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Kinloch, Missouri

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Update: I’ve gotten a fair amount of mail about this post recently, and in particular some readers have expressed concern about how I have portrayed Kinloch. For the record, this post is a very early visit to the town, when I was quite frankly very ignorant about Kinloch’s rich history. A reader contacted me, and offered to give me a tour of the town, explaining its historic and cultural significance. You can read those new posts here. I want to stress that I see the fate of Kinloch as an example of how we as a society have a lot to learn from how we treat African-Americans and the disenfranchised. Kinloch’s decline is largely the result of outside factors which transformed a healthy, vibrant community into a shell of its former self. But there are still many proud residents left, and their tenacity and passion for their community should be acknowledged.

Despite my better judgment, on Saturday I headed out to Kinloch, the famous first African-American community incorporated in Missouri. I had my preconceptions; a policeman I once had as a student told me Kinloch was the one place he ever felt scared while working, and he had worked in some pretty dangerous neighborhoods. Bud, my student, is about the size of Arnold Scharzeneggar, so I was intrigued that he would be scared of anywhere in the metropolitan area.

So I hopped on I-70, got off at N. Hanley, and hung a right onto Martin Luther King Blvd, the main thoroughfare–if you can call it that–of Kinloch.

I was immediately pleased that I had come to visit Kinloch myself, as it is totally different than what I had expected. I felt like I had stepped into a rural community, yet I knew I was still surrounded by the suburbia of North County. Kinloch has always been isolated; there are still very few streets that go in and out of the community.

But what is so striking, driving around the hilly terrain of the town, is just how desolate the town is. I think I read that five hundred people live in Kinloch, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out where they all live. Most of the town was demolished for an aborted airport expansion, so there are only a few pockets of dense settlement in the entire town.

The houses look like your standard rural St. Louis County vernacular–the standard shotgun house as well as a few commercial buildings. The writing on these stores has long outlasted the businesses they once advertised.





There is a fairly large apartment complex in the center of town, and it looks like it burned a while ago, despite sitting across the street from the fire station. I am not sure how old the buildings are, but they look like old HUD housing, and perhaps date to the 1970’s when much of the town was deemed “obsolete,” necessitating the demolition of five hundred structures.


A friend related a story of giving a coworker a ride home one night years ago. As the coworker was giving directions, he nonchalantly told my friend to stop two doors down from the burning couch in the street. Apparently it was such a regular occurrence that you could give directions by it.

One thing I strive to accomplish with my photography is to give an honest assessment of any area I photograph. After driving around Kinloch for awhile, I asked myself, “Am I missing something? Is the whole town one gigantic wasteland? There must be some stable, occupied streets left somewhere?” I am a little hesitant to post nothing of Kinloch except abandonment and desolation, but I quite frankly could not find any part of the town that wasn’t largely abandoned or demolished. Looking at satellite images, you can see that there is very little left; where civilization begins again is when you reach nearby communities such as Berkeley.

The future of Kinloch, quite frankly, does not look good; its reputation is one of the worst in the area, and despite witnessing signs of life, I came across a large group of young men blocking the street in front of me. I turned around, as I had no idea where I was, and was not about to go driving through a crowd of people who had assembled in front me. I don’t know if they were hostile, but the whole situation gave me that bad feeling that I never second guess.

18 Comments

  1. I like the pics you took of what is left of Kinloch, see ,it is a shame that the city was bought/sold out and abandoned by the Lambert International,St.Louis City and of coarse the City of Kinloch….Kinloch has a rich history and I hope one day the whole true story will be told….I know the story of Kinloch, the city got a bad rap in recent years,though……….I lived in Kinloch 1961 – 2000…..yes,it was a all black city governed on its own, with a population of over 5000, full of homes,businesses, and people……it is a shame that Kinloch lost it’s strength…

  2. I heard that Kinloch was a high crime and dangerous neighborhood before it was tore down and that the low-life residents just moved next door to Berkeley. I don’t know if that makes much real sense (do people really just move to the next neighborhood?) but I lived in Berkeley from 1992 to 2012 and it was horrible. The neighbors were either MEAN and violent or else just apathetic regarding how their own families/neighbors behaved , the landlords were absent, the dogs were abused, the juvenile delinquents ran rampant and my house had 8 bullet holes in it. I heard a man dragged to death on my street, saw a drive-by gang-related shooting in front of my house, rescued/stole more dogs than I can count, couldn’t walk down the street without being harassed in some form or another – so I NEVER walked in my neighborhood- ever. Then the tornado came (2011?) and knocked down a bunch of houses (but not the drug house!) that were left to rot , And THEN things got even worse. MAN was I glad to move to the city where I could finally feel “safe!” Not all of Berkeley is like that, I hear, and it DOES seem that the farther one gets from Kinloch, the better Berkeley gets. I liked your photos. I always wanted to go in there and see what it looked like for myself but was too chicken.

    • People were probably mean towards you based on YOU! Governing how you posted, I can pretty much guarantee you’re the issue!

      • So my neighborhood tried to shoot me because I’m “mean?” Is that why they killed each other? Is that how your neighborhood acts? is that how YOU act? Your victim-blaming mentality is creepy. Oh well, if I WAS “mean” it seems to not be the case anymore as I haven’t been attacked since I moved away.

        • Constance, don’t wrestle with pigs – you’ll both get dirty and the pig will like it. There is no use arguing with Mike. People like him believe that those that kill, assault, or abuse each other, steal from each other, intimidate those that are physically weaker and live lawless lives are not responsible for their actions. Those who engage in these crimes and immoral behavior, in Mikes mind, are always in the right and those that would like to live peaceful, law-abiding, positive lives will always be in the wrong. You being harassed while walking down the street minding your own business in Mike’s mind was your fault, not the ones making you feel unsafe. I’m glad you got out and hope you enjoy your life in the city.

    • Dear Constance,

      I’m working on trying to understand the intertwined histories of Kinloch, Berkeley and Ferguson. If you have any stories you’d like to share, I’d be interested in speaking with you in connection with my research project.

      Andrew Raimist
      ALWRaimist@me.com

  3. I was born and raised in Kinloch, Mo. My parents were bought out by the airport when I was 17 years old. We moved to Florissant, MO. I really didn’t know how BAD people were talking about Kinloch until I moved out, but I found that the things that they were saying were so untrue. Kinloch was a town that was filled with people that were close-knit. It seemed as though every family new every family that lived there. In other words, I couldn’t get smart with elderly people or fight in the streets without an adult calling my name, fussing at me, and calling my parents or aunts and uncles. This just meant that I would get in trouble when I got home. LOL!!!! I could walk 10 blocks (from the top of kinloch to the bottom) as a kid without being harrassed or violated, but would be able to stop and talk to friends and adults on the way. Kinloch to many was fun, full of laughter. There were times when people would fight, but they would be friends again the next day. This type of behavior is everywhere not just in Kinloch. NOW, the problem would be if a visitor would come through the City of Kinloch and act like they owned it. That was never good. LOL!!!! I think Kinloch received a bad rap because of the low income and being the 1st all African American Town, but it wasn’t what people percieived it to be. PLEASE, talk to the people that held residence there during the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s. They will tell you the same as I have told you in this message. The myth of the types of people that come out of Kinloch? Well, let me kill that…….There are about 4 people that I can count that are in Hollywood right now. A few more that made it there and have since passed away. There have also been National recording artists that have come from Kinloch. Doctor, teachers, Professors, Firefighters, Police Officers, Business Owners, Professional Sports Athletes, even a Race car Driver. I, myself, am a National Recording Artist. I have song and I am still singing in many arenas. I served 21 Honorable Years in the United States Navy. Retired from the Navy and now working for the Department of Veterans Afffairs. I’ve accomplished these things with God’s guidence and also by listening to those very exact people from Kinloch that we are talking about now. I received so much guidence from the people of Kinloch when I was growing up. They taught me a lot. One thing they tought me is to never let others opinions of you become your opinions of yourself. Although people thought bad of my town and the people in it (Kinloch), We thought better and knew better.

    Bless you

    • Yes G.W, you nailed it! Entertainers, doctors, lawyers , athletes , clergy, you name it! We were able to enjoy life as a human should. If you have never really been to Kinloch, don’t talk. There were many of Caucasian persuasion who frequented KTown without any incident. Father Seibert was a Parish priest for many years in the neighborhood and didn’t have any issue because people knew how to respect people!

    • Thanks for dropping knowledge… I loved spending time in Kinloch with my family… Great childhood memories

    • Dear G.W.,

      I would definitely like to speak with you to hear more about the positive stories and people that came out of Kinloch. As an architect, I worked on one of the churches there in the 1990s and at the time didn’t have a clear understanding of the history of the community. In the past five years, I’ve been bringing students out to visit the area. Some of them have volunteered to work at the Kinloch Learning Center when it was open in the past.

      Andrew Raimist
      ALWRaimist@me.com

  4. I also visited Kinloch this year in February 2014.. I have many family member born and reared in Kinloch.. I so felt the Spirit of Kinloch befriended many folks on the Facebook media.. They adopted me as a member of the Kinloch community page.. Have over 70 friends many whom ive actually met and had the most wonderfully time i’ve had in many years. Kinloch in this very condition being spoken about in its State.. i felt the spirit of Love Compassion and most of all Hospitality over the Top..
    My reasoning is somethings may be demolished and run down and all.. But the spirit of Kinloch hails a greater value then most high class suburban areas and I’ve been in quite many.. Sometimes to me it’s the small things..
    .

    • Dear Leesa,

      Let me know if you’d be interested to talk about some of the positive stories and people you’ve met in connection with Kinloch. Also, if you know other people who might be interested in contacting me, feel free to pass on my contact information.

      Andrew Raimist
      ALWRaimist@me.com

  5. I’ve been photographing and documenting the disappearance of Kinloch in recent years. I’m interested in speaking with people who grew up in the area who would be willing to share their memories of the community, old photographs or other memorabilia (yearbooks, graduation certificates, etc.).

    I’m working on a piece in connection with a Channel Nine presentation to be held in the Public Media Commons. Please share my name and contact information with anyone who’d be interested in sharing their memories of Kinloch.

    Andrew Raimist
    ALWRaimist@me.com

  6. 1989 to the present was Kinloch’s worse times…..political corruption, outsiders & drugs caused a lot of the city’s destruction. Now it is wiped off the map….but there are still many,many good memories of my old hometown
    Richard

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