ACLU-MO History Spotlight: New Home for the Venable Family

Segregation in Missouri typically occurred (and occurs) by custom, rather than law. Proving that discrimination occurred, and then eliminating it, required diligent efforts by many activists.

New Home for the Venable Family, 1956–1960

Dr. Howard Phillip Venable and his wife, Katie, purchased land in the Spoede Meadows subdivision to build a $55,000, three-bedroom family home. Construction stopped when the city of Creve Coeur in St. Louis County refused to issue final building permits. To ensure the African-American family could not move in, the city voted to turn the property into a public park and the nearly completed home into a clubhouse.

Agreeing that this was racial discrimination, the St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee supported the Venable family in court.

Portrait of Dr. Venable. Caption: H.P. Venable, M.D. F.A.C.S. Asst. Instructor in Clinical Opthalmology Washington University School of Medicine; Head and Director, Department of Ophthalmology Homer G. Phillips Hospital

From Becker Medical Library Archives, WU School of Medicine.

Dr. Venable went beyond his own family’s situation to help educate others on housing discrimination. At a St. Louis Civil Liberties event on January 6, 1957, Dr. Venable, along with Mrs. Billie Ames, Mr. Donald Lowe, and Mr. P. C. Robinson addressed the topic through a panel discussion.

A Discussion on Integration in Housing flyer.
From ACLU-MO Records (wua00355) Series 1, Subseries 1, box 2, meetings 1956-57

In The St. Louis Argus newspaper, Dr. Venable noted that 11 other African-American families planned to move to Spoede Meadows, but could not afford to stay in the long legal fight. Even with support, the case was lost on appeal, and in 1960 Dr. Venable accepted a $31,000 settlement.

Contemporary Actions

In November 2019, following two years of research by local resident Jim Singer and Venable Park Coalition members, the Creve Coeur city council unanimously voted to rename the park “H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park.”

More

Berger, Eric. “Creve Coeur council moves to change park name.” St. Louis Jewish Light, Nov. 26, 2019.

Johnson, Andrew. “Revolutionary Changes in Medicine and Ophthalmology—The St. Louis, MO, Effect: Homer G. Phillips Hospital and Dr. Howard Phillip Venable,” Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 95., No. 6., June 2003.

Oral History—Howard Phillip Venable, July 14, 1990. OH111, Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University in St. Louis

Venable, H. Phillip, “A History of Homer G. Phillips Hospital” Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 53, No. 6, November, 1961.

 

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.