate Fourth of July events, with fireworks bursting in dozens of municipalities and most famously, over the Arch.

But many St. Louisans want that kind of attention also focused on a significant day for African-Americans and the nation: Juneteenth. It commemorates a June 19, 1865, Texas order that freed all enslaved Americans, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Several local events mark the occasion. Many take place this weekend, including one organized by Tracy Johnson of south St. Louis, who said he can’t overemphasize the day’s importance.

“Besides an African-American’s birthday, that should be the next day they celebrate,” Johnson said.

Organizers expect 20,000 visitors across the festival's three days.  5/25/18
St. Louis African Arts Festival

The 27th annual St. Louis African Arts Festival takes up residence at the World’s Fair Pavilion at Forest Park from Saturday through Monday. 

The festival aims to educate people in St. Louis about the wide ranges of cultures among African nations and the African diaspora.

The homicide rate in Missouri from 1999- 2016 continues to rank higher than in surrounding states.
Richard Rosenfeld | University of Missouri-St. Louis

Missouri has the highest black homicide rate in the United States, according to a report by the Violence Policy Center.

The study, called the Black Homicide Victimization in the United States: An Analysis of 2015 Homicide Data, examined federal data from 2015. It found that the homicide rates for blacks in Missouri is 46.24 per 100,000, more than double the national black homicide rate of 18.67 per 100,000. (The national white homicide victimization rate of 2.67 per 100,000.)

A stretch of Martin Luther King Drive that houses two furniture-and-appliance stores is seen from atop the old J.C. Penney building between Hamilton and Hodiamont avenues.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On just about any day, a stream of customers arrives at Jaden’s Diner at 4251 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in The Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. For people from the neighborhood, and for those from other parts of St. Louis, there’s one big draw.

“We’ve got one of the best soul-food places in St. Louis city,” exclaimed Iris Crawford, a cook at the restaurant.

The restaurant can get crowded, especially on Sundays. That’s when the diner offers a glimpse into the once-bustling community of then-Easton Avenue — decades ago an economic powerhouse. Its glory days are long gone, but proud residents hope improvements will come.

Basketball players huddle for a prayer at the Monsanto Family YMCA.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

For Marcus Wilson, basketball is more than just a game — and he has the career to prove it. Before becoming the executive director of the Monsanto Family YMCA, Wilson learned that basketball could take him far in life and away from the rough neighborhood he came from.

Now he wants to make sure others have that same opportunity.

Every Saturday morning, Wilson opens the court of his YMCA off of Page Blvd., free of charge for anyone wanting to play basketball.

An illustration of African Americans questioning their origins.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The 2020 census is still two years away, but there is plenty of buzz about what the federal survey will ask, including questions about citizenship and country of origin.

For the first time, people will be able to write in their origins in a blank box on the census instead of just checking a race.

The survey, which happens every ten years, is designed to count the population so federal funds can be allocated across the country. But the new questions about where people come from can generate confusion or suspicion — especially from African-Americans, who may not know where their ancestors originated, or immigrants who believe their responses might be used against them in the future.

Pastor Gwenndolyn Lee of Spirit of Love Church wants to change the negative stigma surrounding HIV in the black community. Her younger brother died from AIDS nearly 14 years ago.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 50 percent of HIV cases in the St. Louis region are in the African-American community. That’s according to a 2016 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. But the stigma surrounding the virus in the black community makes it a challenge to address.

Local organizations like Faith Communities United have been working to break the stigma down by partnering with several faith communities throughout the region, including Spirit of Love Church in St. Louis, lead by Pastor Gwenndolyn Lee. For Lee, the fear of discussing HIV in the black community, and especially in the black church, is a personal one.

Marsha Evans and the Coalition at the 1860 Saloon on February 24. The band played blues, hip-hop, and r&b songs during their performance.
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

Marsha Evans is no stranger to the blues. She has performed blues music all her life and can be found performing at venues across St. Louis with her band, Marsha Evans and the Coalition.

But Evans doesn’t confine her passion for the blues to the stage. She’s a strong advocate for the music. For weeks, she and other musicians in the St. Louis region have discussed ways to honor the legacy of the blues and keep the treasured African-American art form alive.

“You’re pouring your life in three or four minutes of musical expression — your innermost emotions, all of the pain you felt on any particular day for a number of months or years,” she said.

The Movement for Black Lives hopes to increase voter turnout among African-Americans across the country by texting "WAKANDA" to 91990.
The Movement for Black Lives

Civil rights activists are tapping into the success of the "Black Panther" film to encourage blacks and other minorities to register to vote before the 2018 midterm elections.

#Wakandathevote is a national campaign created by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 50 organizations around the country dedicated to social activism. The campaign was organized by Rukia Lumumba, Jessica Byrd and St. Louis activist Kayla Reed.

Ty'Chila Thomas answers trivia questions during a L.O.V.E Project session at Lafayette High School in Wildwood. Feb. 14, 2018
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For three years Shante Duncan has facilitated The L.O.V.E. Project with freshman girls at Lafayette High School in Wildwood. She talks to the girls about school and anything else they want to share about their personal lives.

This month, Duncan centered the session around important African-American females, from Ida B. Wells to Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cervical cancer cells advanced medical research.

September 20, 2017 photo. About 100 people attended a town hall meeting at the O'Fallon Park Recreation Complex.
File photo | Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

The next police chief of St. Louis needs to reign in a department that has allowed its officers to too quickly use deadly force and frequently mistreat African-Americans, residents said Wednesday night.

St. Louis is preparing to hire someone to replace former Chief Sam Dotson, who retired April 19, the day after Mayor Lyda Krewson was took office. Since then, Larry O’Toole has led the department as interim chief.

Donna Rogers-Beard, Emma Riley and Rev. Doris Graham joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the history Clayton's historical, displaced African-American neighborhood.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Picture the affluent St. Louis suburb of Clayton. Great schools. Flourishing businesses. A lively restaurant scene.

But how Clayton came to be synonymous with such commercial affluence is entwined with a little-known part of the suburb’s history.

From the 1800s to the 1950s, Clayton was home to a flourishing African-American community. The area’s black residents were pushed out of the area through rigorous “urban renewal” zoning policy to make room construction of the vaunted commercial center of the suburb. The black community in Clayton all but disappeared.

Dr. Sheandra Brown and Kristy Jackson are two local educators who recently spoke at The Crooked Room Conference at UMSL, which focused on improving outcomes for African American girls and women in education.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a growing body of research that shows African-American girls are punished in school at rates much higher than girls of any other race.

Dr. Nathaniel Murdock, 79, visits the former Homer G. Phillips Hospital. Murdock delivered thousands of babies at the hospital as an OB-GYN in the 1960s and 70s.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In the first half of the 20th century, segregation touched virtually every part of American life. Black residents of St. Louis weren't just barred from schools, lunch counters and drinking fountains reserved for whites. Even hospitals could refuse to admit black patients.

But the hospitals that were built to serve African-American patients hold a special place in medical history. The facilities employed and trained thousands of black doctors and nurses. In St. Louis, Homer G. Phillips Hospital quickly became a trusted household name. Today marks the 80th anniversary of its dedication ceremony on Feb. 22, 1937.

A traveling museum in St. Louis highlights the achievements of black inventors. From left, across: Granville T. Woods, Lonnie Johnson, Sarah Boone, George Washington Carver, Bessie Blount, Elijah McCoy, Madam CJ Walker, Marjorie Joyner, Philip Emeagwali.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1996, Loretta Ford founded the Museum of Black Inventors with the idea of highlighting the achievements of often unsung African Americans who contributed greatly to the fields of science, household goods, engineering and technology.

Housed for a while in the Central West End, the organization eventually outgrew its location and in 1998 the museum reemerged as a traveling museum and now visits schools, workplaces, and community organizations across the Midwest.

Kahlil Irving, 24, hunches over a clay vessel as it spins on a wheel. He smooths the sides, with his face an inch or two away from the turning.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Kahlil Irving sits down to the potter’s wheel in his studio, picks up an unfinished pot, the muddled grey of unfinished clay, and begins to turn the wheel. He knows the smooth pot will be glazed, fired, and pulled from the kiln, a deep, lustrous black. 

Irving will add the pot to a growing collection of more than 700 other black vases and vessels, which he’ll arrange into a 20-foot-long table-like platform for the grand opening of Bruno David Gallery in Clayton.  Like a demonstration blocking traffic, Irving’s sculpture manifests dissatisfaction with the systemic racism he sees throughout the art world and greater United States.  

“This is like an act of protest. This is a protest, but I’m not standing outside with picket signs and yelling at you,” said Irving. “I’m yelling at you through the monument of the work, I’m yelling at you through the monument of obstructing your time and space.”

Kirkwood principal responds to blackface incident after meeting

Oct 21, 2016
Jenny Simeone | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Oct. 21 with email from principal on investigation into the incident Earlier this week, Kirkwood High School families and community members received an email from head principal Michael Havener, explaining the conclusion of an investigation into an apparent use of blackface on campus earlier that month. The letter challenges the students who called out the incident.

Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association

The St. Louis County Library will explore the disappearance of African-American sites in the region at a presentation tonight.

The panel discussion is the third event in the library's "We Are St. Louis” series exploring the nuanced identities of the region’s residents. It will be held at the Lewis & Clark branch in north St. Louis County.

Kirkwood High School student's apparent use of blackface upsets classmates

Oct 10, 2016
A high school sign.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

When a black student tells a white principal in a predominantly white school that another student’s behavior is racist, how should the principal respond?

That question came into focus at Kirkwood High School last week, when a white student left a chemistry class with charcoal covering his face.

Principal Michael Havener said the student meant to mimic a beard. But because the student had smeared his entire face, it looked more blackface to Kirkwood freshman Kiden Smith and her friends.

Controversial artwork to remain at CAM

Sep 26, 2016
A art piece by Kelley Walker depicting a civil rights-era protest is splattered with melted dark, white, and milk chocolate.
Kelley Walker, Black Star Press | Paula Cooper Gallery

Updated Sept. 29 with a statement from Jeffrey Uslip — The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis will not remove Kelley Walker’s controversial artwork from its walls. 

Some St. Louis residents called for a boycott of the museum and three of the museum’s black employees called for the removal of four works  — and for chief curator Jeffrey Uslip to resign — on the grounds that Walker’s exhibit demeaned black people. CAM director Lisa Melandri said Monday that removing the work would be censorship.

CAM's latest exhibit leads employees to call for curator's resignation

Sep 22, 2016
An art piece by Kelley Walker uses a floor-to-ceiling cover of a female rapper from men's magazine. It is smeared in tooth paste.
Jenny Simeone | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Sept. 23 with statement from Kelley Walker — The Contemporary Art Museum’s display of a controversial exhibit by artist Kelley Walker — and how the administration handled public objection — has shadowed the museum in tension. The exhibit uses the images of black people in ways some St. Louisans consider disrespectful and offensive.

Three members of the museum’s administrative staff who are black have called for the museum to remove Walker’s “Direct Drive” exhibition. In the letter to the museum's senior directors published Thursday on Facebook, De Andrea Nichols, Lyndon Barrois Jr. and Victoria Donaldson also said chief curator Jeffrey Uslip should resign and issue a formal apology.

A art piece by Kelley Walker depicting a civil rights-era protest is splattered with melted dark, white, and milk chocolate.
Kelley Walker, Black Star Press | Paula Cooper Gallery

Walk into the Contemporary Art Museum today and you will be greeted with brick paintings, light boxes, laptop sculptures, and a 4-by-4 chocolate disco ball. It’s Kelley Walker’s first U.S. solo museum show, Direct Drive.  

Walk deeper into the main galleries and you’ll see works from the Georgia-born artist’s past shows, most notably Black Star Press, and Schema. They include a floor-to-ceiling print of the model and rapper Trina scantily clad on the cover of KING magazine coated in digital scans of smeared toothpaste. Another uses a 1963 image of Birmingham police and dogs attacking a civil rights protester. The print is splattered with different shades of chocolate. Both works have garnered Walker, who is white, a reputation for commenting on race in America — and fierce criticism of his use of the black body.

'Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa the Musical' comes to Touhill

Sep 14, 2016
'Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa the Musical' dancers and singers held a pop up performance at UMSL's Millennium Student Center Monday.
Provided by UMSL campus photographer August Jennewein

When Niyi Coker considers Africa’s contributions to modern music, he can’t help but think of Miriam Makeba, the acclaimed South African singer and activist who introduced international audiences to the continent’s sounds.

It’s impossible to separate Makeba’s art from her activism, said Coker, a professor of African-American studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In a life that was heroic and tragic, the singer suffered three decades of forced exile from her homeland for challenging its racist policies and injustice.

When Makeba died in 2008, she left an incredible legacy, said Coker, a native Nigerian who wrote “Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa the Musical.” Its first performance in the United States takes place Thursday at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

zhu |Flickr | http://bit.ly/21DUy2Q

A large body of study has amassed over the past 20 years looking critically at enrollment, retention and persistence rates of African-American men in higher education. The statistics are startling. Enrollment numbers are dwindling, with African-American male college enrollment around 34 percent, compared with 39 percent of African-American women.

This piece is from Basil Kincaid's "Reclamation 2," showing at The Luminary through Feb. 27.
Willis Ryder Arnold / St. Louis Public Radio

It's no stretch to think that Basil Kincaid’s efforts to unite people of African heritage require travel. But pre-paid phone cards, vinyl sheets and a strong adhesive are also part of the process.

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