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Langston Hughes, the prolific African-American writer, found racism as his earliest memory of St. Louis. As a boy, he had to change trains here. "We were put into a car with only colored people — my first segregated car and from that time on, St. Louis and Jim Crow were connected."
"No colored allowed" was the enduring experience of his stops in St. Louis as a boy and young man. Years later, in the nineteen-fifties, he came to St. Louis to speak. "I was never more courteously received," he noted. He saw Negro streetcar conductors and bus drivers and lovely Negro homes in what had been all white sections of town. "The sun do move," he thought, quoting from a favorite sermon of an old preacher. And he wrote:
"St. Louis! The town where Scott Joplin and Tom Turpin played ragtime...the town where Josephine Baker started out as a fifteen-dollar-a-week waitress and ended up in Paris...the town where the river boats ran from New Orleans with Louis Armstrong's horn blasting the night away.
St. Louis, that old city of river boats and ragtime, Old Man River and old Jim Crow, and a sun that "do move."
We are still in too many ways a racially divided city. But the sun do move, and we, white and black, can keep it moving.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society