Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson Continues to Shape Lives

The following blog was written by my friend Paul Brehm. We met in cub scouts when we were both nine years old and have remained friends since then. We grew up in Ferguson, Missouri in the '50s and '60s, a more segregated time in history. In 2002 we drove from New York to Ferguson together. If you would like to read about that trip, go to Also I have a category of posts at this blog site  called "Ferguson Stories" with more about Ferguson in the past.

Florissant Street, downtown Ferguson, 1978

I grew up in Ferguson during the 1950s and ‘60s. It was a magical time for this sprawling St. Louis suburb. Nothing to worry about except maybe building a bomb shelter for protection from the looming Communist threat. In the early 1950s, Ferguson was a distant suburb of St. Louis. It required a lot of time to get to the downtown area. There were no highways to speak of and rapid transit did not reach out into the suburbs. So downtown Ferguson was pretty much the center of our universe and was teaming with life, Barbays Market, Quillman's Drugstore, Ben Franklin Five & Dime, Velvet Freeze, Martins Restaurant, Savoy theatre, Sonderagers Bakery, Ferguson Bowling Lanes and of course Ferguson Department Store.

Ferguson Department Store 1978
In hindsight we were blind to the fact that steps away from Ferguson, people experienced a different life, one that probably does not conjure up fond memories. Kinloch, the largest black community west of the Mississippi at that time, bordered Ferguson. Ferguson was not wealthy by any means, but Kinloch spelled abject poverty. Many Ferguson families employed a cleaning lady from Kinloch. We never inquired about where they lived or about their family. It embarrasses me to think that my parents were more concerned about these kind women stealing things from our house. Other than that, we never gave Kinloch a second thought. Adults told us to stay far away from it, so we did. When the roads turned from concrete to dirt, we turned around.

Lake at January-Wabash park where we ice skated every winter.

The Clubhouse at January -Wabash Park
McCluer High School back then
McCluer was our high school. It may still hold the record for the largest graduating  classes in Missouri. Not all white, but nearly so in the ‘60s. The half dozen or so blacks in the school were quiet, respectful, and kept a low profile. It never occurred to me at the time what those students went home to or even where they lived. I wonder what happened to Albert Holmes, one of the few blacks at school. He was a great athlete and a gentle, kind person. I can only wonder where he is today and what he is doing. Didn’t Kinloch have its own schools and if so, why didn’t we play them in sports? 
Ferguson Junior High(Used to be the High School)

In the ‘70s things began to change. When my parents retired to Arizona in 1976, they sold their house in Ferguson Hills. A prominent realtor refused to show it to a black family, so my father confronted him and demanded that he show the house to all interested parties, regardless of race. It was my first realization that Ferguson was all white for a reason. My father invited a black family with young kids to view the house and when he found out they could not afford to pay $25,000, he dropped it to a price they could afford. He told me how pleased it made him that they fell in love with the house, just like he did in 1953.

The Fire Station and Bakery
I no longer live in Missouri, but have, on several occasions, driven down my old street, Ford Drive and watched kids playing just like the old days. It does look different. The trees are bigger, the homes look smaller, and most of the kids are black. I’ve thought of Ferguson often over the years and just assumed that integration was working. But I guess Ferguson wasn’t ready for the change.

I used to tell people I was from a small place near St. Louis that they’ve never heard of. That has changed forever. Even Wikipedia now features these recent troubles. Maybe I’ll tell people I grew up in Florissant from now on. 


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  2. Thanks for the pictures. I also grew up in Ferguson, but in the late 1960's and early 1970's. A lot of good people still there trying to make it work. BTW...I think this link shows the city in the late 1950's the way you describe remembering it.