Click to enlarge — Scott Olson/Getty
Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County. It’s a decision the city came to regret. Most Rust Belt cities have bled population since the 1960s, but few have been as badly damaged as St. Louis City, which since 1970 has lost almost as much of its population as Detroit.
This exodus has left a ring of mostly middle-class suburbs around an urban core plagued by entrenched poverty. White flight from the city mostly ended in the 1980s; since then, blacks have left the inner city for suburbs such as Ferguson in the area of St. Louis County known as North County.
Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.
By contrast, consider the city: After decades of methodically building political power, blacks in St. Louis City elected a black mayor in 1993 and black aldermen or alderwomen in nearly half the city’s wards, and hold two of three seats on the powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which must approve all city contracts. Well-established churches, Democratic ward organizations and other civic institutions mobilize voters in black wards. But because blacks have reached the suburbs in significant numbers only over the past 15 years or so, fewer suburban black communities have deeply ingrained civic organizations.
That helps explain why majority-black Ferguson has a virtually all-white power structure: a white mayor; a school board with six white members and one Hispanic, which recently suspended a highly regarded young black superintendent who then resigned; a City Council with just one black member; and a 6 percent black police force.
Jeff Smith begins and ends the article as published pushing for consolidation of these artificial suburbs. He believes this will benefits residents economically as well as politically. White power over Black workingclass transforms into Green Power for everyone.
I lived through that whole discussion middling days in the civil rights movement and all it produced was a few Black bureaucrats, damned little Green for everyone else.
Meanwhile, Mike suggested the Washington POST analysis of the same topic – where a troika of authors found the realpolitik included unintended consequences in a tag team with racism. A solid piece of research, sound data.
Neither article explained the perceived role of the Democratic Party, differences between St, Louis City and North County suburbs like Ferguson – but, since Smith’s article points out the racist history of municipal and local craft unions, continued exclusion of Black workers, white-dominated political campaigns they sponsor, it seems as likely to me that outside of the city of St. Louis the Democrat Party functions like Reagan populists. Perfectly willing to accept the racist status quo.
Voters in Ferguson have two alternatives. They can go the route apparently embraced by Black voters in St. Louis and fight for a decade or so for a grassroots effort which ends up with a Democratic Party organization mirroring the population – or they can organize an independent party that reaches out to Progressives to unite in bringing grassroots representation to Ferguson.
Both highways have the same tough obstacles to overcome – starting with the inevitable unsophisticated American voters. Both strategies risk demagogues who never can pass up a populist chance to be The Leader. But, over these past fifteen years, ain’t anyone else getting off their rusty dusty to change the white power structure in Ferguson. At least, not so’s you’d notice.