St. Louis is spending the summer talking about reparations for Black residents
A St. Louis commission has convened monthly this summer to confront the vast and layered damage of slavery, segregation and discrimination. Established by executive order late last year, the St. Louis Reparations Commission will meet for its fourth public meeting Wednesday, July 26.
Under the order, the commission’s nine-member board is mandated “to explore the history of race-based harms in the city; reveal the present-day manifestations of that history; and, ultimately, propose a method and potential funding resources for directly repairing the harms that have been inflicted.”
For Kayla Reed, the commission’s chair, the mandate means taking on a long history of racial discrimination in St. Louis. That includes the erasure of neighborhoods under “urban renewal” policies, as well as the use of racial covenants to keep homes from being sold to Black people.
“That material gap has impacted our communities, our schools, our neighborhoods, our safety,” Reed said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air. “That’s a robust conversation to start around reparations.”
The commission’s work comes at a time when other cities are taking steps to consider what a reparations program might look like. In 2019, the city of Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the U.S. to create a reparations program for Black residents who had been restricted by racist housing policies.
“Black people were blocked from the opportunity to actually own a home,” said Missouri Historical Society curator Gwen Moore, a member of the commission’s board.
“I wanted people to understand,” she continued, “why there’s this gap, this wealth gap, and why Black homeownership is so much lower than white homeownership. It was by design, right? It wasn’t by accident, [and didn’t] have anything to do with some flaw in Black people. But it was actually government policy, and private policies and practices.”
The commission’s work is still in its early stages. After gathering community input, the group aims to release a report with recommendations by March 2024. Future public meetings will include additional opportunities for public comments and expert presentations on different aspects of the harms endured by St. Louis’ Black residents.
The fourth public meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the New Northside Conference Center, will focus on health disparities.
“You can’t go back into the past and correct what was happening. There has to be redress,” Moore stressed. “I think history proves that public policy and private practices are responsible for current conditions.”
To hear more from Kayla Reed and Gwen Moore, including a discussion of the history of redlining and the modern efforts to memorialize Black communities erased by “urban renewal,” listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.
Listen to Kayla Reed and Gwen Moore on “St. Louis on the Air”