THE LAST CHILDREN OF MILL CREEK (PRE-ORDER)
April 20, 2020
Vivian Gibson grew up in Mill Creek, a neighborhood of St. Louis razed in 1959 to build a highway. Her family, friends, church community, and neighbors were all displaced by urban renewal. In this moving memoir, Gibson recreates the every day lived experiences of her family, including her college-educated mother and laborer father, who moved to St. Louis as part of the Great Migration, her friends, shop owners, teachers, and others who made Mill Creek into a warm, tight-knit, African-American community, and reflects upon what it means that Mill Creek was destroyed by racism and "urban renewal."
Vivian Gibson was raised in Mill Creek Valley―454 acres in the heart of downtown St. Louis that comprised the nation's largest urban-renewal project, beginning in 1959. She started writing short stories about her childhood memories of the dying community after retiring at age 66. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Sunup to Sundown
Many of the women on Bernard Street, including my grandmother, left home before daylight to catch as many as three streetcars that transported them to manicured communities just west of the city limits. They arrived early to homes where they cooked and served scrambled eggs for breakfast and readied white children for school. The rest of their day was spent cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry until boarding streetcars in the evening that returned them home just in time to go to bed. Grandmama said that there were "sundown laws" that mandated people of color to be off the streets in the county by sunset. If she had to work late, her "white folks" (that's how she referred to her employers) would drive her to the Wellston Loop to catch an eastbound streetcar back into the city.
My grandmother was in bed for the night by 7:30, which was our time to be quiet. A slammed front door, a burst of laughter, or the rhythmic thumps of Sam Cooke singing, "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody," on the radio, would elicit familiar rapping on her bedroom floor. There was a broomstick leaning against the wall—an arm's length away, just for the purpose of pounding a signal for silence. Sometimes, out of frustration, she would shuffle in her well-worn bedroom slippers to the top of the stairs and call down to my mother, in a commanding tone made no less threatening by her shaky, weary voice: "Frances, make those children be quiet." It usually worked for the rest of the evening