The Longest Day

The Fairgrounds Park race riot of 1949 has been forgotten, just as racism in St. Louis continues to be denied

Shortly before 9 p.m. the crowd spread out in an extended 'company front,' stretching from west to east, and moved on the run northward to Kossuth Avenue as another shout went up that a Negro had been seen near Kossuth....

A reporter who reached the scene almost with the crowd found another Negro being attacked from all sides. He was beaten on a sidewalk leading to a residence in the 3700 block of Kossuth. Pushed, shoved, kicked, struck with clubs, he finally sought refuge on a porch. He was rescued by the police and taken to Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

As police drove off with the man there were numerous expressions of amazement from the crowd that he could live after the punishment he had received. "Why I kicked him twice in the head myself," a 16-year-old boy remarked, incredulously.

Through scratched microfiche, that desperate man is illuminated dully, standing on that porch, his shirt stained darkly by his own blood. The white mob stands in the foreground, their backs to the viewer, ready to inflict greater harm.

The night was June 21, 1949. The account comes from a newspaper that no longer exists, the St. Louis Star-Times. The place is Fairgrounds Park in North St. Louis, the scene of a race riot that has been erased from the city's collective memory.

One of the myths of St. Louis is that it never went through the crucible of violence that other cities suffered in the death throes of Jim Crow. John Berg, the austere, silver-haired bartender at Dressel's Pub, witnessed the riot as a boy of 9. Now, on those rare occasions when he brings it up, St. Louisans look at him skeptically: It was never that bad here, was it?

It is so easy to forget, or disbelieve, that on one night as many as 4,000 to 5,000 whites roamed the grounds of their park, assaulting any African-American unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. As the myth goes, it wasn't as if this were Alabama or Mississippi.

So, too, St. Louisans cling to a myth of the present. Mary Seematter, who teaches a course on the history of African-Americans in St. Louis for Washington University, describes the city's complacency. "People in St. Louis really like to believe that we're pretty decent about race relations," she says wryly. "'We've made a few mistakes, but we've tried real hard to do something about it.' We're very, very good in this city at studying things and talking about them and saying many of the right things."

Racism has deep roots in this city. In 1916, white citizens, by a 3-to-1 margin, passed a referendum to keep black citizens in their place, segregated in a growing urban ghetto down by the river. In 1917, in East St. Louis, whites killed blacks in one of the most violent race riots in this nation's history.

By the middle of the century, as the African-American population of St. Louis grew by an astounding 234 percent, St. Louis was one of the most segregated cities in America. "In 1945," write Amy Stuart Wells and Robert L. Crain in Stepping Over the Color Line: African-American Students in White Suburban Schools, which explores the history of racism in St. Louis, "blacks comprised 13 percent of the population in the City of St. Louis, but they had access to only 7 percent of the housing stock."

A landmark Supreme Court decision -- Shelley v. Kraemer, in 1948 -- worked to break the pattern of residential segregation in St. Louis, prohibiting the enforcement of restrictive covenants, contracts between white homeowners and neighborhood associations agreeing never to sell to black families.

Some cause-and-effect relationships are too obvious to see, but once African-Americans were able to move into white neighborhoods, the whites vacated the city. Although white folks like to tell themselves it was about better schools, a bigger house and a bigger yard, since 1950, when the city's population peaked, St. Louis has lost half-a-million people, and they left as the black folks started moving in.

Where there's a problem in St. Louis, there's a report, or miles of reports. There have been plenty of them on race: reports from the Mayor's Interracial Committee and the Urban League in the 1940s; the Human Development Corp. in the 1960s; the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Rand Corp. in the 1970s; the Community Advisory Committee in the 1980s; St. Louis 2004 in the 1990s -- and many more.

You could stumble over reports written on race and St. Louis until you were exhausted, as if running a marathon that never ends. And every step of the way you would find a study followed by inaction.

You could find yet another committee, its name obscured by time, the St. Louis Council on Human Relations, and its report on "The Fairgrounds Park Incident" in 1949. George Schermer, a man from Detroit who served as the director and author of that report, won't be found in many history books. You could read his "indictment of this community," as one St. Louisan described the document after it was released.

You could read the result of the two-week investigation into "the actual course of events which caused some several hundred St. Louis citizens to momentarily lose their self-control and to engage in the brutal beating of a number of innocent and defenseless fellow citizens," which is how Schermer described his mission.

And what you'd find there would be an assessment of race relations in 1949 that remains true in 2002. You can look on a forgotten race riot from more than a half-century ago and see how it exposes the racial nightmare St. Louis continues to experience and continues to deny.Whites seldom venture beyond Delmar Boulevard into North St. Louis. A drive up Grand Boulevard leads into neighborhoods where almost all the faces are black -- an area of the city where, if whites do find themselves, they check to see that their car doors are securely locked. Blocks of buildings are burned out and crumbling into mounds for the brick-pickers to recover. Homes with broad porches and well-kept yards and backyard gardens stand proudly against the scars of time and indifference. Tax credits don't make their way into North St. Louis as they do to aid in the redevelopment of other parts of the city.

Expansive Fairgrounds Park is bordered by Grand Boulevard to the east, Kossuth Avenue to the north and Natural Bridge Road to the south. A fishing pond stocked with catfish and carp meanders along the park's west side. The maintenance shack is a garish pink building where the sounds of R&B are playing. There are tennis and basketball courts, baseball diamonds, new playground equipment with a swing set. A swimming-pool facility is set directly across from Beaumont High School, where, as classes let out in the afternoon, waves of teenagers emerge and start heading for home. Some walk by a small pink house on a corner lot, "WAKE UP BLACK PEOPLE!" spray-painted on its side.

Last summer, a series of killings here -- black-on-black violence that is paid little mind in St. Louis -- turned Fairgrounds Park into yet another symbol of racial fear.

Whites who may have taken a wrong turn on their way back to the county can tell themselves they have nothing to do with this. It's easier to blame the poor for their poverty.

But in 1949, the teenagers running from Beaumont were all white, a European ethnic mix, "a lunchpail neighborhood," recalls Jim Wilson, a retired lawyer and former city official who grew up on De Soto Avenue.

And just as whites rarely venture into this neighborhood today, the African-American population of St. Louis infrequently crossed the racial borders of the 1940s. Ald. Freeman Bosley Sr., who grew up in the Ville neighborhood, describes how fiercely those borders were protected: "I do remember that if you ever crossed St. Louis Avenue, boy, the white kids would whip your butt and run you back over into your neighborhood."

Rolland Erbar, retired and living in Spanish Lake, remembers that a white boy got similar treatment crossing from the other side: "I had a couple friends back there, years ago, when we were going to school. They lived on the other side of Cass Avenue, and I'd go over there, and I damn near had to fight my way back every time. They'd kick you in the butt and everything until you got to Cass Avenue. If you got across Cass Avenue, they wouldn't cross Cass."

On his own turf, Erbar and his white teenage friends could enjoy the Fairgrounds Park pool through St. Louis' notoriously sweltering summers. "At that time, we always went up there and went swimming," he remembers. "It's the only place to go."

The pool that now sits across from Beaumont would easily have fit inside the pool in which Erbar and his friends swam. Built in 1904, the Fairgrounds Park swimming pool was one of the largest in the Midwest. Don Clooney, who practices law in St. Louis, was the head lifeguard there in 1949, when he was 19. The pool was so large that it took 16 lifeguards to patrol it.

"The unfortunate part about that swimming complex was that when they came in, they had to stand in bullpens, which was hot sand," Clooney recalls. "We used to have, at the peak of the use of that pool, we would have almost 1,500 to 2,000 people come in every 45 minutes, and they would just go through showers to get sand off their feet. It was the most uncleanly situation you've ever seen in your life. You know how we put the chlorine in there? We would mix the chlorine [in machines like cement mixers], it was so concentrated, and pour it in the sides. The only way we could get it going was to get kids going in a circle to circulate the chlorine. Some of their suits would come out white."

The idea of integrating swimming pools incited racial fears in the 1940s. Maggie Dagen, who with her husband, Irv Dagen, founded the St. Louis branch of the Committee of Racial Equality in 1947, jokes, "After all, you and I know that [color] runs, and you might get stained."

Dagen -- whose Victory Without Violence: The First Ten Years of the St. Louis Committee of Racial Equality (CORE), 1947-1957, co-written with Mary Kimbrough, is a valuable record of the early years of civil-rights actions in the city -- accurately describes the irrationality segregation inspired: Get in the pool, and the water touching you is the same water touching everyone else. A black in the pool made it unclean, miscegenetic.

In the summer of '49, racial violence flared in Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; and Youngstown, Ohio, when African-Americans entered public pools. But none of those skirmishes came close to the cataclysm that took place at Fairgrounds Park, nor did any other capture national and international attention.

Life magazine devoted two pages to the riot in its July 4, 1949, issue, including a full-page photo of an African-American being savagely kicked by a group of whites. Barely on his knees, he holds his head in agony, his mouth open. The teenagers surround him, grinning as if they're having the night of their lives.

"In St. Louis, where the Dred Scott case was tried, the cause of racial tolerance seemed to be looking up last week," the Life article begins. "A Negro police judge took office for the first time, and the Post-Dispatch hired its first Negro reporter. But when the city opened all its swimming pools to Negroes on June 21 for the first time in history, progress stopped. That afternoon police had to escort 40 Negro swimmers through a wall of 200 sullen whites at the Fairgrounds Park pool. After nightfall bands of white hoodlums took after any Negroes found anywhere near the park, beating and kicking them. It was 2 a.m. before police got things under control. Miraculously, nobody was killed, but 15 persons were hospitalized, 10 of them Negroes. It was St. Louis' first serious race riot, and it underscored the inflexibility of the color-line barrier.... Mayor Joseph Darst quickly took what for practical reasons was perhaps the only possible action. Segregation was restored in St. Louis swimming pools."

John O'Toole, the director of public welfare, got his job the way politicos still do: He helped the mayor get elected, serving as campaign manager for Democrat Joseph Darst in 1948. Today, if Darst is remembered at all it's because his named was affixed to the Darst-Webbe housing project, which was razed ignominiously a couple of years ago.

However O'Toole's position figured in the spoils of party politics, he could not have foreseen the enormous responsibilities of his job. It wasn't too long before the director of parks and recreation, with the unfortunately assonant name of Palmer Baumers, began asking his new boss what he was going to do about the pools.

Baumers was one of those City Hall lifers -- they're still there -- who worked to maintain the status quo. But that had grown increasingly difficult in postwar St. Louis. In 1946, African-Americans succeeded in forcing the integration of Buder Park after a series of protests. In the wake of their achievement, a cross was burned on the park grounds.

In previous summers, pickets had appeared at Fairgounds Park, protesting the segregation of the pool. Federal law did not support segregation of public facilities, yet St. Louis chose to neglect such directives.

Had O'Toole met with Lee Tyson back in 1949, he might have put more care into his decision-making process. But in St. Louis in 1949, there was little chance for O'Toole and Tyson to meet.

Tyson punctuates his sentences with "This is the way it was. I'm not lying" and "You wouldn't know it, because you're white and you didn't have the experience."

Tyson moved up from Memphis during the Depression, joined the Army during World War II and returned, a veteran, to Jim Crow St. Louis: "You be away from the thing for two-and-a-half years, you forget what it's all about, you know. You got all those good ideas -- you're fighting for your country, this is your country and blah, blah, blah."

In 1946 or 1947, Tyson says, an incident caused more "ill feelings that never went away" around Fairgrounds Park.

An African-American cab driver, Eddie Smith, thought it was foolish to take the long way home one day after dropping off a fare on North Broadway. He chose to cut through the park, along Vandeventer Avenue. "They just stopped the car and beat him up," says Tyson. "This happened.

"The word got around: 'Man, they just beat up a black fellow.' I didn't know it was Eddie Smith, but we just got together and we were gone. Myself, my brother and some more dudes, we got our guns and ammunition. We were going over, and this was it. This was war. We knew what war was, so that's what it was going to be."

He remembers seeing every African-American policeman on the force that day, talking him and his friends down. Across the street, white policemen were doing the same, encouraging the whites who had assembled to calm down and go home.

The war didn't happen that day.

O'Toole remained noncommittal in response to Baumer's queries until the weekend before public pools officially opened in the city -- the first day of summer, the longest day of the year -- June 21.

Even if O'Toole was unaware of the standoff that had taken place a couple of years before, he would have known of an event that occurred just the week before, when African-Americans were turned away from a public pool in Webster Groves. In the early civil-rights struggles of the time, such an action meant there would be further protests, legal battles or both.

The battle for civil rights did not begin with Martin Luther King Jr. or the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In 1947, CORE formed in St. Louis, only the second chapter in the nation after Chicago's. Maggie Dagen says with some chagrin that even though St. Louis CORE held sit-ins at the downtown Woolworth's in the late 1940s, it's the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., that is exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution. The Greensboro protest took place more than a decade later, in 1960.

CORE actions didn't make it into the three white-owned newspapers, however, for fear that press coverage might increase racial tensions. It was the black-owned St. Louis Argus that reported the stories the others feared to publish.

Even though a "civil-rights movement" had yet to be acknowledged, O'Toole had to be aware of the frustrations of the African-Americans and the fears of whites. However seriously O'Toole considered the actions in Webster Groves, he came to the conclusion that the city's public swimming pools could not legally remain segregated.

He decided this on Friday, June 17, 1949. In the days that followed, however, O'Toole failed to consult with parks staff or the city police on how to best proceed. All the police knew was what they read in the paper. "If the colored apply for admittance to a swimming facility," O'Toole told the Star-Times, "my order is to admit them. I can't lawfully refuse them. I'm not going to be a party to an unlawful gentlemen's agreement. I can't oppose anyone lawfully using a swimming pool. They are taxpayers and citizens, too."

O'Toole's announcement ran on the front page of all three daily newspapers and was broadcast over the radio waves on Tuesday, June 21.

Jim Wilson was 10 years old, and he was playing baseball in the street that day. It was the warmest day of the year so far, and in pre-air-conditioned St. Louis, families were outside.

Wilson remembers: "There was anticipation ahead of time there was going to be trouble."

The pool opened at 2 p.m. An estimated 40 African-American children swam in Fairgrounds Pool in mid-afternoon, keeping to themselves, apart from the white children, without incident.

Within the hour, however, teenagers began to arrive, white adolescent males in T-shirts and jeans coming to protect their turf. They leaned against the fence surrounding the pool, jeering, shouting racial slurs. Before long, they were a mob of 200.

A 16-year-old African-American, Sherman Lee White, was also standing by the fence. Soon he was on the ground, beaten over the head with a pipe or stick, his injuries severe enough that he had to be admitted to Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a few blocks away.

The African-American boys in the pool looked out on a wall of hatred. After their swim, a custodian kept them together inside the changing rooms until all were dressed. The few police on the grounds came to escort the boys out of the park. The white mob followed. As the group crossed the broad park, a white boy would gain some nerve and dart past a policeman, strike an African-American boy, then return to the crowd. In this way they followed, like wolves beleaguering their prey.

The nightmare was happening -- the nightmare that caused the whites of North St. Louis to flee the city, the nightmare that, says Lee Tyson, "didn't let you sleep easy at night." In St. Louis' summer heat, blacks and whites crashed the racial borders to battle with fists and bats and clubs.

Four African-American men came to the pool and angrily demanded to see the manager. One of them told a policeman he was a war veteran. "If they want trouble, they can have it," he warned. "My kid brother just got beat up by some hoodlums.... If you want a race riot, you'll have one." It was around 4:30 in the afternoon.

The pool closed at 5 p.m., to be reopened again for evening swimming at 7 p.m. On De Soto, Jim Wilson was still playing ball. He remembers, "like it was yesterday," a rumor spreading in his neighborhood that "blacks were coming over Vandeventer Avenue in trucks. The bigger kids grabbed baseball bats, and there was movement of people running toward Fairgrounds Park."

John Berg, 9 years old, was playing in the park with his father. He describes a surreal scene: thousands of whites streaming into the park, many clutching baseball bats. Along Natural Bridge, teenagers ripped limbs from trees to use as clubs.

An African-American boy was surrounded. One of the whites took a 2-by-4, one end carved into a handle, and smacked the boy's head like a baseball. Berg was sure the boy had been killed.

The juncture between dream and memory is a frail one, but on the list of injured was 15-year-old Samuel Williams, admitted to Homer G. Phillips with a possible skull fracture. Williams could have been the boy Berg saw assaulted.

"I remember," recalls Bosley, "my [future] wife [Marjorie], who did not live very far from there, she lived over on Whittier, went home and got a knife and came back." She and her sister, Gloria Reeves, were stopped by police. Reeves carried a hammer. The girls spent some time at the police station until their parents arrived. Today, Reeves laughs, "We got a whuppin' when we got home."

In the press reports of the riot, the Star-Times' coverage stands out. One of the paper's scribes came upon two middle-aged white men as they held the attention of a group of 15 white boys, none older than 14.

"You want to know how to take care of them niggers?" the older man exhorted the youths. "Get bricks and smash their heads, the dirty, filthy _____." The reporter omitted the expletive.

"Kill a nigger and make a name for yourself," the other man said. "Kill the black bastards."

The white ethnic mix of North St. Louis began to converge on Natural Bridge Road. A Star-Times photo shows mothers carrying their infant children along as if there was no way they were going to miss the excitement. Teenagers roamed with baseball bats and broomsticks. A 65-year-old woman patrolled the park with a junior-sized baseball bat. The scene held the intensity of a mythic last stand.

Teenagers huddled around the pool as 7 p.m. approached. "This is a waiting party. Waiting until it gets dark," a reporter overheard one of them say.

"I'll kill the bastards," another boy replied.

Suddenly a shout rose up from the crowd: "There's some niggers!"

Like a vengeful wave, the crowd surged from the east to the south side of the pool, encircling three African-American boys. One of the boys pulled a knife.

A rain of blows fell on him. Clubs, bats, sticks, fists battered his body. He fell. A policeman tried to come between the mob and the boy, but he fell as well, landing on top of the boy he was trying to protect.

The whites kept kicking the boy as he lay on the ground.

His friends were receiving their own punishment.

An African-American man got off the streetcar at Natural Bridge and Grand. By the time his feet touched the street, he was being beaten.

Twelve policemen were attempting to quell a mob of thousands.

A cry went up: A white boy lay bleeding, stabbed by a black. The rumor spread that he was dead.

Don Clooney, the head lifeguard, stood inside the fence surrounding the pool. "This was the first time in my life that I saw how quickly a crowd could be roused up into a frenzy," he recalls. "It was scary. I'll always remember how spontaneous it was, how mob psychology can just catch on fire so quickly."

Clooney watched in horror as the three African-Americans approached the pool, walking beside the fence along Natural Bridge. "They must have come from Cass Avenue and walked down Vandeventer," he recalls.

"They got viciously beat up. A knife came out. It was so fast. I think one of the white boys was stabbed. I saw him lunging forward. Then I saw someone come forward with a bat and hit the black assailant, and they all started jumping on top of him." There were hundreds of whites, mostly teenagers, he says, and only the three blacks. "And they had their backs to the fence. I was standing right in back of them. It happened so quickly, and so spontaneous. Somebody made a lunge -- I couldn't blame anybody for protecting himself. I hated to see that knife come out."

Rolland Erbar, 20 years old, lay on the ground, bleeding. A Life magazine photo shows him on his back, a crowd encircling him.

Erbar was the most severely injured in the riot. From his home in Spanish Lake, he recalls the stabbing.

Working as a cement finisher in 1949, he says, the assault "put me out of work for about six, eight weeks. I was in the hospital seven days. They operated on me and opened me up all the way from my solar plexus down to about my kidney, to patch that up, you know.

"It was before anybody really was thinking much about segregation, you know. And we was all young and dumb, you know. We all thought it was our own thing and they was infringing on it. It was a different time, different place. Things entirely different today.

"Well, not really. Some cases, they are. Some cases, they aren't. I know a lot of the younger ones -- I don't have any young ones in school -- but they say it's pretty rough. I've been out here [Spanish Lake] for about 35 years. All the people that I moved in here with 35 years ago got young ones and moved out -- not on account of the neighborhood so much as it was the schools. A lot of aggravation there in school, I guess, tension and everything, which echoes on both sides, you know. Everybody is trying to stay out of problems, I guess.

"I don't know if there's much I can tell you, except that it was a hell of a time and we was all young and dumb. I don't think anybody got killed, but a lot of them got their head split -- a few cuts. Everybody was thinking they were doing the right thing at the time, you know.

"I hope it's straightening out. I think it's going to take a few years. Maybe the older generation got to die off or something," Erbar laughs. "It's not so much that you are really prejudiced as it was the way we were raised. The old-timers, the guys when I started to work, the guys were 45 and 50 years old, and I was only 17. They all had their own way of thinking. Nigger was nigger, you know."

Nigger isn't nigger anymore in St. Louis. The city has grown more sophisticated.

Race relations may have been "strained" -- as Bosley puts it -- back when white folks were taking 2-by-4's upside the heads of black folks, but those times were "not as bad as they are today. The racism is more subtle now," says Bosley. "Back in those days, the racism was physical, and nowadays the racism is more mental and economic, which is more harmful than it was back there. Somebody could take a lick and at least you knew who hit you."

The subtler racism of St. Louis is outlined in Wells and Crain's Stepping Over the Color Line. The transformation of North St. Louis into a poor, crime-ridden ghetto is shown to be directly related to the suburbanization of St. Louis County as it grew into a middle- and upper-middle-class white enclave. Whites suburbanized as blacks urbanized, goes the equation.

As George Schermer's report on the Fairgrounds Park race riot noted in 1949, the migration to the county was already taking place in the 1940s: "The older middle-class white families, as they improve their economic situation, are moving to the suburbs. The poorer immigrating, laboring class, a large part of which is Negro, is filling up the old housing which the whites are vacating,"

St. Louis County doubled in population from 1930-40. From 1935-40, 80 percent of new construction in the metropolitan area was being built outside the city.

In 1945, African-Americans accounted for 13 percent of the city's population. By 1957, 30 percent of St. Louis was African-American.

Whites moved out, and they had lots of help doing it. "It is, therefore, important to locate the foundation of today's white middle class in the post-World War II housing boom," Wells and Crain argue, "a boom from which blacks were systematically excluded."

Billions of dollars in low-interest home loans and federally insured mortgages built the suburbs. A pittance was spent on "urban renewal," with its notorious public-housing projects, such as Pruitt-Igoe. Few acknowledge the government handouts white people received to move to St. Charles. "Federal policies that fostered home ownership were race-specific," write Wells and Crain, "designed almost exclusively to benefit white families and exclude blacks."

The summer Fairgrounds Park ignited, the legislation to fund Pruitt-Igoe was moving through the Congress, backed by the Truman administration. Norman Seay, who became active with CORE in the 1940s and is now a special-projects coordinator at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, remembers, "When [Pruitt-Igoe] was constructed, I went there with my grandfather to watch them do the groundbreaking, because that was the panacea. We were going to live in good housing, and you had to know somebody to live in those areas."

Completed in 1954, Pruitt-Igoe was a vertical ghetto, with elevators that only stopped on three of its floors, no restrooms on the main floor and little play space for the thousands of children who lived there. In the supposed "slums" where African-Americans had lived previously -- which were destroyed for highway construction -- were the businesses that supplied the community.

But Pruitt-Igoe isolated its residents. "In order to have a community," says historian Mary Seematter, "you have to have a community with basic necessities: cleaners and hardware stores and grocery stores and drugstores and playgrounds -- these were not part of the plan. You put a bunch of poor people in situations where they don't have much alternative to what they are able to do.... " Her voice trails off toward the obvious.

The creation of the ghetto was profitable. Bosley describes the practice of blockbusting, which began after African-Americans were able to move outside formerly segregated zones. "What would happen," Bosley explains, "white speculators would come into neighborhoods where there were empty nests, when the children had grown up and had moved off and were out on their own. These white people were still in those neighborhoods; then, white speculators would say to these people, 'You better get out of here, because the niggers are coming,' and take their homes for little or nothing, sell it to black people for the highest interest rate that the law will allow, knowing good and well they left very little there for black people to be able to do repairs and to be able to keep up with that piece of property. All they wanted to do was make some money.

"The neighborhood started changing," Bosley recalls. "All the black people started moving in. There was a lot of white people on that block, and then white people started disappearing, almost like a domino effect. The next thing you look up, the whole neighborhood is black."

Insidious a practice as blockbusting was, Wells and Crain observe, it "would not have proved nearly as profitable had whites not been so resistant to having black neighbors."

Two hundred and fifty million federal dollars was spent building highways white people now use to drive from county to city without passing through poor neighborhoods, the old neighborhoods they abandoned. To make way for this highway construction, 36,000 homes were demolished, which forced thousands of poor families, the vast majority of them African-American, to relocate.

The summer after the Fairgrounds Park riot, 1950, a federal court ordered St. Louis pools to integrate. Newspaper photos show African-Americans again being trailed by a mob of whites, but this time a troop of policemen follow every step of the way. Don Clooney remembers that things settled down after a while and, by the end of the summer, blacks and whites swam together at Fairgrounds Park without incident.

The joys of that summer were short-lived, though, as the underlying forces of racism pulled people apart, leaving a city abandoned, a people divided.

"Whites moved out," says Seay matter-of-factly -- and they took the dream of integration with them.

More than 50 years ago, in the wake of the Fairgrounds Park race riot, the Star-Times published an editorial: "The older middle-class white families move to the county. Negroes move in. The frontier of contact between whites and Negroes spreads. If this frontier is not made a training ground for fair living together, it will become a battleground for racial conflict."