My life has been profoundly structured by the “problem of the color line.” I was initially raised in North St. Louis, a block away from Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals and the place where thousands of African Americans arrived whenever the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson came to town in the early 1950s. St. Louis became home to tens of thousands of African Americans from “down South,” during a great migration that transformed North St. Louis into the African American section, South St. Louis into the Euro American section.

My family moved to the South Side, but we kept the big red brick house on Sullivan Ave., which my Mother turned into a rooming house for 13 single men and women. She often hired me to help out, and we would take a bus and then an electric trolley, which ran along Grand Ave., through the emerging African American neighborhoods. I was entranced by the intense street scene on Grand Ave. I was also privileged to spend time at my friend Rock Tarantola’s Grandpa Abe’s drug store on Franklin Ave. I vividly remember the warmth and the goodness of Abe and his largely African American staff.

My parents and Rock’s family were rather rare among European Americans in their racial attitudes. Part of this I attribute to their intelligence and decency. Another part comes, methinks, from the darkness of my father’s complexion and Rock’s parents’ olive skin. I am told that my father was so dark that he wound up in fights as a youth when called “N…. Joe.” Rock and I both were occasionally so addressed, although I can’t remember actually getting into a fight over that specific insult.

But the St. Louis I grew up in was definitely an “apartheid society.” African Americans were not allowed in most restaurants or any public swimming pools owned by whites. They were only permitted to sit in the balconies of movie houses and restrictive covenants made most neighborhoods inaccessible to African American home buyers. The only African American I can remember in my south side life was Junior, who worked at the local bowling alley setting pins. There were no African Americans in my grade school or that of any of the schools we competed with in sporting events throughout the entire South Side. There was only one African American in my Jesuit highschool class, Dave Grant, who wound up sitting in front of me my freshman year and who became my friend, and remains so to this day. Dave’s father was a prominent St. Louis attorney who would occasionally cause big problems for racially profiling police, who would pull him over as he drove to his home in an all white neigborhood near Tower Grove Park.


Last edited by G. Based on work by Godsil and TeganDowlin.  Page last modified on December 08, 2004

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