counter create hit The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

Availability: Ready to download

A searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis. From Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capita A searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis. From Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capitalism have persistently entwined to corrupt the nation's past. St. Louis was a staging post for Indian removal and imperial expansion, and its wealth grew on the backs of its poor black residents, from slavery through redlining and urban renewal. But it was once also America's most radical city, home to anti-capitalist immigrants, the Civil War's first general emancipation, and the nation's first general strike -- a legacy of resistance that endures. A blistering history of a city's rise and decline, The Broken Heart of America will forever change how we think about the United States.


Compare
Ads Banner

A searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis. From Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capita A searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis. From Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capitalism have persistently entwined to corrupt the nation's past. St. Louis was a staging post for Indian removal and imperial expansion, and its wealth grew on the backs of its poor black residents, from slavery through redlining and urban renewal. But it was once also America's most radical city, home to anti-capitalist immigrants, the Civil War's first general emancipation, and the nation's first general strike -- a legacy of resistance that endures. A blistering history of a city's rise and decline, The Broken Heart of America will forever change how we think about the United States.

30 review for The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey

    very highly recommend this for all St Louis folks

  2. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    A 4.5 rounded up for breadth of vision, scope of scholarship, and the overwhelming love of labor it entails. Is it exhausting, as one of the other reviewers put it? Absolutely. And incredibly depressing? Affirmative. It's possibly the saddest book I've ever read, heartbreaking page after heartbreaking page. If, like me, you're a local or grew up in St Louis, you'll want to cast it into the fire on many occasions. But press on! You owe it the city's forefathers and mothers to do so. Hats off to W A 4.5 rounded up for breadth of vision, scope of scholarship, and the overwhelming love of labor it entails. Is it exhausting, as one of the other reviewers put it? Absolutely. And incredibly depressing? Affirmative. It's possibly the saddest book I've ever read, heartbreaking page after heartbreaking page. If, like me, you're a local or grew up in St Louis, you'll want to cast it into the fire on many occasions. But press on! You owe it the city's forefathers and mothers to do so. Hats off to Walter Johnson: this is the book I've been waiting to read my whole life.

  3. 4 out of 5

    S.J. Creek

    I have few words for how engrossing and immersive this book is. As a white millennial transplant, I’ve moved around this region with little sense of the blood and tears saturating the soil. And it just so happens that as an American, Saint Louis’ history is instructive of the National history more broadly. It’s hard for me to imagine many Saint Louisans reading this book and not understanding that we must talk about reparations, policing, eliminating TIFs, and centering North STL NOW. Our region I have few words for how engrossing and immersive this book is. As a white millennial transplant, I’ve moved around this region with little sense of the blood and tears saturating the soil. And it just so happens that as an American, Saint Louis’ history is instructive of the National history more broadly. It’s hard for me to imagine many Saint Louisans reading this book and not understanding that we must talk about reparations, policing, eliminating TIFs, and centering North STL NOW. Our region can no longer be a cookie jar for white capitalists. Broken Heart of America should be required reading in local high schools. I will be thinking about this book for a very long time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    Maybe you live in STL and want to better understand this place. Maybe you’re wondering why anyone cares about STL and how it might possibly be relevant to the US today. Read this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    Though I haven’t read it in over 25 years, I kept thinking back to Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” as I listened to this one. That’s high praise. The difference being of course that instead of a nation sized epic, this book focuses on one city and covers it in a way that one is not likely to find in local civics history textbook. The history of St. Louis here is covered from its Native American beginnings to the first white settlers. From first setting foot, the white majority wou Though I haven’t read it in over 25 years, I kept thinking back to Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” as I listened to this one. That’s high praise. The difference being of course that instead of a nation sized epic, this book focuses on one city and covers it in a way that one is not likely to find in local civics history textbook. The history of St. Louis here is covered from its Native American beginnings to the first white settlers. From first setting foot, the white majority would rule in a manner that advanced their interests. While the book celebrates the many important figures that emerged from the area especially in the first part of the 20th century, it documents the hardships faced by the minority community in spite of efforts to organize who were time and again repressed. It eventually gets to the riots in Ferguson, but not before adequately explaining the structural issues in place that led to the demonstrations. The author does an exemplary job explaining State and local tax incentive financing which have been disastrous for the communities not benefitting from the local businesses being supported. Overall a great microcosm of why so many things are broken in the US today and how it got here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    This book is phenomenal. So much STL history bursting forth from these here pages. The book does a telling of the racist and violent history in St. Louis -- from settlement to present day. I am sure this book could be written about many other cities all over America, but there is a certain poetry centering the focus on St. Louis, Missouri-- the center of the country, straddling North and South, East and West. The book is a history, but it is not sugar coating anything for you. And unlike your hi This book is phenomenal. So much STL history bursting forth from these here pages. The book does a telling of the racist and violent history in St. Louis -- from settlement to present day. I am sure this book could be written about many other cities all over America, but there is a certain poetry centering the focus on St. Louis, Missouri-- the center of the country, straddling North and South, East and West. The book is a history, but it is not sugar coating anything for you. And unlike your history text-books, if someone is racist or policies are racist, the author will plainly tell you how racist it all is. So, that being said, he's not trying to politely and carefully show you the light. There is so mUCH in here, talking about it all will take pages. I think that there are definitely many sections I will have to revisit a few times as there is as much depth as there is breadth , and to be honest, some of the policy and the latter chapters gets a bit complicated-- though also, was explained better than I've ever had those policies explained to me before. So def lots to learn-- whether to learn for the first time, relearn, or reframe STL history, this book had a little bit of all of that for me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    I used to teach high school U.S. History to teenagers in North St. Louis. Before Ferguson. I cared a lot about the city but I couldn't live there any more. Violence becomes too normal. Segregation become too normal. It shouldn't be normal. But I also resented telling people that I lived there, because they thought I was either a hero or a crazy person for doing what I was doing. I was neither, and the people who continue to live in St. Louis aren't heroes or crazy people. The genius of this book I used to teach high school U.S. History to teenagers in North St. Louis. Before Ferguson. I cared a lot about the city but I couldn't live there any more. Violence becomes too normal. Segregation become too normal. It shouldn't be normal. But I also resented telling people that I lived there, because they thought I was either a hero or a crazy person for doing what I was doing. I was neither, and the people who continue to live in St. Louis aren't heroes or crazy people. The genius of this book is that it neither excuses or exoticizes St. Louis. Johnson is right: it's a critically important city for understanding the dispossession of Native Americans, the spread of slavery, the failure of Reconstruction, the maintenance of segregation, the brutalization of labor movements, and the creation of modern suburban whiteness. Everything you want to know is there, and in a much more convenient package than Chicago or New York. He gets any of the details that I know about right. He gets the North side right, he gets the Northwest counties like Jennings and Ferguson and Florissant right, he gets Kirkwood right, and he gets the people who struggle for justice in modern St. Louis right. Many of the most committed radicals and change agents for anti-racism that I've ever met lived in St. Louis before Ferguson. Ultimately every major American city has the problems that St. Louis has, because every major American city was built on stolen land, has a racial wealth gap, has nearly all-white suburbs, uses TIFF money to attract big corporations, and finally, almost always, has a repressive police department. I will shout out the Cincinnati Police Department here for getting close to being not repressive. I lived in Cincy after Ferguson and the difference in policing there versus St. Louis was unbelievable. Go look up Timothy Thomas and the consent decree if you want to know why this was. If you want to find a combo of the activism of Percy Green and ACTION and the work of the women in Pruitt-Igoe on the rent strike, go look up IrisRoley and get informed. She has made a huge impact on that city and continues to demand that the police do better. Anyway, I have to admit that I was somewhat suspicious of Johnson's totalizing framework of racial capitalism before starting the book, but his articulation of the logic of white frontiers and the zero-sum politics of turning poor whites against black and brown people is convincing. Capitalism is not going to solve a problem it created. We're going to need different solutions and I'm open to them.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This was tough. Johnson's descriptions of how imperialism, racism, and capitalism are intertwined to form the backbone of today's enduring systemic racism make this an eye-opening, informative, and heart-breaking read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Johnny

    I first came across Walter Johnson on the Red Nation podcast. It was a rambling conversation with Tef Poe and the podcast host. One point stuck with me: Johnson, while talking about his own Missourian status as a white man born and raised outside of Columbia, MO (which, in the grand scheme, is outside of St. Louis), said that imperative in his work was understanding all the ways history had congealed to make the who of who he is in the now of the immediate now. I’m not a historian, and I don’t I first came across Walter Johnson on the Red Nation podcast. It was a rambling conversation with Tef Poe and the podcast host. One point stuck with me: Johnson, while talking about his own Missourian status as a white man born and raised outside of Columbia, MO (which, in the grand scheme, is outside of St. Louis), said that imperative in his work was understanding all the ways history had congealed to make the who of who he is in the now of the immediate now. I’m not a historian, and I don’t read that much history, but part of what sets this apart is the ways Johnson is so clearly interrogating his own biographical backyard--he says as much in the intro, acknowledging the custom of bubbling out from history and writing about it from a space of shelter. Even Greg Grandin’s End of the Myth, which I loved and which certainly pairs with Broken Heart, is detached. The other side of the spectrum would be to swing into Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, but there the total investment in the lives of the subjects of the book removes it from history into the totally here and now, focused more on the congealed material than the history itself. My point: Broken Heart is more of a compendium of secondary sources, but it is still an honest, revelatory, visceral, maddening, at times warm and beautiful, and sprawling story of an epic history of racial capitalism. From the first pages, we all have a view of the moment where this is going: the murder of Mike Brown, but as readers we are lost in what, from our vantage point, is a wilderness. The wilderness is figurative--Johnson starts us off in 1700’s St. Louis, a cultural space dominated by indigenous people that is totally removed from our world today. The “wilderness” is literal--St. Louis also occupies a land that looks different, not just for the sprawl today, but also as the river itself has been reshaped by floods and dams and the first areas of settlement now exist as mostly parking lots. And Johnson walks us from there to today. Even though the book clocks in at over 400 pages long, it could easily be longer--each chapter is essentially its own book review, tied in with Johnson’s connections between the chapters and eras as he weaves the narrative of how the eviction and extermination of Indigenous Peoples in the West in the name of building White wealth and American Empire refracts into the exploitation of Black labor, eviction of Black people, and extraction of Black wealth from St. Louisan’s, with the pushback against reconstruction, the 1904 World’s Fair and 1917 massacre in East St. Louis serving as the evolution towards a system of violent policing and fucked housing practices--increasingly obscured by strange legalese and “colorblind” municipal maneuvers--that looks surprisingly static in St. Louis since the early to mid 20th century. The last chapter hits a fever dream pace with the desperation of municipalities to hoard and extract, alongside billion dollar companies that float like haunting ghosts above 250 years of routinized, banal theft and bloodshed. Parallel to all of this and equally if not more important, Johnson is constantly outlining the radicals and visionaries that helped set the pace for what it meant to jam the system. He’s done his work in resurrecting some seriously heavyweight individuals and groups that--surprise--I’d never learned about in my first 18 years in the St. Louis area and often only heard about in passing in the years I spent back in St. Louis from 2011 - 2016. Without the concurrent exploration of how people were standing against, the book would be nothing more than a voyeuristic catalog of All The Terrible Things That Have Happened, which is where so much journalism in general, but ESPECIALLY about the rust belt, goes wrong, as the actual subjects of the history are flattened and infantilized in an attempt to speak truth to power that becomes more of just gazing at the power in awe (I’d be the first to admit to this). The two most interesting sets of activists involve communist German immigrants around the turn of the Civil War, many of whom complicated the dash for Native lands west of St. Louis, and wildcat striking Black women working in St. Louis factories in the early 20th Century. There is a serious joy in this book--it is not a doom and gloom book, and it is not a book that fetishizes pain. I think that is what tips it over the edge into being something great. It’s overwhelming to try to write this review. It is a book thick with immediate relevance inside and outside of St. Louis, and trying to talk about it right now, the morning after finishing it and 10 years after realizing where I’d grown up and 31 years after having started the process of growing up there feels a bit like Lucille Ball trying to eat all the chocolates. To read this book as a St. Louisan is to dream through your past, and I think that would apply to anyone who grew up in any Rust Belt or Midwestern city of suburb in the late 20th and early 21st century, as the world prepared to flip. The act of reading this is an almost physical act: the interstates, the “blighted” corner, the leafy trees of Clayton, W. Florissant Ave. There are so many things to uncover here, all well connected by Johnson but also discrete. For each of the 11 Chapters, I would think of a new set of people who I’d say “Oh, they would dig this chapter...I should just pdf this chapter to them.” Sometimes the heart of a book isn’t in the book, but in the Introduction and in the Acknowledgments. On the latter, Johnson writes 5 pages, and is effusive and thankful and so obviously grateful to so many people. That’s a good sign. It’s the intro that completely sold me. He spends several pages of briefly explaining the geographical and cultural importance of St. Louis and his takes on criticisms of capitalism (he is sharp to frame “the notion of racism and capitalism as organically related but not identical...helps us understand the excessive pleasures of white supremacy” and pushing past exploitation and production into Empire building through eviction and extraction [think land seizures through to payday loans]). And he ends with this: “Having grown up just two hours to the west, I had been to St. Louis countiless times to visit family, to go to the universities or the museums, even to do historical research for other books I have written. I came to this book less as a professional historian than as a citizen taking the measure of a history that I had lived through but not yet fully understood. This is a history that I have resisted, but also a history from which I have benefited, as a white man and a Missourian. I offer the result, not in the spirit of academics’ too-common conceit that injustice is everywhere but in their own biographical back yards, but rather in the hope that we may all seek to do better--to walk humbly, to act justly, to love mercy.” Maybe I’m just a sucker for Micah 6:8. But you can feel that in here, in this grand humble, just, merciful work of heartbreaking and hopeful history.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cris Edwards

    Like the author of this book, historian Walter Johnson, I am a middle-aged white male American. While I spent the first 42 years of my life in the South [Texas mostly, but also Virginia and Mississippi] and Mr. Johnson is a native of Missouri, I would wager that what we both learned in our grade-school American History classes was nearly identical. Anyone my age or older knows it well. Many of us still cling passionately to it. Before moving to the St. Louis area last year, I knew little about th Like the author of this book, historian Walter Johnson, I am a middle-aged white male American. While I spent the first 42 years of my life in the South [Texas mostly, but also Virginia and Mississippi] and Mr. Johnson is a native of Missouri, I would wager that what we both learned in our grade-school American History classes was nearly identical. Anyone my age or older knows it well. Many of us still cling passionately to it. Before moving to the St. Louis area last year, I knew little about the city. I had driven through on a college road trip and had seen the Arch. I knew that St. Louis hosted the World's Fair in 1904. I knew that it had once been one of the most-important cities in the country but now is no longer. So, when I decided to move to the area [North St. Louis County], I wanted to learn more. I learned the travel-friendly facts: It has the largest city park in America; bigger than NY's Central Park! The museums and zoo are free! But then I learned some things that were confusing. I found a chart of St. Louis's population since the late 1800s. It shows a meteoric rise in population that skyrocketed upwards until the 1950s, at which time it completely reverses course and plummets consistently to today. The city is built to house a million or more residents and today contains less than a third of that number. I also learned that St. Louis is recognized as The Murder Capital of America. Clearly, something happened to St. Louis. Upon my arrival in the area, I asked any people I could who were from the area: "What HAPPENED to St. Louis?!" No matter who I asked, regardless of age, race, or gender, the answer was, verbatim, always the same. "Racism." I was confused. I needed to know more. Mr. Johnson's book more than thoroughly explains it for me. But there is more to it than that. He brilliantly uses the history of St. Louis as a metaphor for the country as a whole. St. Louis's story is a microcosm of America's story. This book is a very difficult read in the same way that a recovering alcoholic will find it difficult to recognize and admit to their own hurtful wrongdoings as a necessary step in staying sober. Some people are not willing to see a problematic pattern of behaviour and will instead minimize, deny, and blame it away and nothing changes. If the American Dream is anything like getting sober, this book will work well as the nation's Fourth Step Inventory. I've come to love the St. Louis area and its people. This book ends with the seeds of optimism, which is tough, given the pain that the people here have felt for 200 years. Even if you live in America but have no interest or connection to St. Louis proper, I still highly recommend this book. It's shocking, infuriating, shameful, and heartbreaking, but necessary reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Luke Johnson

    Disclosure: I'm a white guy who lives in St Louis County. I wasn't born here but have spent the last decade here. Walter Johnson's "The Broken Heart of America" is an incredibly indepth look at some (at times shocking) examples of the way racism and American Imperialism has played out in Saint Louis, MO and East Saint Louis, IL. It starts a little slow in my opinion, as it goes back to the days of Lewis & Clark in a time when early Americans were busy "discovering" all the land had to offer. Unle Disclosure: I'm a white guy who lives in St Louis County. I wasn't born here but have spent the last decade here. Walter Johnson's "The Broken Heart of America" is an incredibly indepth look at some (at times shocking) examples of the way racism and American Imperialism has played out in Saint Louis, MO and East Saint Louis, IL. It starts a little slow in my opinion, as it goes back to the days of Lewis & Clark in a time when early Americans were busy "discovering" all the land had to offer. Unless you live under a rock I'm going to assume you already know how white American settlers viewed Native Americans as "noble savages" and thus had no qualms about murder and displacing so many of them. But as the book goes on into the years around the Civil War, and then the late 1800s and early 1900s the book relates so much history I was unaware of (and certainly was never taught in school) which has all played a part into the ever increasing state of racial inequality we live in today. In this book, Walter Johnson covers The World's Fare in 1904, Pruitt Igoe, the murder of Mike Brown, and a whole lot more. Some I knew, but what I didn't know (which, admittedly, was a lot) left me aghast. This is not a happy book, and it made me feel sick to my stomach on several occassions as similar tactics of Imperialism / Manifest Destiny / Imminent Domain that were used against Native Americans 200 years ago are still being used to oppress people of color today. The reason I'm only giving the book 4 stars instead of 5 is because I sometimes felt that the author was saying these stories are unique to and explicitly Saint Louis issues. Yes, the history in this book is STL based but you think other cities don't have streets named for racist military officers? That other cities don't have parks, swimming pools, or other public places that barred African-Americans or were segregated? You think other places don't group minorities into certain neighborhoods or haven't had their white citizens flee to the suburbs? These are national problems, these are worldwide problems. STL just seems to have more than their fair share. Still, highly recommend this if you live in STL like I do. Or if you care about the way structural racism is sown into so many aspects of business and daily life. Hats off to Mr Johnson for a deeply researched and strong linear narrative that takes us up to nearly present day where the killing of unarmed citizens by police, unjust business practices, and racist leaders (on both the local and nation level) are daily headline news.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anton Frommelt

    This is a must read for St. Louisans, but I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand how much seemingly distant history can affect the present and future. St. Louis' history is an unfortunate paradigm for the rest of America in terms of imperialism and racial capitalism. I'm not sure my core perspective has changed after reading this, but it has certainly been deeply informed and cemented. Johnson's history is comprehensive, detailed, and somewhat horrifying. It objectively but explic This is a must read for St. Louisans, but I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand how much seemingly distant history can affect the present and future. St. Louis' history is an unfortunate paradigm for the rest of America in terms of imperialism and racial capitalism. I'm not sure my core perspective has changed after reading this, but it has certainly been deeply informed and cemented. Johnson's history is comprehensive, detailed, and somewhat horrifying. It objectively but explicitly shows how segregationist policies throughout history still dramatically affect black (and indigenous) communities today, and the subtly sinister way that racist ideology has propagated and adapted over time. It really dismantles the notion that certain oppressed people just "aren't working hard enough" or "don't have the right mindset." This is racist ideology to its core, but it is grounded in a belief that everyone has equal opportunity in present day America, and that is simply, unabashedly false, as anyone who explores our racist history will observe. My last main takeaway from reading this is my further belief that American history in education needs to be adapted. We need to avoid the rampant beautification of the ugly, violent, and deeply oppressive parts of our history as a country, and have more explicit dialogues about how historical problems (like racism) still persist today.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Connie Kuntz

    We visited Ferguson a few years ago because of Michael Brown. We learned a lot just from getting on our feet and looking around. Powerful visit that taught us more than any of the media coverage. Same trip we visited St. Louis, went to that courthouse museum and saw a very curated exhibit of the Dred Scott case. And a very curated wall display of Nat Turner. And we also toured the recently vandalized Jewish cemetery. It was a good trip. We saw things that heartened us and things that felt phony. We visited Ferguson a few years ago because of Michael Brown. We learned a lot just from getting on our feet and looking around. Powerful visit that taught us more than any of the media coverage. Same trip we visited St. Louis, went to that courthouse museum and saw a very curated exhibit of the Dred Scott case. And a very curated wall display of Nat Turner. And we also toured the recently vandalized Jewish cemetery. It was a good trip. We saw things that heartened us and things that felt phony. So when this book popped up as something I might like, I grabbed it, read it and liked it. "Liked" isn't quite the right word. More like I "needed" it. There is lots of history and perspective in here, incredible detail. I've done some things right, but there is so much that I have ignored over the years. So much that I haven't considered. No more willful ignorance. I don't need to live in St. Louis to appreciate the lessons of this book. Will definitely re-read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rob Kerth

    It's sort of weird to write a "People's History of the United States" style companion volume for the history of St Louis, given that most of us would need a history of STL as a grounding in the first place. But that's kind of what this is. Has some interesting stuff but I can't say it really holds together.

  15. 5 out of 5

    I Be Reading

    I am a third generation St. Louisan and this is the history about my city that I have been waiting for. Highly recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    Everyone who lives or has lived in St. Louis should probably read this book, along with anyone who wants to see the long, white supremacist history of the US examined through the lens of a single city. It's fantastic.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Megan Linquiti

    Required reading for everyone who went to WUSTL. It read a bit like a textbook, but it gives so much important history and context that I can't believe I didn't know.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Outstanding. A really perceptive treatment of three of my favorite subjects: race, American empire, and St. Louis.

  19. 5 out of 5

    John Yunker

    The cover of The Broken Heart of America by Walter Johnson features a nearly complete St. Louis Arch, known as the Gateway to the West. It was completed about six years before my family moved to St. Louis and my memories of it consist of squeezing into an egg-shaped elevator and tilting our way up to the top, then gazing down at the muddy Mississippi: Missouri on one side, Illinois on the other. I loved visiting the Arch, but I never thought much about the land underneath the arch. I did not know The cover of The Broken Heart of America by Walter Johnson features a nearly complete St. Louis Arch, known as the Gateway to the West. It was completed about six years before my family moved to St. Louis and my memories of it consist of squeezing into an egg-shaped elevator and tilting our way up to the top, then gazing down at the muddy Mississippi: Missouri on one side, Illinois on the other. I loved visiting the Arch, but I never thought much about the land underneath the arch. I did not know that the land was once known as the Greenwich Village of the West, a dense neighborhood of manufacturing, dive bars and cheap rentals. Home to the poor, minorities, creative types and those agitating for social and political change. An area that the leaders of the city saw fit to bulldoze in 1939 under the auspices of progress. The Arch itself, which came about many years later, was more afterthought than motivation. The Broken Heart of America tells a sobering history of St. Louis, beginning in 1764, when fur traders first set up shop along the Mississippi, through to 2014, when Michael Brown was fatally shot on the streets of Ferguson. While this book may not seem at face value to be a book about the environment, it is very much a book about the land. The story of St. Louis, and America as a whole, is the story of land taken and land denied. And how land functions as a foundation for structural racism. Structural racism, unlike so many other structures that comprise a city, is not so visible to the eye; it can be found in exclusionary deed covenants, capricious zoning laws and, when all else fails, eminent domain. To be fair, exclusionary covenants were by no means unique to St. Louis. But St. Louis does have a unique and fascinating history, first as the staging point for the fur trade, followed by countless homesteaders. It was also the city from which the US Army waged its brutal war against Native Americans. A city that saw some of the first battles of the Civil War, including one that featured the future generals Grant and Sherman as spectators. And a city that in 1877 separated itself from the county, a divorce that remains to this day, and has fostered massive inequalities between those who live in the city and those who simply work there. And, today, as the Missouri governor does battle with St. Louis over the prosecution of the gun-waving McCloskeys, I am reminded that in the early days of the Civil War the governor went to battle, quite literally, with the city of St. Louis. What we don’t resolve we reenact. Walter Johnson, was inspired to write this book after the death of Michael Brown, noting in the introduction: From the Lewis and Clark expedition to the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 and the launch of Black Lives Matter, many of the events that we consider central to the history of the United States occurred in St. Louis. Johnson does an admirable job of covering (and uncovering) hundreds of years of history. For example, many Americans are now well aware of the Tulsa race massacre in 1921. But there was a race massacre in East St. Louis in 1917, one that left 6,000 blacks homeless and as many as 250 dead. And it was corporations that actively inflamed white versus black hatred, all in the interests of suppressing wages. At the time, companies such as Monsanto and Alcoa had established their own private towns along the banks of the Mississippi, free from environmental regulations, taxes, as well as any qualms over pitting white workers against black workers. Johnson documents again and again how racism was used not only to suppress minorities but laborers as a whole. As one raised in St. Louis, I can’t help but wonder why so little of the history in this book was not taught to us in school. I was told many things about William Clark but I was not told that he was complicit in stealing vast swaths of land from the natives. I was not taught that in 1916 St. Louis became the first city in the country to pass a racial segregation ordinance by voter referendum. Details like this matter. Because structural racism is all about the details. And it is by knowing these details we can begin righting the wrongs. Johnson documents the many ways that St. Louis neighborhoods used rules and blurry legal maneuvers to punish and exclude people they did not want around. There’s the 1956 case of Dr. Howard Venable, an African American doctor who built a home in Creve Coeur, a white suburb of St. Louis. The neighbors hired lawyers to try to buy him out, multiple times, but each time he refused. So the locals formed a committee, led by John Beirne, who got the city to threaten to condemn his property unless he sold it, which he ultimately did. The land was turned into park, named after, who else, John Beirne. The park was renamed the Dr. H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park just a year ago. Better late than never. But I also believe that small steps such as this really do matter. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and we can resolve to do better. And there are many hopeful moments in this book. Stories of resilience and persistence, stories of blacks and whites uniting in the first organized strike in the history of the United States. Stories of Dick Gregory, Chuck Berry, Maya Angelou and others who grew up in the city, persevered and succeeded. Stories of activists like Ora Lee Malone, a woman who led a successful rent strike against the ill-fated Pruitt-Igoe complex in 1969. And Percy Green, who fought tirelessly to create a more equitable city; he and a white accomplice, Richard Daly, climbed the under-construction Arch in 1964 to protest the lack of minority hiring on this federally financed project. And, yes, local issues sometimes have national enablers. Time and again Johnson documents instances where St. Louis leaders used federal dollars in the name of eradicating “blight” only as an excuse to line developer pockets and raze poor neighborhoods. The federal government, in its lack of oversight, is just as complicit in maintaining this toxic structure. Sometimes I think the best thing to come out of smartphones was that little camera. A camera that has shed light on the violence toward minorities that so many white Americans had long believed was a relic of the past. Like those cameras, this book shines a light on the darker recesses of our history, but in ways that can help us move forward. Like paying close attention to what goes on in our city council meetings. Asking who benefits and who loses when a new development is proposed. Asking if the police are incentivized to write tickets simply to help pay the city’s bills (a major factor behind the deep-seated issues in Ferguson). These are questions that people in St. Louis (and many other cities) are asking. And there are many people in St. Louis working to unite the city and county once again, which will go a very long way toward not just erasing a border but erasing long-held misconceptions about neighborhoods and one another. This is a book I wish I had when I was living in St. Louis and I hope it becomes required reading now. Because it would go a long way towards righting the wrongs of this city and, perhaps, our country as a whole. It’s long past time we resolved to do better and to stop reenacting the past. NOTE: This review first appeared on EcoLitBooks.com

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marty Seaney

    The St. Louis I knew was caught in not only the postwar desires and reservations of the 50s , but also was the fiery and chaotic times of social upheaval that typified the 60s. In the 50s our days were filled with the Mickey Mouse club, Daniel Boone, Hula Hoops, and the constant stream of African American women streaming into our neighborhood to clean our houses and watch over us. I spent about half of my days in the watch of sheltering suburbs and the other half in an older section of St. Louis The St. Louis I knew was caught in not only the postwar desires and reservations of the 50s , but also was the fiery and chaotic times of social upheaval that typified the 60s. In the 50s our days were filled with the Mickey Mouse club, Daniel Boone, Hula Hoops, and the constant stream of African American women streaming into our neighborhood to clean our houses and watch over us. I spent about half of my days in the watch of sheltering suburbs and the other half in an older section of St. Louis at the house of my grandmother. That was a very different place, four or five blocks from the Cathedral where I was part of the Cardinal’s choir. We were a choir of mixed races and realities. The contempt and disrespect that some other kids my age in the suburbs paid the African American women angered me for they were ugly accusations of petty theft, ones that I immediately challenged. They were more than just lies. I knew why they said what they said. Their sin was that they were black; that was all the reason to so blithely charge them with the theft of some quarters off a bedroom bureau. Young kids often pick up things that adults ignore for they are too busy taking care of us, just trying to get to the end of the day. To believe that my reaction was some great act of bravery or benefit to that lady would be saccharine at best and more pointedly underestimating the steely resolve she quietly possessed. For the group of boys that I sang with there was a strangeness that hovered over us like a rain cloud that was a storm warning. We stood close to each in the pews of the choir, but our lives were far apart.The St. Louis I knew was caught in not only the postwar desires and reservations of the 50s , but also was the fiery and chaotic times of social upheaval that typified the 60s. In the 50s our days were filled with the Mickey Mouse club, Daniel Boone, Hula Hoops, and the constant stream of African American women streaming into our neighborhood to clean our houses and watch over us. I spent about half of days in the sheltering suburbs and the other half in an older section of St. Louis at the house of my grandmother. That was a very different place, four or five blocks from the Cathedral where I was part of the Cardinal’s choir. We were a choir of mixed races and realities. I was lost in St. Louis not knowing how to fit in a white world I didn’t want, or in a black world I did not know how to approach. But I knew there was a world of color I needed to know about in order to know myself. In California I did not really understand the white world that did not even know it was rejecting and pitting itself against a world of color, and could even begin to locate those worlds of color. It was all simply a dry hot cloudless world of white. So, that is it. I know all of those moments might appear to be ones that do not seem very substantial or bothersome. But for me they shaped my thoughts on race, on family, and why some people have to suffer so much-for us, their families, and their own people. This book not only addresses the veneer of questions and reactions that constitute my upbringing, but dives deep down into the many layers that are the beginnings, the middle, and current realties of racial inequities In exclusion and removal from a place and a chance to a life that should have been theirs. One doesn’t have to be from St. Louis to learn and appreciate this book, for St. Louis is everywhere in difference and repetition. That’s why it is the Gateway city, but not only to the West. As a gateway city it should open its gates to all comers with inclusion and an energy matches the need for change; the gates should not be either the means of removal or exclusion. We are at a juncture where we can make a choice for positive change, where protests can finally turn the conquest of a sinful past into reparations, jobs, respect, and safety. We harmonized in graced rendition of chants, but outside those tasks, our scurrying flurries of interaction were feckless moments of inharmonious combat. In the sixties I separated myself from those who saw people of color as a problem to be attacked and beat down in every way possible. And then my family moved to California, a place that looked different, the food was different, there was a checkerboard landscape of different biomes, and no real idea about black people—at all. I was lost in St. Louis not knowing how to fit in a white world I didn’t want, or in a black world I dint know how to approach. But in California I didn’t really understand the white world that didn’t even know it was rejecting and pitting itself against a world of color, and could not even begin to locate those worlds of color—except the thought maybe they lived on the other side of tracks. California was simply a dry, hot cloudless world of white. So, that is it. I know all of those moments might appear to be ones that do not seem very substantial or bothersome. But for me they shaped my thoughts on race, on family, and why some people have to suffer so much-for us, their families, and their own people. I saw enough to know right from wrong with race. However, this book truly helped to truly know and see what true stories and events were at work beneath my sense unease and displacement in the two neighborhoods I called home in St.Louis. To be honest I knew it was bad, just never as bad as meticulously depicted in this book-and all of this was the Manifest Destiny, the Sutpen Design of “Absalom, Absalom” enacted by Lewis and Clark and propelled forward by countless other white that saw extinction and removal as the way to settle the frontier; reflected in literature that encapsulated these bestial acts into their quest for empire, homesteads, and a foundation that would both enrich and sustain a legacy for themselves. And granted this book not only addresses the veneer of questions and reactions that constitute my upbringing, but dives deep down into the many layers that are the beginnings, the middle, and current realties of racial inequities In exclusion and removal from a place and a chance to a life that should have been theirs. And it’s the last phrase that carriers the most important message. People of color were both here as Native American before white settlers, and as African Americans built this nation through their enslavement, a nation that bought and sold them on a open market, that split up their families, that raped and demanded, degraded and disrespected them to gain power over them and thus elevate their mendacious spirits. So, reparations should not even be debate, just a step forward. One doesn’t have to be from St. Louis to learn and appreciate this book, for St. Louis is everywhere in difference and repetition. That’s why it is the Gateway city, but not only to the West. As a gateway city it should open its gates to all comers with inclusion and an energy matches the need for change; the gates should not be either the means of removal or exclusion. We are at a juncture where we can make a choice for positive change, where protests can finally turn the conquest of a sinful past into reparations, jobs, respect, and safety. As I write this, I feel the gates are being unlocked, opening a little—but for how wide and for how long.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Simone

    "Historians have traditionally treated St. Louis as a representative city, a city that is, at once, east, west, north and south. The place where the various regional histories of the United States come together. The 'gateway' to the West, the 'American confluence,' a 'northern city with southern exposure', and so on. This book makes a more pointed claim: that St. Louis has been a crucible of American history--that much of American history has unfolded from the juncture of empire and anti-blackne "Historians have traditionally treated St. Louis as a representative city, a city that is, at once, east, west, north and south. The place where the various regional histories of the United States come together. The 'gateway' to the West, the 'American confluence,' a 'northern city with southern exposure', and so on. This book makes a more pointed claim: that St. Louis has been a crucible of American history--that much of American history has unfolded from the juncture of empire and anti-blackness in the city of St. Louis." I didn't intend to read this and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents back to back, but clearly my library holds had other plans. These were both really rich, compelling histories about racism in the United States through very different lenses and I recommend them both to you highly. But unlike Caste which has been widely, deservedly, praised I haven't heard as much about this book in the national conversation and I really think it deserves to be. This tells the history of the United Sates through the lenses of racism, imperialism, and capitalism, using the history of St. Louis as a microcosm. "Viewed from St. Louis, the history of capitalism in the United States seems to have as much to do with eviction and extraction as with exploitation and production. History in St. Louis unfolded at the juncture of racism and real estate, of the violent management of the population and the speculative valuation of property. The first to be forced out were Native Americans, who were pushed west and killed off by settlers and the US military. But in St. Louis the practices of removal and containment that developed out of the history of empire in the West were generalized into mechanisms for the dispossession and management of Black people within the city limits. And because removal is fundamentally about controlling the future, about determining what sorts of people will be allowed to live in what sorts of places, it is always concerned with the control of gender, sexuality, and reproduction; often women and children are singled out for particular sanction and targeted violence." I grew up two hours from St. Louis, and currently live in St. Louis, and thought I was fairly educated on St. Louis history, and there was so much here that I had no idea about. It's hard to even sum it up. Really I recommend this to everyone, because I think the insights on racism, capitalism, and imperialism, are really important for everyone, but especially recommend this if you've spent time in and around St. Louis. I listened to the audiobook because this book is dense history, and I'd recommend that to you as well. It is heartbreaking but also affirming, and Johnson ends the book looking toward the future. "One of the things about people who have little left to lose, of course, is that they have everything to gain. On August 9, 2014, the disinherited of St. Louis rose again to take control of their history. When the time came, they were ready--subjects of a history of serial dispossession and imperial violence so profound that it has been built into the very fabric and common sense of the city, yes, but also legatees of a history of Black radicalism and direct action as measurelessly implacable as the flow of the rivers. And still they rise."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Literature Lattes

    "The Broken Heart of America" by Walter Johnson is a non fiction book detailing the violent racial history of the city of St. Louis. Spurred on by the tragic incident in Ferguson in 2014, the book covers all of the history leading up to that moment and explains how catastrophically divided the city had been. As a person born in St. Louis, I felt like I was fairly familiar with the history of the city. I had been to the arch, gone through the national monument and learn about Louis and Clark as a "The Broken Heart of America" by Walter Johnson is a non fiction book detailing the violent racial history of the city of St. Louis. Spurred on by the tragic incident in Ferguson in 2014, the book covers all of the history leading up to that moment and explains how catastrophically divided the city had been. As a person born in St. Louis, I felt like I was fairly familiar with the history of the city. I had been to the arch, gone through the national monument and learn about Louis and Clark as a kid. However, this book really dove into the history of the city through a detailed step by step retelling. I appreciated the more specific stories, especially in regards to the Native American population and their wrongful removal from the land. In general, the books that I have read up until this point have been more generalized and haven't been as personal and detailed as this particular work. The story of McIntosh surprised me, I had never even heard of this incident before reading the book. It left me reeling and wondering what other terrors I would unearth while reading this book. This book stirred in me several emotions and required time to fully digest. Even now, I feel that this book will stay with me long after reading it. Within the book, I found mentions of the city where I grew up and places I frequented without knowing the history of the area and the oppression and racial capitalism that occurred there. This book was well written but fact heavy, readers will need to take their time to fully understand the importance of all these facts and how they are all interrelated.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Baran

    This is a critically important book with equally critical flaws. While it provides a necessary and thorough investigation of St. Louis' history as the central origin point for American racial capitalism, it fails to provide the expansive and much-needed account of the Ferguson uprising that, for the majority of the book, it suggests it's culminating in. While the systemic origins of Ferguson's racist police and real estate systems are well detailed, no first-person accounts by protesters or resi This is a critically important book with equally critical flaws. While it provides a necessary and thorough investigation of St. Louis' history as the central origin point for American racial capitalism, it fails to provide the expansive and much-needed account of the Ferguson uprising that, for the majority of the book, it suggests it's culminating in. While the systemic origins of Ferguson's racist police and real estate systems are well detailed, no first-person accounts by protesters or residents are provided, no analysis is given to the actual protests and local and national responses, nor is there any account of activist organizations or political entities that were founded then to enact the kind of policy changes he's demanding. Most dispiriting was the book's epilogue, in which he suggests that a hopeful future is on the horizon for the city. Rather than, again, detailing the work of burgeoning political change-makers, he positions hope in St. Louis' art culture, which he then proceeds to inaccurately describe -- getting organizational names wrong, mis-stating mission statements, and misattributing projects. Moreover, the examples he provides are, for the most part, utterly unrelated to Ferguson and its aftermath -- most of them predated the uprising and, while vital and conscientious projects, were not direct responses to the issues he's exploring -- and not (with the exception of De Nichols) by the young, local artists of color who in fact have been empowered to take on a more activist or social practice stance as a response to the uprising. These errors sadly dismantled the whole book's credibility in my mind, which is really unfortunate, as it otherwise did contain what I believed to be so much good content and St. Louis and its region are in desperate need of serious scholarly analysis.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scott Eggerding

    Having grown up in the St Louis Metro East and going to Wash U for graduate school I spent the better part of my first 22 years on earth living in an area that I have always loved yet has always confounded me. I have read a number of books about St Louis and race and conflict and like so many, watched the Ferguson tragedy with horror and no surprise, which bothered me. Until I read this book. We always knew there was historic prejudice and racism in St Louis. Walter Johnson posits that it was ba Having grown up in the St Louis Metro East and going to Wash U for graduate school I spent the better part of my first 22 years on earth living in an area that I have always loved yet has always confounded me. I have read a number of books about St Louis and race and conflict and like so many, watched the Ferguson tragedy with horror and no surprise, which bothered me. Until I read this book. We always knew there was historic prejudice and racism in St Louis. Walter Johnson posits that it was baked into the founding of the city and has festered, like the radioactive waste in St Louis County, for its entire history. This is a difficult book to read. And just as Mark Twain, with his own compromised racial past said, through Huck Finn’s mouth and with almost no realization of how Jim was treated, “Human beings CAN be awful cruel to one another.” Through The Broken Heart of America, the tragic irony of Huck’s realization is embedded in whether the other, first Native Americans and then Black Americans, are treated as human beings or not. Even to this day, it depends on who you talk to. And that is truly the broken heart that continues to beat in St Louis today.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gina White

    Heart breaking, but hopeful Reading this amazing book, it took several days....weeks. Every event and time in St Louis was so hard to hear. I grew on the East side in Belleville. Very few Black children in our neighborhood. Often times, my parents would the N word. As a teenager, I grew to loath that word, and my father and I would debate it's use. In my time, I moved to the Kirkwood. Reading about Meacham Park broke my heart because that's the area i lived near. In 2002, I became a City of St Lou Heart breaking, but hopeful Reading this amazing book, it took several days....weeks. Every event and time in St Louis was so hard to hear. I grew on the East side in Belleville. Very few Black children in our neighborhood. Often times, my parents would the N word. As a teenager, I grew to loath that word, and my father and I would debate it's use. In my time, I moved to the Kirkwood. Reading about Meacham Park broke my heart because that's the area i lived near. In 2002, I became a City of St Louis employee. I learned that there are two sides of the city. As a white woman, I learned that a few African Americans would rather spit on me when I would wish them a "Good Morning!" . This book helps me to understand the history of racism in a City i truly love. I truly wish I had billions of dollars because I would buy property on the north side and renovate as many as possible. Care for as many people possible. Thank you for writing this book Mr Johnson. Amazing book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Adam Gutschenritter

    Tied the history of the country to the history of where I now live and teach. His point, that racism and capitalism are tied together in order to oppress both the poor and persons of color: especially Black. I didn't know much about why St. Louis is given such a hard time about it's issues, but the book breaks it down into both the policies (Hits Wash U hard) and the resistance to those policies throughout history. St. Louis is a city of firsts in both counts, now that I know I am forced to wond Tied the history of the country to the history of where I now live and teach. His point, that racism and capitalism are tied together in order to oppress both the poor and persons of color: especially Black. I didn't know much about why St. Louis is given such a hard time about it's issues, but the book breaks it down into both the policies (Hits Wash U hard) and the resistance to those policies throughout history. St. Louis is a city of firsts in both counts, now that I know I am forced to wonder if/when we can pull together and push us back to where I know we should be. Also: the book focuses on an idea known as Racial Capitalism: the use by governments and corporations (often merged together by corporations running governments) to take wealth from people of color in order to protect and enrich white (specifically weathly whites)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Edward Bryant

    This is one of the most important books about the history of St. Louis and how the region's development parallels the nation's precarious history with race, inequality, and the resilience of the historically disenfranchised and marginalized peoples, in particular BIPOC. This book should be required reading for every leader of any major business, nonprofit. community-based organization, media, educational institutions, and governments. It is clear that the story of St. Louis is a complex one, and This is one of the most important books about the history of St. Louis and how the region's development parallels the nation's precarious history with race, inequality, and the resilience of the historically disenfranchised and marginalized peoples, in particular BIPOC. This book should be required reading for every leader of any major business, nonprofit. community-based organization, media, educational institutions, and governments. It is clear that the story of St. Louis is a complex one, and as the author documents, one bracketed by violence, from its very beginnings. The book is a long read, but it is well worth the time.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elisa Crouch Tomich

    I would say this is THE most important book I’ve ever read, but I’d never say that about any book. So I’ll rank this as ONE of the most important. It tells the story of St. Louis, which is the story of America. Throughout it runs the thread of racial capitalism, imperialism, and violence that continues to play out today - in redevelopment, policing , education, municipal ordinances, etc. From 2003-2016 I was a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who closely followed much of the recent histor I would say this is THE most important book I’ve ever read, but I’d never say that about any book. So I’ll rank this as ONE of the most important. It tells the story of St. Louis, which is the story of America. Throughout it runs the thread of racial capitalism, imperialism, and violence that continues to play out today - in redevelopment, policing , education, municipal ordinances, etc. From 2003-2016 I was a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who closely followed much of the recent history this book covers. I never considered how St. Louis’s early history explains today’s brokenness. This book is heartbreaking. It’s also hopeful. A must read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    grace mead

    this was a dense read- i got confused admittedly at deep dives into property taxes as i am not well versed in financial language but this seems to be a fault in the reader rather than the author. i think johnson's detail was important. he truly wanted to explain and breakdown the broken pieces of st. louis, from cover to cover. if you're moving to st. louis like me, or live there, this will give you an invaluable look at the city's heartbeat. so much pain and suffering at the hands of white supr this was a dense read- i got confused admittedly at deep dives into property taxes as i am not well versed in financial language but this seems to be a fault in the reader rather than the author. i think johnson's detail was important. he truly wanted to explain and breakdown the broken pieces of st. louis, from cover to cover. if you're moving to st. louis like me, or live there, this will give you an invaluable look at the city's heartbeat. so much pain and suffering at the hands of white supremacy and capitalism, but still, johnson left me with a message of resistance (i.e activists like percy green) and hope.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

    Lots of good information here, particularly about the beginnings of St. Louis, that I never knew. But SUCH a slog. Johnson desperately needs an editor and some subheadings in his chapters to lend some structure, because this book jumps all over the place in time and topics in a way that does not help its case in the least. Do I believe that St. Louis is a model of white supremacist capitalism in action? Sure, but I believed that after a couple of years of living there. But maybe this is better f Lots of good information here, particularly about the beginnings of St. Louis, that I never knew. But SUCH a slog. Johnson desperately needs an editor and some subheadings in his chapters to lend some structure, because this book jumps all over the place in time and topics in a way that does not help its case in the least. Do I believe that St. Louis is a model of white supremacist capitalism in action? Sure, but I believed that after a couple of years of living there. But maybe this is better for someone who didn't study community development while living in and being part of the racist gentrification of STL.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.