Should we say goodbye to the Crusader King?
St. Louis' collective consciousness can be moody. Some days we're bursting with pride over the deliciousness of Provel, the sweetness of gooey butter cake, and the smoothness of Vess sodas and Stag. On others, we're depressed about our soaring murder rate, high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, loss of corporate headquarters, the state of Lambert International Airport, and our persistent segregation.
But we can all agree that this city isn't what it once was. We'll never again host a World's Fair and Olympic Games as we did in 1904. Once we were the fourth-largest city in America. Today we're smaller than Lexington, Kentucky and Wichita, Kansas. Even some suburbs in California and Texas have bigger populations than we do.
Fifty-nine years ago, the St Louis Hawks won an NBA championship; now we don't have even have a team. We've lost NFL franchises twice. The Dome once featured Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az Hakeem and Orlando Pace in the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Now it plays host to Joyce Meyers ministries and a geriatric Guns and Roses.
In 1944 there was an all-St Louis World Series played between the Cardinals and Browns at Sportsman's Park. Today major free agents such as Giancarlo Stanton don't even want to come here (and no one other than evangelical Christians seems too excited about playing for Mike Matheny).
If St Louis was a corporation, it would be time to rebrand. A turnaround firm would come in, fire all of the old guard, and announce the company is moving in a new direction. Soon to follow would be a new name and a new logo.
And why not give that idea some serious consideration right here in St. Louis? Let's face it — not only is our current image not doing us any favors, but our namesake is positively toxic in the light of 21st century values.
Louis IX, after all, wasn't just a devout Catholic. He hated Jews, waged holy war against the Muslims and even targeted Orthodox Christians.
Upon the advice of the pope, our namesake ordered copies of the Talmud gathered and burned. He issued orders restricting Jewish businesses and later expelling Jews from France (although they weren't carried out). Years later Louis would instruct Jews to wear special markers on their clothing — an idea that would resurface seven centuries later in Nazi Germany.
He was so full of violent religious fervor it wouldn't be an exaggeration to refer to him as the "Usama bin Laden of Europe.” Devout followers of Louis engaged in a French-style Inquisition against heretical Christian beliefs. These Christian jihadis attempted to force the non-Christian Baltic peoples into the fold of Christianity or face the sword of Christendom. Louis then led the 7th Christian Crusade to capture the Holy Land.
He failed, miserably — finding himself a prisoner of Muslims until a hefty ransom was paid for his release. Still, Louis' failure did little to dampen his zeal. He launched the 8th Christian Crusade, eventually dying of sickness in Tunisia, along with many, many followers. His famous last words: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem." Suffice it to say he never made it to the promised land.
Fast-forward several hundred years, and smack-dab in the middle of a mid-sized Midwestern city sits a statue of the Crusader King on his horse. Not just any Crusader King: an anti-Semitic crusader who actually sucked at crusading. Think of him as a 13th Century Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All talk one year and in the next, all of his religious fantasies are up in smoke along with his idiotic followers.
In 2017 St Louis removed the statue in Forest Park honoring the Confederacy after local activists (myself included) put heavy pressure on Mayor Lyda Krewson. The rationale was simple: we didn't want a monument eulogizing the defenders of slavery, racism and treason in our beautiful park.
So, we come to this question. Do we want not only a monument to a Crusader to stand, but do we want our city named after a Christian Jihadi? Surely there are more suitable names for our city .... names of people who didn't hate Jews, Muslims, pagans and non-Catholic Christians.
The idea of changing the name of a city or of an entire country is not as unusual as you may think. For example: The city of Tsaritsyn honored the tsar of Russia. Stalin had the name changed to Stalingrad where it is now etched into history as the site of the horrifically violent battle between Soviet and German forces. After the fall of Communism the city became Volgograd. Or take Saigon — the North Vietnamese victory in the Vietnam War and the unification of the country saw it change its name to Ho Chi Minh City after the victorious leader — or Mumbai. Until 1995, it was Bombay.
Even entire countries have rebranded. Cambodia has changed its name several times. In 1935 Persia changed its name to Iran. During World War II Ruler Haile Selassie changed his country's name from Abyssinia to Ethiopia.
So the idea of St Louis changing our name isn't ridiculous. What is ridiculous is not only being named after a hateful holy warrior, but being named after one who sucked at that. A loser. Face it, the Christians lost the Crusades; if you wanna name a city after someone from that time period name it for the winner: the Muslim ruler and warrior Salahuddin Al Ayyubi.
We have many, many options, but here are a few modest proposals. Some atone for Louis' sins by honoring our city's Jewish and Muslim heritage; others simply pay tribute to people who did far more for this humble burg than Louis the King ever did.
For your consideration, we suggest ....
BlockSanto: According to Zion in the Valley, the three-volume work on Jewish history by Walter Ehrlich, it is difficult to pinpoint who exactly was the first Jewish St Louisan. What is known is that one of the most prominent families was the Block family and one of the most successful early Jews was a Sephardic man named Isaac Monsanto. If you combine the two names you get BlockSanto. That's a name so cool we should snap it up just to stop some savvy corporation from getting their first.
SmithVille: The 1982 World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals were an exciting team to watch. A big part of that excitement was the universally-loved Ozzie Smith, although Lonnie Smith was also on that roster. Years later the Cardinals would get closing-pitcher Lee Smith and of course in earlier years the football Cardinals had Jackie Smith. Even more importantly, there is Anthony Lamar Smith who was gunned down by St Louis cop Jason Stockley. Why not honor all the above in one easy-to-spell moniker?
Gentle Giant: The death of Mike Brown Jr sparked a global movement for justice. And his nickname has such a peaceful sound to it that it would set tourists at ease (in the event we finally manage to attract some other than those coming for religious conventions).
Ansari: Imam Samuel Ansari not only served as the imam of the Al-Mu'minun Islamic Center on Grand and Cass until his death, but he made world-famous bean pies for years out of his bakery on Shreve and Lee. He fed the city's soul and its bellies; what could be a better namesake?
Rana: Dr. Waheed Rana immigrated from Pakistan to St. Louis in the 1970s and served as a professor at Saint Louis University. He quickly worked to establish a mosque for the tiny community and served as an imam, teacher, halal butcher, shariah-compliant mortician, prison chaplain, marriage counselor, and mentor for decades until his death. Dr. Rana was a true pillar of the community.
Provel: The greatest invention ever to come out of St Louis not only gives the city the best pizza in America, it also has a very catchy name. You’ve heard of Provo, Utah; now how about Provel, Missouri? Provo attracts wealthy tourists with mountains of snow. We can attract them with mountains of processed cheese.
Yet while all of these names are great, I’d go with an even better one: Obama.
There are cities across America named after ex presidents; why not join their number? Beyond that, St. Louis has discussed for decades how to bridge the "Delmar Divide." Surely naming the city after the first African-American president would be a great symbolic step — and, in a city that is overwhelmingly Democrat, with a Democratic mayor, it should also be a popular one. Surely Barack Obama is more in line with our values than a Crusader King.
This will also give St. Louis the chance to be first at something: the first city to be named after Barack Obama. Not the hundredth city to get an Ikea or Shake Shack, the kind of sad commercial transactions that gives locals desperate to stay current a brief glimmer of hope. Instead of being followers we will be a leader.
The benefits would be legion. We'd see the image of the city transform overnight, giving a big boost to the local knowledge-economy and make the city a destination for start-up firms. Washington University, Saint Louis University, Harris-Stowe State University, and UMO (University of Missouri at Obama) will all see their enrollments increase. We will become a hub for progressive conventions and attract young African-Americans in a way Dallas, Charlotte, Houston and Atlanta do now. And when the Barack Obama Presidential Library opens in Chicago we can connect on high-speed rail, if we ever again get a Democratic president to invest in the technology.
And so I ask all 28 members of the Board of Aldermen, Mayor Lyda Krewson and President Lewis Reed: Do you believe in the message of hope and change of Barack Obama? Or do you believe in the anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim Holy Wars of King Louis? If the answer is Obama, what are you waiting for?
Tear down that statue of the Crusader King in Forest Park and erect a towering statue of Barack and Michelle Obama. The Obama Cardinals. The Obama Blues. All has a nice ring to it. As Obama, Missouri, we could again be the envy of the world.
Umar Lee is a St Louis-based writer and activist. You can contact him at [email protected] The RFT welcomes concise essays on topics of local interest. Contact Sarah Fenske at [email protected] if you've got something to say.