Last summer, I embarked on a 60-day trip on the backroads of America. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the nation first hand. One of the places I really wanted to see for myself was Ferguson, Missouri. I wanted to see for myself the city that was overcome with Riots after the shooting of Michael Brown. So,one year ago, on June 17, 2015 I did just that. The quick visit proved to be a clear lesson in “don’t believe what the media tells you.”
My visit came ten months after the shooting death of Brown, by a Ferguson police officer. Going by the media narrative, I expected to visit a city that was reminiscent of vast swaths of Detroit, burned out buildings, and urban blight. That is not even close to what Ferguson is like. Let me explain.
I left downtown St. Louis, early in the morning to travel to Ferguson, where I had arranged breakfast with Mayor James Knowles III, and a mutual friend. I travelled to the city without using the interstate to gain an appreciation of the neighborhoods, and cities in between St. Louis and Ferguson.
You get the feeling the media lied to you immediately upon entering the small city. The houses, businesses, and sidewalks immediately feel like they are better kept up than the surrounding areas. There is a real sense of pride that is palpable when you enter the city. Once you know the demographics of Ferguson, the scene becomes less surprising.
Before even meeting anyone, you get the overwhelming feeling that one gets in Ferguson is that this is a city with pride of place.
According to the Census Bureau the population of Ferguson is over two-thirds African American. The vast majority of whom are middle class. With the exception of a housing project, tucked into a corner of the city, the city is comprised of well-kept, mainly single family homes. This includes in the downtown area. Before even meeting anyone, you get the overwhelming feeling that one gets in Ferguson is that this is a city with pride of place.
After getting into town, and driving around, I went to the breakfast meeting I had with the mayor. Mayor Knowles is not what you would expect in a city that is over two-thirds African American. He was, at the time, 36 years old, and was elected at 31. He is also a white Republican mayor, of an African American majority city.
I met the mayor at the Corner Coffee House. Before he arrived I caught up with an old friend from the Young Republican National Committee. We both served together as members from our respective states in the past. When the mayor arrived, something happened that, if you only listened to the mainstream media, you never would have believed. He was warmly greeted by the people in that coffee house, regardless of their skin color. And he knew just about everyone’s name.
I spent most of the breakfast with Mayor Knowles trying to figure out why the media narrative was so obviously wrong. A few key points stood out. Knowles explained to me the demographics of the city. How it had gradually become more of an African American city over time, and how most of its residents were middle class, who held jobs, and had a tremendous pride in their city. He also reminded me of another dark time in the recent past of Ferguson, when an F4 tornado tore through the Ferguson area. He described how he helped to lead regional efforts to recover from the disaster. That is when he met a lot of the residents we saw that morning.
The one thing Knowles really wanted to stress, was that people should see the real Ferguson for themselves. That’s something that I wholeheartedly agree with. Not that there are not some racial tensions, but you should visit for yourself to see if they match what the media tells you.
In the year since I visited, Ferguson has continued to heal. It is still my hope that more people visit the city and spend some money in the businesses on her main street. You will be glad you did. Here are a few more pictures of Ferguson I took when I was there.
“I Love Ferguson” yard signs could be found in the front yards of many homes.
Ferguson’s 1960s era City Hall
The local Chinese restaurant, like many business has positive graffiti on the building.
A local church.
The I Love Ferguson store.
All photos © 2015 Rob Eno used with permission.