River Memory

August 20th, 2019

A multigenerational oral history project on the fabric of race, class, labor and the river in St. Louis.

This project centers on multigenerational memory as a prism through which to understand the interconnected threads of race, class, and labor that weave together St. Louis and East St. Louis. By collecting oral history with community elders and matching this with the poetry and reflections of emerging East St. Louis artists, this project will tell a deeply embodied story. A story about how these communities’ relationships with the river have grown more distant, more managed by both real and metaphorical corporate boundaries, and how industrial commerce in the region has hemmed in civic action, environmental advocacy, and the work of social justice.

Taking the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917 as a critical point of reference to trace social change and alongside this tracing the transformation of the Mississippi River into a highly regulated commercial channel, River Memory will overlay vernacular expression, intergenerational knowledge, and the experience of living within close range of an ever-evolving Anthropocene landscape. Using the key themes of community history, multigenerational storytelling, and cultural engagement, the project will unearth the lived, placed community narratives that exist—and survive—among the region’s black community during the ongoing flashpoints of the Anthropocene.

Throughout 2019, River Memory will conduct oral history and community-based research, accessing multigenerational memories of the communities on either shore of the Mississippi River, to address broadly the question of equity and environmental justice while also illuminating the deeper, lived experience. A series of podcasts in 2019 will share this research and its ensuing archive, culminating in a public program and exhibition at the The Griot Museum of Black History and Culture in the fall of 2019. The latter forms part of a multidisciplinary panel of scholars examining the connections between St. Louis and East St. Louis and the Mississippi River that runs between them.