St. Louis in the 1960s grappled with challenges and opportunities that came with the significant social, political, and economic changes that affected much of the country.
The Civil Rights Movement and Racial Tensions
The Civil Rights Movement was a major force in American society including St. Louis during the 1960s. St. Louis’ African Americans fought for equal opportunities in housing, education, and employment.
One notable demonstration was the 1963 Jefferson Bank protest. The protest was organized by the Committee of Racial Equality (CORE). Activists picketed the bank and demanded that it hired African American employees at the organization.
Urban Renewal in 1960s St. Louis
During the decade, St. Louis underwent significant urban renewal projects, aimed at revitalizing the city’s downtown area and promoting economic growth. Much of the historic riverfront was demolished.
One of the most iconic projects was the Gateway Arch, the 630-foot-tall stainless steel monument designed by architect Eero Saarinen. Completed in 1965, it has become an American icon visited by millions of people each year. Busch Stadium II, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals was also built in the 1960s.
However, urban renewal in St. Louis was not without its controversies. Many of the projects led to the displacement of predominantly African American residents.
In his book, “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City,” historian Colin Gordon argues that urban renewal in St. Louis often exacerbated existing racial and economic inequalities, as poor communities were uprooted and displaced to make way for new developments.
The Decline of Manufacturing and Economic Changes
In the 1960s, manufacturing in St. Louis declined. It had long been a major economic engine for the city. Industries such as shoe manufacturing, which once thrived in St. Louis, moved operations overseas or to other parts of the United States in search of cheaper labor and lower costs.
As manufacturing waned, the city’s population declined. The St. Louis population peaked in 1950 at nearly 857,000 residents but had fallen to just over 622,000 by 1970.
The population loss was joined by an increase in suburbanization, as many white residents moved to the suburbs of St. Louis County. This exacerbated racial and economic divisions within the city.