More and more St. Louis County residents are watching the upcoming mayoral race in St. Louis. While the plight and potential of these regional neighbors are intertwined, it has become increasingly clear that progress in St. Louis yields regression and deterioration in St. Louis County.
For decades, communities like Berkeley and Kinloch were forced to carry the unjust burden of decisions made by leaders inside 1200 Market Street.
If anyone is unclear about this claim, please take a moment to explore the toppled headstones of the Washington Park Cemetery in Berkeley. Established more than 100 years ago, the cemetery would eventually become one of the largest Black cemeteries in the region during the mid-20th century.
While its most vocal opposition came from white supremacists, the ultimate collapse of this historic cemetery was put into motion by the duly elected leaders of St. Louis.
Graves were paved over for the construction of I-70, and more than 75 acres of the cemetery were slowly stolen for the expansion of the city-owned St. Louis Lambert International Airport and Metrolink.
It is estimated that between 12,000 to 13,000 bodies were dug up, moved, and lost due to poor record-keeping. The history of countless Black families was erased, taking the rich history of our community with it.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.
The trash-strewn streets of Kinloch – Missouri’s oldest Black community — offer another sober example of St. Louis’ detrimental impact on St. Louis County communities.
A planned, but failed expansion of Lambert Airport involved buying out properties and decimating 75 percent of the community. Although the city-owned airport project was never completed, the damage done to Kinloch was permanent.
Piles of trash and debris sit rotting in plain sight on land still owned by the airport. While this might be out-of-sight, out-of-mind to city leaders who oversee the airport, it is impossible for the good people who call this community home to ignore.
Thankfully, the community of Kinloch has a champion in Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-73rd District, who has worked tirelessly to bring attention to this issue. I recently joined Rep. Proudie for a Kinloch clean-up day and was driven to tears by what I saw and the heartfelt stories from residents who deserve better.
We know the City of St. Louis is its own community with its own government. While we will not get to cast a ballot in the upcoming mayoral race, that does not mean that we cannot hold candidates accountable for plans relating to city-county relations.
This is particularly true as discussions regarding the future of Lambert Airport continue to emerge.
Any candidate who is serious about running for mayor in St. Louis should have a clear position on the airport. Moreover, this position must outline how their plan will benefit St. Louis County and protect families from further harm, and how airport leaders will fix problems created decades ago in communities like Kinloch and Berkeley.
Yes, we are separate governments, but we are also one region. And when it comes to communities that are often overlooked and disregarded, the common denominator is the same no matter where you reside in the region.
The City of St. Louis mayoral election is months away, St. Louis County residents deserve answers now.
Brian Williams is a member of the Missouri Senate from the 14th district in St. Louis County, which includes all or parts of Berkeley, Ferguson and Hazelwood, Normandy, Pagedale, University City and other municipalities.