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Inside St. Louis’ 1969 Rent Strike 

chapter | author | the st. louis anthology | [book] [chapter]

partners: Clark Randall

St. Louis is undoubtedly fragmented, physically so in that the city is dissected by rivers, highways, walls, and fences; but also in a more insidious way. It’s a city (like many) where race, class, religion, and zip code might as well be cards in a rigged poker game, where the winners’ prize is the ability to ignore that the losers have drastically shorter life expectancies. But it's also a city of warmth, love, and beauty—especially in its contrasts. The people sipping rakija and dancing kolo in bars along Gravois are as St. Louis as those doing double dutch in College Hill. Midnight Annie and Stan Musial both built their legacies in this same city. This anthology is a love letter to those moments and people—and all the others—that are so St. Louis. It's also an indictment of this fact: rare is the St. Louisan who can recognize them all. Rare is the St. Louisan who can see that the rage that burnt down the QuikTrip on West Florissant after Mike Brown was killed, and the optimism of the little girls dancing in its parking lot the next morning, are both so St. Louis.

The St. Louis Anthology dares to confront the city's nostalgia and its trauma, celebrating those who face faced both, living complex and nuanced lives in this city against a backdrop of its red brick, muddy rivers, and sticky summer nights when the symphony of cicadas and jazz is almost loud enough to drown out the gunshots.

Edited by Ryan Schuessler, featuring nearly 70 pieces penned by St. Louis writers, journalists, clergy, poets, and activists including Aisha Sultan, Galen Gritts, Vivian Gibson, Maja Sadikovic, Nartana Premachandra, Sophia Benoit, Robert Langellier, Samuel Autman, Umar Lee, and more.

Inside St. Louis’ 1969 Rent Strike

“We know they are broke,” Ed Roy Harris told reporters in late December, 1968, referring to the St. Louis Housing Authority. Harris lived in the Blumeyer Village public housing high-rises in near North City. “But we’ve gone to the state before. We’ve written letters. We’ve called—it didn’t work,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Politicians seem to respond to action.”

Two weeks prior, Harris and other public housing tenants delivered a list of demands to city officials. Their demands countered a flurry of recent hikes in rents and were simple: lower the rent and treat us as human beings. Between 1965 and 1967, rent increases for public housing in St. Louis had ranged from sixteen percent to thirty-two percent, depending on the project and the room count.

And Harris was right; the St. Louis Housing Authority was bottoming out. During the 1967-1968 fiscal year, the Authority recorded a deficit of well over $300,000. It had been a long time coming. Public housing projects across the country had been built with federal dollars, then left to be maintained by local rents. This financial structure, codified as law through the Federal Housing Act of 1937, often proved to be an ill fit for local implementation.

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