Blog Health Equity

St. Louis bus tour reveals history of racial disparities

Written by Brittany Calkins, BA candidate at Emory University and participant in the 2019 Institute for Public Health Summer Research ProgramPublic & Global Health Track

I am from St. Louis, so when I saw we had a bus tour, I assumed we would be visiting the “classic” St. Louis areas, such as the Arch and the Central West End. I was pleasantly surprised to visit some places in St. Louis where I have never been and to learn more about the history of St. Louis and life is affected in St. Louis today.

The tour started with the haunting story of Rodney McAllister. In 2001, Rodney was 10 years old living in St. Louis City. He was killed by a pack of stray dogs in Ivory Perry Park. Since then, there have been many efforts to try to make the park feel safe again including renovating the basketball courts, putting in playground equipment, and creating a concert series. However, this park did not always feel unsafe. It was previously named Visitation Park because Visitation Academy, an all-girls Catholic school, was right next to it. However, the school fled from St. Louis City to St. Louis County in the 1960s like many other businesses and people.

The site of the Shelley Family home where tense race relations led to litigation in 1945.

One stop on the tour that stood out to me was the Shelley House. The African-American Shelley family, bought this house in 1945, and it was near a home that the Kraemer family, a white family, owned. However, it was part of a restrictive covenant, so the Kraemer family sued. The case ended up going to the Supreme Court, which ruled that racially-restricted covenants violated the Constitution. The Shelley family was able to move into the house. I found the Rebuilding Together St. Louis sign next to the Shelley House plaque important. It is a reminder to look at our past to help understand the persistent issues in St. Louis so that we can move forward and rebuild St. Louis.

One thing that our tour guide mentioned that has stuck with me was about the Shelley house. He mentioned how easily you could just drive past this house and not realize how important it is. I believe that is how a lot of St. Louis is; you can easily not recognize the significance of many places. This tour reminded me how interesting and beautiful St. Louis is.