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East St. Louis

Alvin Parks Wants To 'Clear His Name' With Illinois Election Board — And Run For Office Again

Dec 3, 2019
City Council President Pro Tem Robert Eastern listens as city manager Alvin Parks addresses the council on Nov. 23, 2015.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

East St. Louis Township Supervisor Alvin Parks Jr. says “clearing his name” with the Illinois Board of Elections is the first step in his future political plans.

Parks owes the state almost $150,000 in fines because of repeated failures to file campaign contribution reports since 2011, when he was mayor of East St. Louis.

Parks said Monday he’s hoping to reach a settlement with the state board later this month.

Spoiled Food And Drug Deals Gone Wrong: SNAP Recipients Want Change At Corner Stores

Nov 16, 2019
Charlie's Convenient Market in Washington Park is known as the "Orange Store" among neighbors. The corner store just outside St. Louis is an authorized SNAP retailer. 11/15/19
Michael B. Thomas | Special to Kaiser Health News

EAST ST. LOUIS — The parking lot was dark when Marie Franklin and her husband, Sam, last stopped at a corner store near their home. The couple didn't want much from the market that night. But they still strategized before Sam, 49, went inside.

"My husband wouldn't let me go in," Marie Franklin, 57, recalled. "About four or five guys were hanging around the door."

For her, the scene felt all too familiar in a city where it's getting harder to find a safe place to buy milk.

Henry Ballerd, 70, tries on a jacket at a veterans stand down in East St. Louis on Oct. 29. The East St. Louisan served in Vietnam in the Navy.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

EAST ST. LOUIS — The Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center buzzed with activity as nearly 100 veterans bounced between tables offering free goods and services such as clothes, legal and medical advice and even haircuts.

The event is called a stand down — wartime terminology for when troops on the front line are moved back to rest and recharge, said event organizer Moses Holman. 

Reginald Petty poses for a portrait at his home in East St. Louis on Oct. 14, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

EAST ST. LOUIS — Reginald Petty knows the stereotypes of East St. Louis well. A native of the city, he has heard the way many people talk about it.

“'Oh, it’s a high crime rate,'” he said. “'Don’t go to East St. Louis. Be careful.'”

He admits the city has its issues but said crime rates don’t define the city. Petty prefers to focus on East St. Louis’ positive narratives as a city rich with black cultural heritage. After all, he says, the “City of Champions” produced famous athletes, musicians and other celebrities

The intersection of Collinsville and St. Louis Avenues in East St. Louis is where a mob of white rioters first gathered before they rampaged through the city, seeking out and killing black residents.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois’ slow but steady population decline could jeopardize the home rule status some Metro East cities enjoy.

Home rule grants cities broad taxing and regulatory powers, making it easier to quickly tackle local issues and fund projects and services. Status is automatically granted to any Illinois city with more than 25,000 residents. Towns can also achieve home rule through a referendum, as Fairview Heights did. 

East St. Louis Asked For $2.5 Million To Fix Flood Damages. It May Get Far Less.

Sep 27, 2019
The Illinois River as it crested in the flooded town of Grafton, just north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in June 2019..
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

East St. Louis has asked the federal government for $2.5 million to repair damage from this spring’s floods, but could wind up getting only a fraction of what it wants.

The city is among two dozen local governments that have applied for $33 million in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Five months after this spring’s historic flooding, they’re beginning to get an idea of how much they will receive as FEMA teams investigate their requests.

A worker at Kruta's Bakery selects a bear claw for a customer's order on Aug. 13. The bakery celebrates a century of serving the Metro East and St. Louis region.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Jennifer Hammond knows exactly what to do when there’s a birthday at her office. She immediately picks up a cake from Kruta’s Bakery in Collinsville.

For the last century, the family-owned business has lured customers with kolaches, danishes and a wide variety of other baked goods.

“They’re just so tasty — the doughnuts, the cakes, the cupcakes, everything. It’s really good,” said Hammond, who lives near the bakery. 

On Sunday, Kruta’s Bakery will celebrate its 100th year as a family-owned business.

Sister Julia Huiskamp started an afterschool program called the Griffin Center said the availability of guns is a failing of the government.
Derik Holtmann | BND

Editor’s note: There were 341 unsolved murders in East St. Louis between 2000 and 2018. In many of these cases, police had evidence and suspects, but no charges were filed. Here is one of those cases. This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The darkened streets near St. Clair Avenue in East St. Louis were good places to hunt for women.

Alexis Winston was found shot to death in her apartment in the John Robinson Homes in East St. Louis.
Florince Harlan

Editor’s note: There were 341 unsolved murders in East St. Louis between 2000 and 2018. In many of these cases, police had evidence and suspects, but no charges were filed. Here is one of those cases. This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

An early morning phone call with a frantic woman’s voice is countered by the dispatcher’s measured, calm tone.

“He’s breaking in my house now. Please hurry! Please hurry! Hello?” the woman cries.

17 Years After He Was Attacked Outside A Nightclub, His Family Still Waits For Justice

Apr 26, 2019
John Hill was shot to death on Dec. 9, 2001 in the rear of the Club Casinos in the 6800 block of State Street in East St. Louis
Derik Holtmann | BND

Editor’s note: There were 341 unsolved murders in East St. Louis between 2000 and 2018. In many of these cases, police had evidence and suspects, but no charges were filed. Here is one of those cases. This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A shotgun blast sent 24-year-old John Hill to a St. Louis hospital, where he died several days later. The cousin of an Illinois police officer was soon arrested.

East St. Louis Public Housing Residents Are Terrified They’ll Be Murder Victims Next

Apr 25, 2019
A body is removed from the John DeShields Housing Project after a murder there.
Derik Holtmann | BND

This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The courtyard at the Roosevelt Homes public housing complex on North 44th Street is filled with the sounds of children playing, the thump of a basketball on the court, neighbors laughing and talking.

Sometimes those everyday sounds are overtaken by the sounds that come at night: a pounding at the door. Gunshots. Screams. A child’s whispered prayer asking for it all to stop.

“I would ask for God to stop the shooting,” one little girl wrote in a children’s newsletter for an after-school program in the city.

This is part of living in the most dangerous areas of East St. Louis, which statistically has the highest murder rate in the country.

A child attends a rally in East St. Louis, a city that averages 24 murders a year, nearly five times the national average.
Zia Nizami | BND

This article originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The boy was inches from his mother when she took her final breaths.

The man who shot her ran away, leaving the 3-year-old strapped in a car seat, a vulnerable witness to a horror that still haunts him.

Three years later, the boy’s father was shot to death during a neighborhood barbecue. The boy heard gunshots and saw his dying father lying in the grass, unable to move.

This child was barely old enough to attend school when he saw his father killed.

Karen Lee died in an Oct. 29 fire at former East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton's home, pictured here.
Beth Hundsdorfer | St. Louis Public Radio

Her lungs were filled with carbon monoxide and her body covered with burns when firefighters pulled Karen Lee’s body from former East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton’s burning home.

The deadly fire is just the latest problem for Hamilton.

From 2012 to July 2016, Hamilton spent more than $280,000 using a taxpayer supported credit card issued to the township. He is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in federal prison for wire fraud. Federal prosecutors recently seized Hamilton’s retirement to pay $40,000 in restitution.

Evelyn Fluellen, manager of Neighbors' Market, helps Chestina Taylor, left, pick out meat at the East St. Louis grocery store on Dec. 18, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Neighbors' Market grocery store opened its doors in October, filling an unmet need in East St. Louis.

The full-service grocery store has fresh produce, healthy food options and ready-to-go, prepared meals like sandwiches, soups and salads. The market has even partnered with local businesses to sell their products.

Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee will be at the East St. Louis Heritage Festival on Sunday. Aug. 26, 2018
Provided by lllinois Bicentennial Commission

East St. Louis will celebrate its own rich history on Sunday as it joins about a dozen Illinois cities holding celebrations to mark the state’s bicentennial.

The East St. Louis Heritage Festival at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center will note the 200th anniversary of the state’s first constitution, signed in Kaskaskia on Aug. 26, 1818. The festival also will celebrate remarkable East St. Louisans, like iconic jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, Olympic gold medalist Joyner-Kersee, and others.

The John Robinson Homes opened in 1943 as a segregated apartment complex for black families in East St. Louis.
William Widmer | Special to ProPublica

The door is off its hinges in Farlon Wilson’s bathroom. Wilson said that’s an improvement from when she first moved in, when there was no bathroom door at all. She said she’s putting in work orders to fix the problems nearly every week.

“The tub won’t stop leaking and the floor is about to fall,” Wilson said while demonstrating how the floor bends under the pressure of her foot. “I have no access to my bathroom water, period. I’ve had to turn it off because it’s leaking in my kitchen.”

Downstairs in the kitchen, she motioned to a patch in the ceiling where water once leaked through and later talked about how she and her family’s breathing has been affected by mold. She pays less than $100 a month in rent.

Florince Harlan stands in the courtyard of the John Robinson Houses, the public housing complex where her daughter Alexis Winston was killed on Aug. 8, 2017
William Widmer | Special to ProPublica

This article was produced in partnership with The Southern Illinoisan, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Sterling Moody re-arranges shelves at Neighbors' Market, his new East St. Louis grocery store. April 6, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Neighbors’ Market, which promises to focus on healthy food options, is expected to open its doors in East St. Louis this month.

The market will be a full-service grocery store with a dairy and frozen food section, a robust produce aisle, and a butcher’s area for cutting fresh meats daily. The store has already employed its own chef, who will prepare soups, salads and sandwiches. 

The Rev. Starsky Wilson spoke at the Parents United for Change meeting Wednesday March 14, 2018.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Low-income families who live in public housing in East St. Louis are burdened by hidden fees that keep them trapped in debt, according to a survey conducted by the Stepping Out of Poverty campaign.

To help families escape the escalating debts, a group of East St. Louis parents is fighting the housing authority fees they say prevent families from moving and keep people impoverished. Parents United for Change have met with the East St. Louis Housing Authority to negotiate new policies that would limit the fees.

St. Clair County state's attorney Brendan Kelly holds a photo of Quiantez Fair, who was killed in East St. Louis in October. Kelly and law enforcement officials are asking people to help them solve the murder of Fair and 25 other people in the city.
File photo I Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Law enforcement officials in East St. Louis are making a year-end push for witnesses to come forward in unsolved homicides.

Thirty-four people have been killed in East St. Louis so far this year. But police have been able to solve just eight of those cases. That clearance rate of 24 percent is well below the national average, which was about 60 percent in 2016.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson
Gage Skidmore | Flickr

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is urging people in the St. Louis region to make sure protests do not disintegrate into violence.

During a stop Thursday in East St. Louis, Carson said he hoped the protests would generate a broader understanding of the challenges facing the St. Louis region.

Head Start teacher Chea Wyatt guides Kennydi Harris through an exercise June 23, 2017 at the East St. Louis Kindergarten readiness camp.
File Photo |Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

For the first time this school year, Illinois public schools statewide are required to measure and report how prepared their kindergartners were for school.

The state board of education is collecting the data to better understand what regions are lacking preschool access.

However, area school districts are concerned the reporting process is time consuming. Several expressed doubt that the information will be useful.

Drummers lead participants through East St. Louis to remember the 1917 race riot on July 2, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 100 people marked the 100th anniversary of a deadly race riot in East St. Louis Sunday by crossing the Eads Bridge into St. Louis.

About 6,000 African-Americans fled the violence by the same route on July 3, 1917, when mobs of white men, and some women, attacked black people following months of tension over jobs.

Historian Anne Walker is surrounded by family photos in the living room of her home in East St. Louis. June 2017
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of East St. Louis will gather on Sunday to remember the victims of the bloody 1917 race riot with a solemn processional to the Eads Bridge.

On July 2-3, 1917, mobs of white people, angered over labor issues, roved through the city, assaulting African-Americans and burning their homes and businesses.

Although the official death toll was 48 — 39 blacks and 9 whites — historians believe more than 100 people died and hundreds were injured, including women and children.

Head Start teaching assistant Shavonda Willis helps Jemez Jackson Harris IV close a bracelet he made to practice patterns June 23, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Ordinarily Head Start teaching assistant Shavonda Willis would be on vacation during the summer. But this year she is spending six weeks at an East St. Louis elementary school teaching 5 and 6 year olds who’ve never been to preschool.

Andrea Purnell and Gregory Carr discussed "Tinderbox," Carr's play based on the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917, on St. Louis on the Air.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

July 2, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of one of the bloodiest race riots in the 20th century: the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Gregory Carr, an instructor of speech and theater at Harris-Stowe State University, and actress Andrea Purnell joined the program to discuss “Tinderbox,” his play based on the history of the event. 

The intersection of Collinsville and St. Louis Avenues in East St. Louis is where a mob of white rioters first gathered before they rampaged through the city, seeking out and killing black residents.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Andrew Theising was sitting behind the steering wheel of his car, pointing out the pathways of city streets that vanished long ago beneath a parking lot in downtown East St. Louis.

“This is where the homes were burned,’’ he said, solemnly. “This is where African-Americans were hung from the streetlights. This was the height of the violence and the bloodshed.’’

A family flees violence in East St. Louis following the 1917 race riots.
Courtesy of East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission and Cultural Initiative

The social, economic and political factors that led to the deadly East St. Louis race riots 100 years ago will be examined at a conference that begins Friday. 

The point is to educate people about the riots while beginning an ongoing conversation about what the region still faces today, said the Rev. Joseph Brown, chairman of the East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission.

A mob stops a street car during the East St. Louis race riots, which started on July 2, 1917.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst Libraries

The East St. Louis race riots have gone down in history as some of the worst examples of race relations in the St. Louis region. This Sunday, May 28, is the 100-year anniversary of the first, smaller riot. July 2 is the 100-year anniversary of one of the bloodiest race riots in the 1900s.

Related: St. Louis History in Black and White: East St. Louis Race Riot

Tiffany Lee and Reginald Petty recently published "Legendary East St. Louisans."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Miles Davis. Katherine Dunham. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. These are three household names you may know who have connections to East St. Louis. But they are not the only African-American East St.

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