Peeling the Onion

Onion Horton says he's everything a white man wants a black man to be

Onion Horton, on the air.
Onion Horton, on the air. PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG

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Mark Kasen, Onion's longtime business associate: "Onion's more interested in talking than he is in the details of the business that allows him to talk."
Mark Kasen, Onion's longtime business associate: "Onion's more interested in talking than he is in the details of the business that allows him to talk."
With Clayton and Boykin beside him at the mic, Onion is talking about the Cardinals' push for a new stadium. Clayton insists that ordinary citizens, black and white, can stop the project. "We need to organize, that's all," Clayton says. "These are things we can agree on. If we could get 1,000 stamp-lickers and 1,000 envelope-lickers, we could get something done." But Onion is having none of that.

"Here's a black guy like me and a white guy like you who don't need a stadium," he says, noting that petitioners didn't get enough signatures in time to put the proposal on the fall ballot. He says the system is stacked against public votes on projects favored by the rich. "If white folks and black folks could go to the polls, there wouldn't be no stadium. When ordinary black and white people get together, it doesn't make no difference. The last thing the rich white man wants is ordinary people working together. It's the same white man at the top who's going to keep you and me apart. Until poor people get into office, nothing will change, and that's not going to happen."

The subject switches to school vouchers, which Clayton sees as a way to help black kids get a decent education. He's sincere, and Onion recognizes that. "I know about you," he says. "You really mean it." Then he starts getting mushy about the ghetto, the old men who play checkers in the vacant lot near his house, the kids who use old mattresses for trampolines.

"I want to die in the city," he declares. "I love it. I don't want to be in Chesterfield. I don't want to be in Richmond Heights. I want to live in the slums. But I want my schools fixed so they're like the ones in Richmond Heights and Chesterfield." But, he declares, of course that will never happen.

He smiles and looks at Boykin, clearly smitten. He asks whether she remembers the other day when they were talking about paradise lost and Shangri-La. She smiles back, as if recalling a special moment.

"If we were in paradise lost or Shangri-La, I wouldn't have to worry about getting older while Stephanie's still young. But I ain't in Shangri-La. I'm in St. Louis."

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