From a beginning as a sparsely settled countryside in the 1860's, the Grande Prairie area experienced a gradual urbanization. This build-up followed a westward trend across Grand Avenue, beginning about 1870, and progressed into the first decade of the twentieth century. Among many people moving into the area were significant numbers of German and Irish immigrants as well as a few blacks. Prior to 1900, the population of the area was generally white. The nucleus of its present extensive black population began in the Elleardsville section in the early seventies.
This section, now known simply as the Ville, became increasingly black in the initial decades of this century, because of racial segregation and convenience. Separate, but socalled equal, facilities, especially schools, were required by law. As a by-product of this, it became a matter of convenience for blacks and their institutions to concentrate in a definite area. Black visitors to the 1904 World's Fair found themselves directed toward an established black community such as the Ville, because they were forced by exclusion from white hotels and boarding houses, to seek quarters among people of their own race.
Another major cause of the concentration of blacks into certain parts of the City were residentially restrictive statutory covenants. After the first such segregative law was passed in Baltimore in 1910, the practice spread and reached St. Louis by 1916. Here, white neighborhood groups on the edge of black communities furnished much of the impetus for these local restrictions. A city-wide organization, called the United Welfare Association, was formed to promote segregation as a preventive against black incursions into white neighborhoods, on the premise that this would be detrimental to property values.
Despite heroic efforts by the NAACP and support by some of the press, the covenant statute was approved by the voters, 52,210 to 17,877, on February 29, 1916. However, an injunction was soon obtained to counteract the law and in the next year such statutes were declared to be unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. The segregation practice was still carried on through individual property covenants, which were not outlawed until 1949.
These practices had the effect of funneling more blacks into the vicinity of the Ville, and the Negro population spread out in whatever direction was possible. During the Depression of the 1930's and again during World War II, an influx of southern blacks came to St. Louis seeking employment. This, along with the removal of all restrictions after the War, caused an upsurge in the black population throughout the Grande Prairie area, so that today it is practically all black.
Since 1950, when St. Louis reached its all-time population peak, there has been a considerable out-migration of blacks, as well as whites, from the City and consequently from the Grande Prairie area. As a result, the area's population is now only about one half of what it was in 1950, this fact being evidenced by the amount of demolition which is visible in residential sections.