While Town and Country and Manchester city offices are open, schools, libraries and government offices are all closed Monday, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. King was a major figure in the civil rights movement, the spokesperson for nonviolent resistance against racial discrimination. He was assassinated in 1968 and the federal holiday honoring his birth was established several years later.
Aside from taking the day off, the cities of Manchester and Town and Country are holding no special events for the holiday. Juanita McKee, a retired history teacher, said that even though nothing official is going on, the schools likely spent class time talking about King and his role in American history.
McKee's family has lived in Manchester for generations and she remembers growing up in segregated schools, but still being very close friends with the children of a black family that lived nearby, the Thompsons. The Thompsons were one of only two black families that McKee knew in Manchester.
"I remember growing up and thinking it was stupid that they should have to go to a separate school," she said.
McKee said that when she was in first grade she asked her father, who was on the school board at the time, why her friend Sparky, one of the Thompson girls, went to a different school even though she lived next door. He told her that they went to a better school than she did. In fact, the town of Manchester at the time paid tuition for the black children to attend a school in Webster Groves, because they weren't legally allowed to attend the local public school.
Segregation was not as obvious in Manchester as it was in southern cities like New Orleans, McKee explained. The black community generally attended a church in Ballwin, she said, but they were still welcome at her own church, St. John's. The same was true for the movie theater and supermarket.
"Nobody ever told them that they couldn't go," she said. "It just wasn't something that you thought about all the time."
The first time McKee really experienced segregation as we see it in history books, with separate toilets and drinking fountains for blacks and whites, was on a family trip to New Orleans when she was in the 7th grade. She was surprised to see black people step off the sidewalk to let white people pass, or avoid talking to her and her family because they were white.
"I was old enough to start thinking," she said. "I think I realized that if any of the Thompsons were in the south they would have to do that. They didn't have to where we were, but it used to make me mad—really angry—that people could be like that."
Years later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, McKee was a teacher in the Parkway School District. The act required black students to be bussed out of St. Louis City to go to school in the county schools to meet certain racial quotas.
"I was against the bussing, I really was," McKee said. "I thought they'd be much better off if they just put the money in and build good schools in the city."
McKee said that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement will always be remembered and talked about in the schools, because it is a major part of American history—federal holiday or not.