Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 essay in The New York Times Magazine last year on the centrality of race to the American experience is a profound statement of a truth that has long been in plain sight: Slavery, segregation and racism are central to what America means. They are central to the histories of St. Louis, Missouri, and Illinois.
The nation’s biggest legal fights against housing discrimination were here in St. Louis, and African Americans won them. The nation’s most expensive court-ordered school desegregation program was here, and it eventually attracted the political and public support to raise graduation rates and college-attendance rates for four decades. Michael Brown died here, but the criminal justice reforms and rekindled racial enlightenment that followed have been transformational.
In a special issue, the Gateway Journalism Review explored the history of race in the Land of Dred Scott. It is called The 1857 Project because one of the most important chapters in the nation’s story occurred there, with the Dred Scott decision writing Blacks out of the Constitution and with the Lincoln-Douglas debates that took place in the following year over whether America could endure supporting both slavery and freedom. The magazine includes stories by SIUC student journalists Amelia Blakely and Kayla Chamness; former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Robert Joiner, Linda Lockhart, Richard Weiss, and Harper Barnes; civil rights activists Percy Green and Franklin McCallie; and student essays by a dozen high school students from the Kirkwood High School Call and from University City High School. The designer was Abbey La Tour, a former SIUC student, and the illustrator was Steve Edwards, a professional artist.