The October 24, 2018 newspaper article entitled, “‘Give Us This Day’ documentary highlights a year in East St. Louis,” caught my attention. The documentary will premiere on Direct TV on November 8. Directors Michael Zimbalist and his brother, Jeff, and their crew reportedly invested more than 75 days during 2017 focusing on three younger East St. Louis residents and three police officers. The movie, according to the article, reports that East St Louis “has the highest homicide rate per1,000 residents in the United States, second only worldwide to El Salvador”. Within a few key strokes I learned that two other documentaries also titled, “Gives Us This Day” existed, one dating back to 1949 and the other dated back in 2013. The one in 2013 best reflected the current day East St. Louis, and is similar to the most recent documentary by former NBA Cleveland Cavalier’s superstar, Labron James, 89 Blocks. The 2013 documentary is set in the Del Paso Heights Neighborhood in Sacramento, California and focuses on the pride of the black community, Grant High School and its football dynasty that made the state playoffs for more than 23 consecutive season. My key strokes couldn’t find the supporting data that East St. Louis has the second highest homicide rate (world-wide) per 1000 residents, which from all account may probably be true. It is a given that more than 3000 African American homicides occur per year in the United States and that America is ranked the number one “developed” country in the world when it comes to actually homicides per year. Former Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, highlighted this fact regarding Afro-American homicides in America several years ago, citing these annual deaths exceeded the deaths of the New York 911 attack of the Twins Towers and associated acts of terror on that infamous day. Mayor Nutter’s speech was given at the 9th Annual Mayor’s Summit on Race, Culture, and Human Relations in Tallahassee, FL behind the backdrop of the Trayvon Martin Murder. (See post titled, Slavery, Our National Taboo, dated May 22, 2014.)
After reviewing the trailer for the documentary, I await with anticipation the premiere showing next week. I thought about three seniors who would have been ideal “subjects” for the movie. My surrogate father, Mr,Gilbert, is 96 years of age and first came to East St. Louis in 1942 where he secured employment at the Swift Packing in National City. “When you get to be 93, you can tell me what to do,” he informed me more than three years ago. “G” as I sometimes calls him frequently gives me an up close and personal view of his life. “I was making $0.62 and hour when I first started at Swift.” He arrived in East St. Louis with $5 he borrowed from his sister-in-law. “I worked from sun-up until sun-down for $0.50 a day” he would tell me, underscoring his decision to leave Marianna, Arkansas where his father rented 360 acres of land to grow cotton. “We didn’t work for anybody else because my father stated we had enough work of our own”. I asked him did they also work on Saturday and Sunday and he replied “No. Hell we had to rest some time.” Mr.Gilbert responded that his father went to the cotton Gin every day and his eldest brother could pick one hundrend pounds of cotton an hour. Mr. Gilbert, a life long member of True Light Missionary Church in East St. Louis serving as a trustee shortly for more than 30 years. It was Truelight Church that toll the bells to warn black residents during the East St. Louis Massacre of 1917. Mr.Gilbert still drives and can be considered even at 96 a lady’s man. “G” takes care all of his personal affairs and mentally is sharper than I am who happens to be almost thirty years his junior.
I wish the filming crew could have interviewed one sweet senior named “Sadie.” I missed the golden opportunity myself to meet Mrs. Sadie “Auntie” Hardy in her younger days as she was “one-hundred” years young when I first met her at a local skilled nursing facility.” I don’t mean no harm, but I don’t want it,” Sadie told her much younger male certified nurse assistant who was trying to get her to eat her breakfast. My mom and I laughed after hearing Sadie’s warning to the young male CNA. The CNA and I would frequently argued over Sadie and our pursuit for her affection. It was not unusual for the CNAs to come into the dining room” tired” after working with Sadie getting her up and ready for breakfast. She was known to “fight” for her personal space and desires. Behind the backdrop of the Commodores hit “Sadie” I attended her Homegoing Celebration as she went home to glory on February 16, 2018. Born in East St.. Louis on November 13, 1916 Ms. Sadie was a faithful usher at New Era Missionary Baptist Church. One of the five ministers who graced the pulpit reminded us of an African Proverb that says, when “one elder dies, an entire library is lost.” All five ministers, all in the early to mid fifties, told how as children they tried to out smart ‘Sister Sadie” trying to conceal their chewing gum in church. All five lost these encounters and at times received a smack to the face with a pair of white gloves. “She didn’t drive but always got where she needed to go,” one of the two minister who were Sadie’s nephews stated. “She didn’t have any biological children, yet she had many children,”
And then there Mr. Hogan, age 94, also a life long resident of East St. Louis. I met Mr. Hogan several weeks ago at an auto repair shop. in East St. Louis. Sitting on a chair in the garage, I couldn’t help but notice his cap which he wore proudly with the World War II embalm above the brim. Retired from American Steel Foundry, Mr. Hogan gave me a crash course on his tour of duty in the South Pacific and how difficult it was to get rank during his day. A member of the U.S. Army, he quickly expounded on “five star generals” back then, and talked about General Eisenhower and Patton. I informed him that my father was in the U.S. Navy at the same time period and had also served during World War II in the South Pacific. I could help but wondered how Mr. Hogan and my father survived in a segregated military completely engulf in a racist culture. ‘I remember buying a brand new Pontiac,” stated Mr. Hogan. He told me how he idolized that car and would look out the window to observed it in the parking lot. One day he was “t-boned’ and the car was demolished but he and his wife were not injured. This experience lead to him becoming a faithful deacon at Pilgrims Missionary Baptist Church even to this day.
My, “subjects of interest,” Mr. Gilbert, Sadie, and Mr. Hogan were not in East St. Louis when the founder and first mayor of the city, Mayor John B. Bowman, a German born immigrant, arranged for the purchase of what became National City and the St. Louis National Socks Yards, second only to the Chicago Stock Yard. In the late 1800 St. Louis and the power brokers used East St. Louis as their personal land field. They were not in East St. Louis when the first mayor was assassinated in 1885 or when the city had “two” police departments and two separate form of government at the “same” time, an issue that later had to be resolved in court. They were not here when the U.S. Air Core at Scott Field (Scott Air Force Base) declared East St. Louis “off limits” to their servicemen due to the prostitution, crime and political graft that flourished prior to the East St. Louis Massacre of 1917. History record this event as a “Riot,” but the truth of the events of those bloody dark days says otherwise. And “they” were not here when East St. Louis had a very limited tax revenue base due to the company towns like the City of Monsanto, later renamed Village of Sauget, Alorton and National City came into exists with the intent not to be a part of the city’s tax base. If the filming crew had taken notice riding around in the city they would have observed even” today” that any and all capital development and new business ventures stop just outside of the city limits. But, they were here when an open door of opportunity was extended to the European white immigrants, from Germany, Lithuania, Hungry, Poland and other countries when that same door of opportunity, then like today, was limited and curtailed to the black immigrants and “citizens” who arrived here from the deep south. Limitations due to the socio-political and economic ills and policies of the day. Not too much has changed since East St. Louis first black mayor, Mayor James Williams took the helm of the financial strap city back in 1971. “Give us this day” requires us all to know the Giver.