Local Opinion and Commentary
1) AND THERE WERE RATS: Liz Schmidt talks Land Clearance and Black Injustice
2) DINOsaurs AT COUNTY HALL: Do small "d" Dems dominate?
3) THE HARD TRUTH: Freedom at the Frederick Douglass Coalition
4) READERS WRITE: Eminent domain, journalism, Mediacom
Listening Whilst Writing: Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score from "Papillon"
Hey you bastards -- I'm still here!
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AND THERE WERE RATS: Liz Schmidt talks Land Clearance -- and Black Injustice
Few people in Columbia or Boone County have the institutional memory -- or command the respect -- of Liz Schmidt.
The long-time Columbia resident wrote a lengthy response to our recent stories on City Hall's insidious use of eminent domain to acquire land from the black community under the guise of "urban renewal" in the 1950s and thereafter.
In so doing, Schmidt confirms some devastating historical details -- and exposes the roots of a practice that has become a part of City Hall's DNA: Taking liens against central city property in exchange for Federally-funded loans and grants -- that's right, grants -- to fix it up. Then, if things don't go quite right, taking the property.
Here's Liz, with some editing and clarification:
Ninety years after Emancipation, time and circumstance had put the black community in one area of the city. The 1935 Hare Planning and Zoning report stated that they should be treated fairly, have their own stores and houses, etc. etc. But by the 1950s, other things had intervened.
During so-called Urban Renewal starting around 1956, Columbia not only instituted Land Clearance, but also voted in a Housing Authority, to see that displaced people had a place to go. Many cities had only land clearance, and thus the people had to fend for themselves.
In your story, Sehon Williams was right -- at that time, black residents didn't go past 8th street, except for work. Park Avenue was lined with row-shacks. And the complaint about Sharps End was that the police didn't do anything about black-on-black crime, such as if a black person stabbed another black person during a craps game.
The area east of the cemetery on West Broadway was called Cemetery Hill. Providence (then Third Street) was not paved. Privies were in yards and electricity was one light bulb in the middle of a single room. The houses were in terrible disrepair. The principal from Grant School went to take clothing to a family there once, and stepped through the boards on the porch. There was one pump in the yard to get water to carry into the shacks.
And there were rats. When the city began clearing for Urban Renewal, the rats began to flee.
The city got some of its money for Land Clearance by building streets and putting in water and electricity and sewers. The State probably put in some for Providence Road. The rest of the money for land clearance came from the Federal government under Housing Authority regulations.
We did not have "open" or "fair" housing until 1968, so many people were not fully compensated for what they lost. More importantly, entire neighborhoods were disrupted when people who had been neighbors were assigned to different housing areas.
Some of the more affluent "negroes" (as the term was used then) did have help in either moving a house, or getting some money to get another house. Noble Court, Switzler Street, and Miles Manor were places the more affluent could go. However, the help they received was underfunded.
White landowners, on the other hand, were almost-certainly fully compensated, as evidenced by the fact that they cobbled together enough land to build the Housing Authority.
[At this point, Schmidt describes what I call a private version of eminent domain].
Several of our "illustrious citizens" got a lot of property through private "foreclosures." The owner of the house or land -- usually black -- would have a sick child, or get sick, or something else would happen and they would borrow money against the house from a private party, [as banks back then didn't often lend to black folks]. The private-party lender -- usually white -- would have a "hard time," call the loan, and take the house. But the borrower could go on living there by paying rent.
By the time the city instituted Land Clearance, most of the shanties and shacks were owned by a handful of these "lovely landlords," [many of whom had acquired their properties as collateral for small loans]. I can name names if you like, as one of my League of Women Voters jobs was to go to the courthouse and see who owned these parcels.
When the Urban Renewal votes came along in 1954 and 1956, landlords threatened their tenants, that "if you vote tomorrow, we might have to raise your rent. And you wouldn't want that. You know how nice we've been about the rent."
Needless to say, whatever the grown ups of today remember, they were kids then. And kids remember the good stuff, and are protected from the other.
DINOsaurs at County Hall: Do small "d" Dems dominate?
Earlier this month, Boone County Treasurer Kay Murray told the Trib that Boone County government has several elected officials who are “dyed-in-the-wool Democrats.”
What the heck? I don't know any dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who pay taxes just so their money can go into a big, dead piggy bank called a reserve fund. All the dyed-in-the-wool Dems I know want their tax dollars spent helping those who can't help themselves.
But that doesn't seem to matter much at the Roger B. Wilson county government building these days. Check out what county clerk Wendy Noren wrote on the Trib's website a few days ago.
"Our current reserves are 28.82% of expenditures. If we do not do the tax increase they will be 28.22% of expenditures. This is a minor decrease and our reserves are still way above the County's reserve policy of 15 to 20% of expenditures."
Lawdy m'lady! Nearly 29% reserves -- when 15% is adequate and when we rightly squawked about the Columbia school district's 22% reserve? And all this bitchin' about tight budgets?
Contrast this multi-million dollar piggy bank and the county commission's fancy new offices with 25-year county public works employee Greg Mullanix, who told the three all-Democrat county commissioners last week that he has "gone without a pay raise for seven years," and that he's "forced to cut costs every day as a homeowner and breadwinner."
I could go on -- and I have, many times -- about how parts of county government run by "dyed-in-the-wool Democrats" have become vehicles for rich, powerful patrons who contribute big campaign bucks and sadly, call far too many shots, which is terrible news for a political party that prides itself on taking care of the little guy and gal.
When politicians but a "D" or an "R," or any other partisan label after their names, it's like stamping their service with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, an imprimatur, or the union label. People wearing it are expected to live up to a certain set of politico-moral standards, a code if you will, defined historically as a party platform.
Big R Republicans stand for smaller government, less taxes, and fiscal frugality. Big D Democrats support helping those who can't help themselves.
DINOs and RINOS -- Democrats and Republicans in name only -- use the party label, but only to get elected. And with all these DINOsaurs -- Democrats in Name Only, who've been in office too long -- running local government, I've started to wonder if we need a certification or accreditation process before the label backs up the politician's name.
Vote for a Certified Big D Democrat. Support a fully-accredited Big R Republican.
Bless her heart for joining with Murray to stop the commission's planned tax hike, but still, "the County's budgetary policy calls for a fund balance of 15% to 20% of budgeted expenditures," Noren writes. "Our current fund balance exceeds the high end of that by $2,234,000 and the low end by $3,393,000."
If that's true, live up to the Big D and give it back to the folks. Spend it on that mental health care program Skip Elkin talked up a few years ago. Build a new shelter for the humane society or some other animal welfare facility. Make sure folks like the residents of Paquin Towers don't lose measly allowances for simple pleasures like recreation.
Get more sheriff's deputies on the street. Lower taxes. Don't hammer our best manufacturers with big property tax increases.
Get together with the city and the housing authority and fix up all that run-down, obsolete public housing in the center of the city. And boost your indigent burial fund. Commissioners have only allocated $3,000 to bury people too poor to bury themselves? Some Dems they are, eh?
Finally, quit making us all feel like guilty schmucks by complaining about tight budgets that aren't that tight. If they were, how could this be true in April:
County cash balance lowest in decades
and all this stuff Wendy Noren wrote be true today?
And for heaven's sake: Give Greg Mullanix a long-overdue raise.
THE HARD TRUTH: Freedom at the Frederick Douglass Coalition
Thank the Lord for people like Vivian Hearn.
Vivian is mentioned in a Trib article today about central city slumlords and a new city program that may make slumlording as taboo as smoking.
At this week's meeting of the Frederick Douglass Coalition at the Armory, Vivian spoke out -- truthfully, but always catching herself as though she might offend the three white guys in the room -- me, Councilman Paul Sturtz, and central city builder Amir Ziv.
"All the crappy, run-down, torn up houses in this city are in the black neighborhoods," Vivian said. "It's been that way ever since I can remember."
She's right, but it wasn't always that way. Before Land Clearance and hard-core segregation, a local statistic was reversed. Around the turn of the last century in Columbia, black home and landowners outnumbered black renters. Today, the oppposite is true.
Promised easy loans for new homes, black homeowners displaced during Land Clearance instead found themselves red-lined, effectively shut out from the American dream they were busily creating as both freed slaves -- and newly inaugurated American immigrants. The Harlem Renaissance represented the peak of that nationwide rebirth, which found expression here in the work of jazz musician Blind Boone, restauranteur Annie Fisher, and myriad stories in Rufus Logan's newspaper, The Professional World, founded in 1901.
The society page, for instance, reported a local Black physician's appointment to the Republican Party convention; the business page reported the success of a Black-owned transfer company.
In too many ways, Columbia is still a racially-divided mess driven by the same lack of real, honest communication that plagues the rest of the nation. Changing that part of our shared history is key to this city's future, and starts with telling the unvarnished, often politically-incorrect truth.
The truth, they say, will set you free and folks like Vivian Hearn should never have to pause or stop themselves on the road to that freedom.
Hey Mike. Another great read!
-- Renee Hulshof, Columbia
Your reporting on how eminent domain affected (and practically destroyed) the minority community has been excellent. What I like getting from you is fearless reporting that no other media outlet in Columbia has the ability or guts to match.
-- An admiring attorney, Columbia
About our story, Outrage rises over Mediacom outages
Mike: I too, was down all day yesterday with Mediacom high speed internet. Couldn't reach a real person so send an email to the corporate "contact us" and got a lame answer referring me to call the 866 number in your story. Guess what - more automated gibberish. Waiting for another reply today.
-- Linda Dellsperger, Columbia
About our story, MU RESEARCH: Readers like local, negative online news BEST!
Dear Mike, Thank you for linking the news release of our research to the recent Heart Beat e-newsletter. I am both a subscriber to and fan of the newsletter.
I’d like to briefly clarify the headline pertaining to our research: We found no evidence that people like local/negative news better, only that they pay more attention to it and remember details from it better, relative to distant/negative news. We did include a physiological measure of unpleasantness in the experiment but found no meaningful difference between responses to the local and distant news stories.
Thanks again for including our research in the newsletter. I look forward to the next issue.
-- Kevin Wise, Assistant Professor
Strategic Communication Faculty
Co-Director, PRIME Lab
Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia
Blogitor in Chief
The Columbia Heart Beat