Photo Flood 99: Kinloch

photo by Jane DiCampo

The first incorporated Black community in Missouri, Kinloch was founded at a time when segregation made it uncommon, and sometimes illegal, for realtors to sell properties directly to African Americans. Nonetheless, the town thrived as an insular community, and contributed many achievements of historical note, including electing the first Black man to a school board position and the establishment of the Kinloch Airfield (later St. Louis Lambert International Airport).

photo by Jan Markham

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Kate Cawvey

 

photo by Mike Matney

Normally, we try to avoid sharing images of illegal dumping and other kinds of gratuitous documentation that can paint a community the wrong way (and that residents are largely not responsible for anyway). However, the images in this article really do convey what Kinloch looks like, even if they do not always indicate the pride of those residents who remain. This is what makes this story really sad to write. The story of Kinloch is not one of neglect, it is one of erasure.

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Theresa Harter

 

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Joe Harrison

In the early 1850’s, the Northern Missouri Railroad (later Wabash) began to snake its way north from St. Louis. In 1854, William B. Ferguson sold off parcels of his land for the development of a train station and adjoining community (Ferguson). Shortly thereafter, a train station and community was planned along the line nearby, called Kinloch Park after the early Scottish farmers of the area. Kinloch and Ferguson would share a long and intertwined history, though one that would have more to do with racial dynamics than with mere rail transit.

By 1900, both communities were well established, though small, and both communities were predominantly, if not exclusively, White in racial composition. However, in 1915, St. Louis’ practice of designating areas of the city, like JeffVanderLou, The Ville, and Mill Creek/Chestnut Valley, as “negro districts” was made formal by law with the City’s Segregation Ordinance. Even though this law was overturned in 1917 by the United States Supreme Court, the practice of limiting where African Americans, Jews and other minorities could live was so much ingrained in St. Louis society of the time that it continued, virtually unabated for almost another half-century, under the twin guises of redlining and restrictive deed covenants. For Blacks settling in St. Louis from the Reconstruction era through to the end of World War II, who were moving into the region from the Deep South in large numbers during this time, this was a major problem, and a primary factor for the overcrowding of those previously designated “districts”.

Ferguson at the time was more hard-lined against integration with its real estate practices, and even displayed aggressions characteristic of those now infamous “Sun Down Towns” (where African Americans were not welcome to be after dark–Missouri had more than 300). However, in Kinloch Park, there was a slightly better reception to the idea of Black property owners (mostly because of a land purchasing model that Whites used to net tremendous quick profits for themselves at the expense of the new Black owners). Still, land was at first available mostly to those African Americans that had found work in the homes of Kinloch’s White families. Nonetheless, the southern section of Kinloch eventually became primarily Black, while the northern section remained primarily White.

During this same period, St. Louis streetcar service was extended to Kinloch, which supplanted another connection for the community, this time to many of those north side neighborhoods not too far away (for instance, Kinloch’s high school students would take their classes at Sumner High School, which was the first all-Black high school west of the Mississippi River).

photo by Jane DiCampo

 

photo by Jan Markham

 

photo by Kate Cawvey

 

photo by Mike Matney (of Kinloch’s still growing “Walk of Fame”)

In 1909 through 1912, the Aero Club of St. Louis operated a small airfield known as the Kinloch Flying Field, on farmland in the growing suburb. In 1910, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt became the first person in that office to ride in an airplane, and did so at Kinloch Flying Field. This and the other successes of aviation in Kinloch are likely what swayed Albert Lambert and the Missouri Aeronautical Society to choose the location for his own airfield, which is ironic considering the eventual fate of the community as the result of the current airport.

In 1924, Kinloch Park became the first community west of the Mississippi to promote an African American to a school board position. Later, when the municipality decided to appoint its second, the White area of town seceded to form the community of Berkeley. In 1948, Kinloch (no longer with the “Park” attached to its moniker) was incorporated as the first all-Black city in Missouri. From this time until the 1990’s, the small city of roughly 10,000 residents prospered as a tranquil setting to raise a family and a significant contributor to life and culture in the region (Kinloch was the home and/or birthplace for Actress Jenifer Lewis, Comedian Dick Gregory, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Hewlett-Packard Computer Division Founding Member Roy Clay, among others).

Beginning in the 1980’s, St. Louis began to purchase land in Kinloch for a noise-abatement expansion to St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Though it also purchased land on the other side of the airport, in Bridgeton, the scope of land purchased (and some say the tactics used, like threats of eminent domain seizure) proved disastrous for Kinloch. In the 1990s, Kinloch’s population of over 10,000 plummeted to just over a 1,000, and by 2010, that population had fallen again to just a few hundred residents. Given Kinloch’s historical stature and significance to both the country and region, what remains of the community is a woeful disgrace. The additional, false, racially motivated narrative of Black self-destructionism, that often circulates in St. Louis to describe what happened in Kinloch and to other Black communities, is to put it simply, a total travesty. Kinloch’s collapse is St. Louis’ failure to account for, protect, and provide for ALL of its citizens equally.

photo by Jane DiCampo

 

photo by Jan Markham (The smoldering in the foreground is a public burn pile that is monitored by Kinloch Fire Department, which is meant to encourage people to not dispose of trash in the city’s streets. Those streets are cleared periodically, but the dumping returns, nonetheless.)

photo by Theresa Harter

Today, it is unclear what the future of Kinloch holds. The former city is all but gone, though if you are willing to look hard enough, the markers of what was are still around. On our visit, we met one of the firefighters of the Kinloch Fire Department (the only volunteer fire department in St. Louis County), who grew up in the area and was exuberant in his description of Kinloch, and what it represents. Certainly, if Kinloch is ever to prosper again, it will take these sorts of points of view, those from longtime residents who have persisted in their love and pride for this community, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable forces. It will also take the concerted effort of St. Louis as a whole; an effort willing to focus itself upon this place (and upon other Black communities in the region) and to finally, after a history of neglect, see something worth saving.

photo by Joe Harrison

 

photo by Jan Markham

 

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Ann Aurbach

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