Blackity Black Travel: St. Louis Edition
Updated: Jul 25
When I travel, I like to travel with a "black lens" perspective because…. I am black. I think that the #blacklens is not given enough attention especially through traveling because we are the minority among travelers to begin with. I also think it is important to shine positive light to the black experience.
Following travel groups such as Travel Noire inspired me to start a special segment of my blog called "Blackity Black Travel." For each location that travel to, I will create separate suggestions (when possible) that can allow you to travel with the #blackexperience in mind. With great pleasure, I start this segment with St. Louis.
What is St. Louis's connection to the "Black Experience?"
St. Louis was a major city in a slave state just across the Mississippi River from the free state of Illinois. As a result, St. Louis had a significant role in the Underground Railroad.
St. Louis was located near a border state, which meant that free blacks and slaves walked the same streets, met the same people, and interacted with one another.
Black settlers were listed among those killed defending St. Louis from the British in the Revolutionary War Battle of Fort San Carlos, which took place on what is now the Gateway Arch area.
From the beginning, St. Louis’ population consisted of a mixed people – French, Spanish, Creole, Native American, free African descendants and slaves, all of whom contributed to the growth of the area.
Famous black St. Louis born people: Dr. George Washington Carver; Maya Angelou; Josephine Baker; Chuck Berry; Nelly; Chingy; Ike & Tina Turner.
Check out my guide to exploring St. Louis through the Blackity Black Experience:
PLACES TO VISIT:
1. Old Courthouse
The Old Courthouse is very pivotal to black history as it is best known for the first two trials of the Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850. In the case of #DredScott, Dred and his wife Harriet, who were two enslaved African Americans, lived for a time in a free territory. As a result, they decided to sue for their freedom. They were successful in gaining freedom in the St. Louis court, but lost their case in an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. Dred Scott did end up dying a free man after St. Louisan slave owner Taylor Blow purchased and freed him. This started the trend of over 300 other enslaved persons suing for their freedom in the St. Louis courts. Half of those cases were successful!
In addition to the Dred Scott case, the #OldCourthouse has other connections to slavery and civil rights in Missouri and the nation. Slaves were actually sold on the courthouse steps. There have been cases such as that of Caroline Williams, post Civil War in 1867, which abolished segregation on mass transportation in St. Louis.
The Old Courthouse is FREE.99 to visit and is also open daily. There are galleries set up in the lobby that will give you the history of the building as well as important trials that took place in the actual courthouse. You can also walk around to some of the courtrooms. In addition, they showcase images of the colored aristocracy. I found that dope as that is the untold story around slavery and civil rights!
2. National Blues Museum
The National Blues Museum is one of the few things that is not free in St. Louis. However, it is well worth paying for. I would recommend visiting on a Sunday as you are able to pay extra and listen to live music. The museum is dedicated to exploring the musical history and impact of the blues. It gives you a comprehensive history on how blues evolved overtime in various US cities. Although it is a fairly small space (as it only takes up one floor), there is a lot of information about each of the artists and time periods. The #NationalBluesMuseum even goes into how the blues impacted rock & roll! Naturally, there are many black artists featured.
3. Missouri History Museum
The history museum is one of the many FREE tourist attractions that St. Louis has to offer. The #MissouriHistorymuseum was originally a memorial for Thomas Jefferson because of his responsibility over the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the country's land westward.
You need at least a couple of hours in the museum to truly checkout all of the exhibits. The museum is open daily from 10 AM - 5 PM, except Tuesdays where it is open until 8 PM.
At this particular museum, there is an exhibit called “Seeking St. Louis,” which documents those who lived in the St. Louis area from prehistoric times to the present. Parts of the exhibit document the lives and contributions of black St. Louisans from colonial times to the present.
4. Museum of Western Expansion (inside the Gateway Arch)
Many people may not realize that African-Americans played a major role in the founding of the American West. The Museum of Westward Expansion, opened in July 2018, is very comprehensive about the history of the American expansion westward. There are some displays on the Buffalo Soldiers and other black pioneers who settled on these western plains. This museum is FREE.99 to enter and is totally worth checking out! You could easily spend hours alone in the #museum if you read through everything thoroughly.
THINGS TO DO:
1. Listen to live blues music
One thing that I learned very quickly when searching St. Louis was that it is a prime spot for live blues music. There is a spot to check out just about every single night of the week. On Saturday night, I checked out the #BroadwayOysterBar. It was a good vibe listening to local born artist Marquise Knox while eating some delicious chargrilled oysters. On Sunday afternoon, I checked out live music at the National Blues Museum. Here is a listing of live music places throughout St. Louis. As you can see, there is a lot to choose from!
BLACK OWNED PLACES TO EAT:
When I think of a family run spot, Smoki O's is definitely it. Opened since 1997, Smoki O's is a just a few minutes from downtown. There is not really any seating room, so all the locals come and take it to go. Once you step in, you can feel the history. There are all of these news clippings on the walls of #SmokiOs winning national competitions. The owners are so welcoming, telling stories of the history of the restaurant.
Other things to check out that I did not get a chance to see…
The Griot Museum of Black History: Only the second of its kind in the country, The Griot Museum of Black History opened as The Black World History Wax Museum in February 1997. In 2009, the name was changed to The #GriotMuseum of Black History - "The Griot". The term griot refers to a highly respected member of the community who collects, preserves, and shares its stories and objects in some West African countries.
The Ville Neighborhood: This is St. Louis’ most historically important African-American neighborhood, the center of black culture. For example, there is Sumner High School, the first school west of the Mississippi to provide secondary education for African-American students. There is also the former Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which was one of the first medical institutions in the country to train African-American physicians.
The Saint Louis Art Museum African Arts Collection: This museum has been called one of the top ten African art museums in the nation. It has an expansive collection of works of African and Oceanic Arts.
St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre: Also known as the "Black Rep," it is the largest African-American performing arts company in the United States.
St. Louis Walk of Fame: In the sidewalks along Delmar Boulevard in the dynamic Loop neighborhood, there are a series of stars and plaques honoring St. Louisans – past and present – for their significant contributions to America. Some stars include writer Maya Angelou; entertainer Josephine Baker; and musicians Chuck Berry, Nelly, and Ike & Tina Turner.