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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jan 13, 2023

Urban renewal alters the landscape drastically, reshaping things, and sometimes erasing a whole neighborhood and its history. One of the few buildings to survive the urban renewal project around the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood was the The Berea Presbyterian Church. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Amanda Clark, manager of the See STL Tours program at the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History, on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ———

In the mid-20th century, several neighborhoods were demolished in the name of urban renewal. One of the largest was the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood near St. Louis University, home to over 20,000 African Americans. 6,000 buildings were demolished, leaving few hints of the neighborhood’s vibrant culture and community. One survivor is the former home of the Berea Presbyterian Church, which is now known as St. Louis University’s Il Monastero banquet space and was built in 1929. ———

The Berea Presbyterian congregation was founded in the 1880s and was the first African American Presbyterian Church west of the Mississippi. For the Mill Creek Valley community, the church served as an important community hub – and of the 40 churches in the neighborhood, it was the only one that survived demolition. ———

In 1964, the innovative public housing project Laclede Town was built nearby, and it brought a vibrant community back to Berea. The same period also brought the church its first white pastor, Carl Dudley – an activist and dedicated supporter of the Black community. Under Dudley, Berea and Laclede Town became the center of St. Louis counterculture and Black arts. Their popular coffee shop, Circle, was the de facto community center for Black artists and activists including members of the Black Artists Group, known as BAG. BAG’s nearby headquarters housed artists and activists, provided meeting and performance space, and provided arts classes to over 200 Black children. ———

Berea, Laclede Town, and BAG were deeply entwined – the director of Laclede Town offered 3 months of free rent to musicians that would there, which was most often at Berea Church’s Circle Coffee – which was managed by BAG member LeRoi Shelton. BAG member Shirley LeFlore and Shelton were also members of Berea Church where LeFlore lead the Berea Messenger Singers, an all-female a cappella ensemble. ———

Laclede Town was demolished in the 1980s and Berea Presbyterian Church relocated its congregation to the Compton Heights neighborhood, where it is still active today. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX.  I’m Amanda Clark and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.  ———