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The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

2020 Charles O. Jackson Memorial Lecture

Dr. Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies

St. Louis was once one of the nation’s largest and most important cities. It was the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a massive celebration of American imperialism in the city that was once the staging point for the westward expansion of the United States and the dispossession of Native Americans. There had been talk of moving the nation’s capital to St. Louis. The city is the home of institutions like Washington University in St. Louis, as well as Anheuser-Busch, founded by German immigrants in the nineteenth century, Monsanto, and McDonnell Douglas—all of which have now been bought by multinational firms. Three of the 25 wealthiest suburbs in the country are in metro St. Louis.

Yet like many cities in America’s interior, it has experienced de-industrialization and dramatic population loss since the twentieth century; vast tracts of the starkly segregated city feel like a wrecked ghost town. St. Louis today has the highest murder rate in the nation and the highest rate of police shootings in the nation. There is an eighteen-year difference in life expectancy between a child born to a family living in the almost completely black Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood in North St. Louis and a child born to a family living in the majority-white suburb of Clayton

St. Louis’s apparent contradictions, Johnson suggests, may not be so incongruous. His book takes what is already widely known about modern St. Louis and writes it into a new story of the city, from its imperial history to its contested role in the nineteenth-century battle over the expansion of slavery to its racist urban planning and development policy.

Sponsored by the Department of History and the UT Humanities Center's Distinguished Lecture Series.

Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 5:30pm

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