For two weeks, I’d watched from Michigan as Ferguson, Missouri erupted in violence. Cable news tickertape says it’s a war zone. My Midwestern sensibilities tell me it’s always okay to come home, so I aimed R&T’s long-term C7 Corvette Stingray towards North St. Louis County.
The 520-mile overnight trek from Ann Arbor slips past in two chunks, punctuated only by single-attendant gas stations in Battle Creek and Alton, Illinois. There’s not much to see in between, but plenty of time to think. An embossed placard above the Stingray’s shifter reads: “Built in Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA.”
St. Louis is a difficult place to explain. During its heyday as a boomtown for industrial migration, mixed-race factory workforces weren’t uncommon, but all-white housing covenants were stringently enforced. The Shelley v. Kraemer US Supreme Court case, which effectively disallowed explicitly racist housing codes in 1948, originated from a disputed two-story masonry at 4600 Labadie Avenue. Housing covenants fell away in the 1950s. By and large, St. Louisans’ were too quaint for defiance. Instead, they left.
White flight from downtown accelerated around the time of the Shelley verdict. A de facto race line replaced legal segregation, driving a stake between St. Louis City and St. Louis County, with resources falling towards the latter in staggering disproportion. Inadequate public transportation, gerrymandered districting, and circumspect zoning policies all insured wealth discrepancy between the areas became an incredible, and insurmountable, plateau. Separate tax structures. Separate police forces. Separate schools. A fragmented St. Louis of Haves and Have-nots, often synonymous with white and black as a consequence of geographical composition, swelled westward.
Even so, a handful of communities straddling the northern edge of this fault line—among them Hazelwood, Florissant, and Ferguson—proved unique. They had nearby factories and infrastructure and manpower, an expansive socioeconomic palate anchored by thousands of blue-collar heads of household. Things here were okay, and this is where the Stingray was born.
Humid midnight eases into a summer dawn as the C7 rumbles by 3809 Union Boulevard. I lived in St. Louis for two decades without ever coming here. This place was once a General Motors epicenter, sprawled over 175 acres, responsible for producing the Impala wagon, Caprice and America’s sports car, touting a union payroll of over 12,000.
Except that there’s no 3809 Union Boulevard anymore.
To read the rest of the story, follow here: Ferguson, Missouri in the Corvette Stingray - Echoes of St. Louis' Long-Dead Corvette Plant - Road & Track