Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Blood Cries out from the Ground: Reflections on Ferguson

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Blood Cries out from the Ground: Reflections on Ferguson

Article excerpt

I know Ferguson, Missouri. St. Stephens Episcopal Church, a parish of the Diocese of Missouri, is there, and as Bishop of Missouri, I have been in and out of Ferguson more times than I can count. Founded in 1888, the parish is mostly middle-class and working people, not unlike the surrounding community. Settlement in Ferguson began in 1854, and the town incorporated in 1894. An inner-ring suburb, the city early on became one of the first bedroom communities around St. Louis, with easy rail access into the city. Major industry did not come to the town until the 1940s, when Emerson Electric, then the largest manufacturer of airplane armaments in the world, moved to Ferguson from St. Louis. Emerson provided good work for the residents of Ferguson and helped the community thrive. Now, however, and despite being number 121 of the Fortune 500 Companies, it is as if Emerson were not there. Corporate headquarters remain in the city, at 8000 West Florissant Avenue, the street made famous for protests and riots in the aftermath of Michael Browns shooting death on August 9, 2014. But manufacturing jobs have mostly moved offshore, a common tale for any working-class community in the United States. Few people living in Ferguson work at the company, but Emerson has at least increased its involvement in the community in the months following August 9.

As recently as 1970, Fergusons population was almost entirely European-American, and in 1990, that portion was still 74 percent. By 2010, however, the population had shifted to 67 percent AfricanAmerican, with 29 percent identifying as European-Americans. Fergusons demographic began to change when more affluent residents, mostly European-Americans, began to move west in St. Louis County and then into St. Charles County. Again, here is a pattern common throughout the nation, and "white flight" does characterize the changing demographics in many cities in the United States. A closer reading of the particular history and politics of St. Louis, not drawing solely on general trends, will help make clear why the place where I live is one of the most racially divided in the country.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1764, a group of French and Creole settlers came to a place some twenty-five miles south of the confluence of the two great American rivers, the Missouri and Mississippi. The iconic arch on the grounds of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial marks the site of the trading village that these settlers established. Pierre Laclède, his common-law wife Marie Thérèse Chouteau, and stepson Auguste Chouteau led this endeavor. Thus began St. Louis. By the time of Auguste Chouteau's death in 1829, the family had accumulated thirty-six slaves, all of African descent. So began the long disparity in power and privilege enjoyed by European-Americans and African-Americans in St. Louis. The disparity dates from the time of the region's beginnings, but it continues in later chapters of the region's history. Understanding the strength of slavery's hold on the region's economy, politics, and identity is key to making sense of the present racial crisis.

Both leaders of the Corps of Discovery, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, were slave owners. This expedition, leaving St. Louis in 1804 to find the headwaters of the Missouri and a path to the Pacific Ocean, included Clark's slave named York, a bondservant since childhood. William Clark was territorial governor when Missouri became a state-a slave state-in 1821. Reaching statehood became possible because of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which defined how slaveiy might spread, or not, in the huge territories of the West. It is interesting to note that Clark, though not an Episcopalian, was a charter signatory for the founding of Christ Church, now our cathedral, in 1819. Slavery continued to define the places for blacks and whites in Missouri history, a fact deeply rooted in the region's DNA.

Slave labor accounted for much of the region's wealth gained during the heyday of the steamboat years, roughly 1820 to 1860. …

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