The 1974 United States v. City of Black Jack, Missouri case and the rhetoric around welfare, race, and “white flight” showed how racial attitudes contributed to poverty in St. Louis. Residents incorporated Black Jack, a small town in North St. Louis County, in 1970 with a demographic of 98.8% white and .2% black. The Citizens for the Incorporation of Black Jack pushed for township to block the Park View Heights plan for a federal Section 236 housing development cosponsored by St. Mark’s Methodist Church of Florissant and the United Methodist Ministry in St. Louis to provide low to middle-income residents with housing in the suburbs. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the cosponsors of Park View Heights sued the City of Black Jack. They argued that the project’s rejection violated the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which provided for equal real estate practices based on race and ethnicity.
Black Jack residents revolted through the legal system, racial violence, and the local government system which allowed white St. Louisans to resist integration, The Black Jack case sparked furor among residents in Black Jack who feared that an influx of black residents would lower property values and ruin their school systems. After violent protest, including arson and a mayor candidacy for a KKK official, failed to get results, these residents eventually moved out of Black Jack as part of a trend known as “white flight.” In its prime during the early 20th century, St. Louis was America’s fourth-largest city and a strong economic center as a major industrial hub for manufacturing and port jobs. As automation removed labor from working-class St. Louisans, the wealthier, typically white population began to leave the city. Many of these white, affluent citizens fled to the suburbs, leaving the black population in a city with less revenue from tax collection. “White flight” left some neighborhoods in St. Louis affluent, or even more wealthy with an influx of residents, especially in the suburbs like Black Jack. But this migration of white families left many neighborhoods economically weak. A 1970 study showed that most of the St. Louis’ low-income population cited poor housing conditions as the biggest “ghetto problem.”1 “White flight” has drained resources from the city of St. Louis while providing the suburbs with renewed economic activity, creating a region with racial inequalities and economic problems which have persisted into the present day. The multitude of options with which white Black Jack residents mobilized against integration enabled the continued impoverishment of black St. Louisans.
Melles, Kyle, "United States v. Black Jack: Poverty and Welfare in the St. Louis Courts" (2022). Mendel Sato Research Award Projects. 2.