The African-American Heritage of St. Louis: A Guide

North-Central St. Louis


[Electronic editor's note: Different publications define and name parts of the City of St. Louis differently. In order to make this guide easier for both locals and non-St. Louisans to understand, a brief description is in order:

North and North-Central St. Louis are made up of areas "above" the Downtown, Mill Creek Valley, Mid-Town, and Central Corridor (Central West End, and Kingsbury) areas of the city. Using the names defined in St. Louis: Its Neighborhoods and Neighbors, Landmarks and Milestones (Robert E. Hannon, compiler and editor. St. Louis: St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Assn., 1986.), these predominantly African American areas of the city include the broadly defined neighborhoods of: Old North St. Louis, Hyde Park, Yeatman, Grand Prairie, Fairgrounds, Bissell-College Hill, Cabanne, Arlington, Walnut Park, and Baden-Riverview.] Taylor



30.     Better Family Life
        724 Union Boulevard
Since its establishment in 1983, Better Family Life has organized activities throughout the year to strengthen the black family and improve the African American community.

Among the activities are such annual events as the celebration of Kwanzaa, December 26 - January 1; Black Dance USA, held on the Memorial Day weekend in May; Black Family Week, schedule for late July - early August; the Unity Ball held on the third Saturday in November; and the Black Merchants and Art Holiday Expo in early December. The organization also offers adult and youth retreats, an adult study group, and a youth leadership and development program.

31.     The Sky's The Limit mural
        Central West Plaza Building, 625 North Euclid Avenue
The Sky's The Limit mural, on the west wall of the Central West Plaza Building, depicts the optimism of the African American community. The mural is accompanied by a poem, We Rise, by St. Louis poet Shirley Le Flore.

The multipurpose Central West Plaza Building has been renovated to provide warehouse and commercial space. Across the street at the corner of Delmar Boulevard and Kingshighway, the Central West Shopping Plaza was developed by the Union Sarah Economic Development Corporation, Inc. It includes a 40,000-square-foot building leased to National Supermarkets, opened in 1984, and space leased to F. W. Woolworth, Payless Shoes, and other retail and commercial enterprises.

32.     Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
        Fountain Park, located east of Kingshighway, between Delmar and
        Page.
The eleven-foot bronze statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., by sculptor Ralph Torrini, commemorates the life of the assassinated civil rights leader (1929-1968). It was sponsored by the Union-Sarah Association and unveiled in 1978. The inscription on the base of the statue reads "HIS DREAM - OUR DREAM."

Fountain Park, first plotted in 1857, was landscaped by the City of St. Louis in the 1890s.

33.     Monsanto Branch YMCA
        5555 Page Avenue
The Monsanto Branch YMCA was built on the site of the former Page-Park Branch YMCA, the successor to the Pine Branch YMCA. It consolidated the activities of the Page-Park and North Side YMCAs. The $2,500,000 recreational facility opened in September 1981. The Monsanto Company contributed $1,100,000 to build the new YMCA.

After several attempts to establish a black YMCA branch in St. Louis, the first in 1877, John Boyer Vashon, principal of Public Elementary School #10, organized a YMCA for Colored Men in 1887. The Colored YMCA, later Afro-American Young Men's Christian Home Association, was accepted as a branch of the Metropolitan St. Louis YMCA in 1912.

The new Pine Street Branch YMCA at Pine Street and Ewing Avenue was dedicated on march 23, 1919. Even before completion, the facility has seen use as a dormitory for black troops returning from World War I duty. The Pine Street Y was demolished as part of the Mill Creek Valley Rehabilitation Project in 1960.

34.     St. Louis American
        4144 Lindell Boulevard
The first issue of the St. Louis American, the second black-owned newspaper in St. Louis, appeared on March 17, 1928. It was established by A. N. Johnson, a Baltimore newspaperman, and his son-in-law, John L. Procope, a businessman from St. Louis. Johnson became managing editor, Fred Alston art director and cartoonist, and N. B. Young, Jr., editorial and feature writer. The paper grew steadily until the stock market crash of 1929. Several stockholders pulled out, and Johnson returned to the East Coast to work. N. B. Young continued to run the paper, with the assistance of a young graduate from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Nathaniel E. Sweets. Sweets accepted the position of advertising manager for the paper, and eventually became business manager and publisher. After Sweets' retirement in 1981, his son, Fred Sweets, sold their interest in the paper to Gene Liss who was then joined by Dr. Donald Suggs and C. W. Cates. In 1984 Suggs purchased Liss' shares in the paper and became the majority shareholder and publisher.

The American, a weekly with a circulation of 31,000, is known as a leading voice for civil rights, fair housing and employment, and black participation in politics at the local and national level.

35.     St. Louis Argus
        4595 Martin Luther King Drive
Brother Joseph and William Mitchell founded the weekly tabloid, the St. Louis Argus, in 1912. With Joseph Mitchell as managing editor, the Argus championed better schools, educational opportunities and full civil rights for African Americans. Edwina Mitchell was women's page editor for many years. After the death of William Mitchell in 1945, his widow, Nannie Mitchell-Turner, became business manager and later president-treasurer of the Argus Publishing Company. The paper has remained a forum for advancing African American concerns under the direction of her son, Frank Mitchell, the present publisher, Eugene Mitchell, her grandson, and its editor, Donald Thompson. The Argus is the oldest continuous black business in St. Louis.

The newspaper, with a circulation of 40,000, was named for the mythological Argus, a creature with one hundred eyes which were never closed at the same time.

36.     St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church
        1260 Hamilton Avenue
St. Paul's is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in St. Louis and the second-oldest black Protestant church. The original church was established in 1841 by the Reverend William Paul Quinn, a native of Honduras. At first the congregation met in private homes and shops, with the first church building and school constructed at Eleventh and Green (now Lucas Avenue) streets after the Civil War. It has a long history in working for quality education for blacks.

St. Paul's moved to its present location from the Mill Creek area.

37.     Union Memorial United Methodist Church
        1141 Belt Avenue at Bartmer
Union Memorial Methodist Church was the third-oldest black church in St. Louis. The first congregation worshipped on Broadway between Morgan Street (Delmar Avenue) and Franklin Avenue in the home of a slave. The church has been at many locations from its founding in 1840, but moved from the Mill Creek area to its present location in 1961.
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