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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. 

Mar 29, 2022

The Pruitt–Igoe housing complex opened in 1954 with many hoping it would be a model for urban housing projects. But, problems would start soon after it opened. By 1969 living conditions had deteriorated to such an extent that Black activists took action. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Cicely Hunter, Public Historian from the Missouri Historical Society, and here’s history, on eighty-eight-one, KDHX. ———

A rent strike ensued by low-income communities in St. Louis during 1969 and brought the issue of public housing home. Residents from Pruitt-Igoe and other public housing facilities grappled with its shortcomings in St. Louis and politicized its failures before the nation. ———

Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments, known together as Pruitt–Igoe, were 33 high-rise buildings that were 11 stories high, and were designed as a new cutting-edge redevelopment model of public housing by urban planners and designers. Mayor Joseph Darst believed the project would recreate new and vibrant spaces within St. Louis, which he defined as “tangible evidence of progress in the continuing war against slums and decay. St. Louisians can point to their city as a model of modern development.” With this perception of progress, Pruitt-Igoe would open its doors to residents in 1954. Not long after the doors opened, tenants would see problems arise. Residents experienced rodent infestation, broken heating units, no hot water, overflowing trash incinerators, and overall insufficient living conditions. ———

The 1969 St. Louis Rent Strike demonstrated how Black activists tackled public housing as a civil rights issue. The rent strike encouraged tenants to demand better living conditions. In this community-driven initiative, tenants withheld their rent money and insisted they only pay 25 percent of their income, increase police protection, and improve maintenance. The rent strike went on for nine months and would later inform the federal legislation Brooke Amendment to the Housing Act of 1969. Though residents of Pruitt Igoe seemed to win the battle against poor conditions during that time, it was later demolished between 1972 and 1976. Essentially, what was perceived as a successful legislation, continues to leave many low-income families in intolerable condition today. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Cicely Hunter and this is eighty-eight-one, KDHX, St. Louis. ———