THE VILLE: Then, Now & Tomorrow

December 1, 2017

Just listen.........

 

Just beautiful. 

"Get stuff poppin'!"

 

 

(INTRO VIDEO by Hien Luu-University of Notre Dame. Music by Andrew Bird/YouTube)

The Ville is bounded by St. Louis Avenue, Sarah Street, Taylor Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.

 

 

The Ville, in St. Louis, was once the heart of the African American community in St. Louis. At a time when Black Wall Street was becoming reknowned in major cities like Tulsa, Buxton and Harlem, The Ville was thriving in its own right.  

 

“Institutions like the Annie Malone beauty factory,

Homer Phillips Hospital and Harris Stowe, the 1st African American college,

ensured that the Ville would be an elite African American community in St. Louis

and one of the most prosperous black neighborhoods in the nation. 

Not surprisingly the Ville was also the center of

African American cultural life in St. Louis through the 1950s.” (Wartts)

 

After housing discrimination was deemed unconstitutional, white residents decided to bypass the Supreme Court decision by creating informal agreements with neighbors, property owners and real estate agencies. The Ville became the residential and business district for African Americans in St. Louis when these restrictive covenants were placed on families trying to buy homes in the city. However, as a result of this segregation the community was strengthened. With everything they needed within access, parents were able to raise confident children partially sheltered from the explicit racism on the outside.

 

Prior to becoming known as "The Ville", it was Elleardsville. In the early nineteenth century the first permanent white settlers arrived in The Ville area, most of them from Virginia and Kentucky.  The streets are named after many of them: Kennerly; Wash (now Whittier); Goode (now Annie Malone Drive); and Taylor. Charles Elleard, a horticulturist from California, came to St. Louis in the 1860s and established his nursery on Goode Avenue. After the Civil War ended in 1865, St. Louisans escaping the congestion of the city moved into the Ville. In the 1870s, when the German and Irish St. Louisans began to move into Elleardsville, only a few African American families were “allowed” to live in the area. The families that could afford to live there opened The Elleardsville Colored School No. 8 (later renamed Simmons School) in 1873 for their children.

 

By the 1880s, after more African Americans started moving into the area, the community experienced a period of “white flight”. The neighborhood became affectionately known by the remaining residents as “The Ville.”

 

 

 

Excerpt above from "The Ville, St. Louis, Missouri (Black America Series) by John A. Wright"

 

In 1910, Sumner High School, named after the Massachusetts abolitionist and Senator, opened to the teens of the Ville after black parents petitioned the St. Louis school board to relocate the current school away from the pool rooms, saloons and prostitution downtown.

 

Excerpt above from the Metropolitan St. Louis Negro Directory

 

The St. Louis Colored Orphan’s home opened in The Ville in 1922 thanks to a generous contribution from philantropist, hair-care pioneer and the wealthiest black woman in the 1930s, Annie Turnbo Pope Malone.  

 

Annie Malone moved to St. Louis from a smaller town in Illinois to sell her non-damaging beauty products.  After purchasing a home in The Ville, she relocated her manufacturing plant across the street from Sumner High School and also opened the Poro Beauty College in her Poro Building on the "Poro Corner" (St. Ferdinand & Pendleton). She employed around 200 men and women, including Sarah Breedlove, who would become known as Madam C. J. Walker.  Many of her employees earned enough income to purchase homes in The Ville through Malone's finance company and others, like the Elleardsville Financial Corporation, established by other wealthy neighbors. 

 

Excerpt above from "The Ville, St. Louis, Missouri (Black America Series) by John A. Wright" 

 

 

The Poro Building became the meeting place for the African American community and a rooftop garden on the building became the center for black social life in the 1920s.

 

 

In the late 1920s, Homer G. Phillips, helped win the approval for African Americans to build a hospital in the community.  Phillips also lived in The Ville at 4524 Cottage Avenue and was assassinated a few blocks from his home on June 18, 1931 while waiting for the streetcar on his way to work. He was 51 years old.  By 1984, the hospital had 900 employees, who were also earning enough income to purchase homes in the area. Musicians Grace Bumbry, Tina Turner and Chuck Berry all grew up singing in The Ville.

 

(In the 1940s, the St. Louis Argus ran a weekly newspaper devoted to the

African-American community, ran a weekly column called “Ville News”

in which the author frequently referred to the neighborhood as Elleardsville.

The Ville was the only neighborhood singled out for such special coverage,

an indication of its status with the St. Louis black community.)[2]

 

Today, The Ville is in the second most violent ward in St. Louis, after the neighboring Wells-Goodfellow area. Among the homes are decaying buildings where drugs and sex are sold. On some streets there is nightly gunfire. There were 15 murders there in 2014 and the typical household income is in the low- to mid-$20,000s. Unemployment is high and the population is dropping. According to current alderman, Sam Moore, there are 1,242 vacant buildings and 1,700 vacant lots in the area, including 5 empty schools. (stltoday.com)

 

But there are also community organizations and block parties! There are long term residents and a neighborhood watch patrol. Some blocks have been fully rehabbed and others are waiting to be redeveloped! People would still like to live in The Ville and new developments acquire tenants immediately. 

 

Organizations like 4theVille.org have brought resources together to revitalize interest in the history of the area. They plan community events, give regular tours to hundreds of out-of-town visitors each year, and even established historical billboards throughout the neighborhood!

 

Harold Crumpton, director of The Greater Ville Preservation Commission, plays an active role in getting vacant buildings torn down. He held regular meetings with the community to help drive out crime and derelict properties and landlords and started a mentor program at Vashon High School. 

 

The Ville Collaborative works alongside Bethel Church, Bridge of Hope Ministry, Northside Community Housing, Inc, Revitalization 2000, Inc, St. Louis Regional Arts Council, St. Louis Police Department and St. Matthew the Apostle Church in the area.

 

Young Voices With Action, Inc., led by Farrakhan Shegog, is comprised of young community activists (and even adults) in the area. The organization takes a leading role in the encouragement and mentoring upcoming leaders of the city. Together they feed the community, empower goals and ideas and provide technical and mechanical job training. The youth involved are essential to the future and are able to pass on knowledge, encouragement and increased confidence to their peers.

 

 

 

 

GardenVille is a partnership with the residents, schools, churches, agencies, and leaders of The Ville. It is a starting place for all to share and form a vision of hope. It is a community garden and an intentional space. It beautifies the neighborhood, and it builds relationships both among neighborhood residents and with volunteers from across the area. It provides a place for neighbors to gather for picnics and events. It is active in growing and sharing nutritious foods to promote food justice. Also, GardenVille teaches and engages our youth so as to cultivate their interests. 

 

 

INTERACTIVE MAP COMING SOON!!!

 

 

 

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