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

North 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 necessary:

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



26.     All Saints Episcopal Church
        5010 Terry Avenue at Kingshighway Boulevard
Established in 1874 as the first Episcopal church for St. Louis blacks, All Saints moved to its present location from one at Garrison Avenue and Locust Street.
27.     Handy Park
        At Euclid and Ashland
W. C. Handy's experience as a young musician, down and out in St. Louis in 1893, inspired his most celebrated song, the St. Louis Blues. He wrote, "If you ever had to sleep on the cobbles down by the river in St. Louis, you'll understand the complaint" of "I hate to see de evenin' sun go down." At another time, he explained that in writing the St. Louis Blues, he took "the humor of the coon song, the syncopation of ragtime and the spirit of Negro folk song and called it a blues."

Handy wrote the words and music to the St. Louis Blues in 1914. Sophie Tucker introduced it successfully into her vaudeville act, and its record and sheet-music sales quickly skyrocketed. This park in north St. Louis was named in honor of Handy (1873-1958), who said, "I was forty the year the St. Louis Blues was composed, and ever since then my life has, in one sense at least, revolved around that composition."

28.     Julia Davis Branch Library
        4666 Natural Bridge Avenue
St. Louis Public Library departed from tradition on Sunday, April 21, 1974, when it dedicated a branch library named after a living person, Dr. Julia Davis.

This honor acknowledged Dr. Davis, whose initial gift of $2,500 in 1961 was used to begin the library's Julia Davis Collection of Negro and African Literature and Culture. Dr. Davis also donated her personal collection to the Davis Collection at the same time.

A well-known educator and historian, Dr. Davis, a graduate of Sumner High School and Stowe Teachers College, taught in the St. Louis Public Schools from 1913 until 1961. Thirty-one of those years were spent at the Simmons School. In 1941, she initiated a series of annual exhibits at St. Louis Public Library featuring contributions of African Americans to world culture. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1981. Dr. Davis celebrated her 100th birthday in November 1991 with a ceremony at Central Library.

The groundbreaking for a new Julia Davis Branch Library at 4401 Natural Bridge was held on September 29, 1991. Land for the new branch, the first branch of the St. Louis Public Library system to be constructed since 1974, has been donated by Commerce Bank of St. Louis. The 15,000 square-foot new branch, designed by architect Russell Lewis of By Design, Inc., will feature a 100-seat auditorium and space for collections of 50,000 volumes. Computers and educational and recreational software packages will be available for public use. The Julia Davis Research Collection, now housed at Central Library, will be moved to the new branch when it opens in late 1992 or early 1993.

[Electronic editor's note: The new Julia Davis Branch Library was dedicated in February 1993. Address is given as 4415 Natural Bridge Road.  Ms. Davis passed away April 26, 1993. Information for the electronic editor's note is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.] Taylor

29.     Mathews-Dickey Boys Club
        4245 North Kingshighway Boulevard
This $2,500,000 facility was the brainchild of Martin Mathews and Hubert "Dickey" Ballantine. At the time of the dedication ceremony in 1981, the club had already been in existence for 20 years (Its original location had been Ballantine's North St. Louis home and later church basements and borrowed fields). The present club site, once the old Public Schools Stadium, covers twelve acres of ground on the west side of Kingshighway at Penrose Avenue. It houses facilities for sports and recreation as well as club offices, meeting, and class rooms.

Mathews-Dickey provides athletic, recreational, educational, and cultural enrichment activities for over 10,000 boys and girls from 7 to 17 every year.


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