This week, a portrait of an all-white ribbon-cutting ceremony at the renovated Arch grounds produced immediate backlash — and an apology from the non-profit that organized the event and photo shoot. But the backlash isn't over.
Black city leaders plan to gather tomorrow at the Arch
for an event aimed at rectifying the visual absence of black representation during the official ribbon-cutting, which took place July 3. The all-white photo of the ribbon-cutting drew immediate reaction when Mayor Lyda Krewson posted it on social media Tuesday afternoon — much of it sharply critical.
"Lyda Krewson, for a mayor who stated she would represent ALL of STL did you not notice the lack of diversity in this line up?" wrote a man named Corey Jones on Krewson's Facebook page. "Did you or anyone question 'where are the constituents of color who also made this project viable?' Not even 'token' representation of the many people of color who were involved. Once again a missed opportunity to be inclusive perpetuating the notice that people of color are still in the back of the bus."
"Gotta love the #Diversity in this pic," another man quipped. Added Missouri Representative Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis), simply, "#ArchSoWhite."
By Wednesday, Franks had created a Facebook event for a ribbon-cutting that would reflect the city's diversity of population and political leadership: the Black Arch Ribbon Cutting Event
. Franks' district, District 78, includes the riverfront, downtown and the Arch, but he wasn't invited to the July 3 event.
Along with Franks, observers noted the absence of other black political leaders, especially in contrast to the many white politicians on site, including Mayor Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, Missouri Governor Mike Parson, U.S. Representative Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin) and U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri).
There would have been plenty of options for including black political leadership. City-wide, St. Louis, which has a population that's nearly 50 percent black
, has elected Franks, Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Sheriff Vernon Betts, President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green. There's also U.S. Representative William Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis), whose district includes the Arch, along with a host of state reps and senators.
It's not clear whether the lack of black officials reflects a complete failure of invitations or if some key invitees declined. In addition to Franks, staffers for Lewis Reed and Tishaura Jones confirm that neither was invited. (In a tweetstorm, Jones notes that she was the legislator repping the district
when funds for the renovations were approved.) As for Congressman Clay, we reached out to his staff this morning but haven't heard back. (We'll update this post if we do.)
Regardless, the result was a starkly melanin-free optic: a line of white politicians holding a green ribbon before a monument that itself embodies the tensions
in St. Louis' fraught history of race and minority inclusion. In 1964, activists scaled the still-unfinished structure
to protest the exclusion of black workers from the monument's construction.
The Gateway Arch Park Foundation, the non-profit that organized the opening ceremony, issued an apology on Wednesday, stating "[W]e acknowledge that our ribbon cutting did not reflect the diversity of our community and for that and any hurt it has caused we are sorry."
"You can’t have an event of this magnitude, with no black representation! #Period!" Franks wrote
on the event page for Friday's ribbon-cutting, which is scheduled for noon tomorrow. "So we will make it right."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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