Barely 300,000 people live there now.
Racism played a role in that decline. White residents began fleeing to nearby suburbs, including Ferguson, as more and more African-Americans moved to St. Louis. These white communities made it nearly impossible for black people to follow them. Among other things, they used zoning laws and restrictive covenants to bar African-Americans from buying homes among them.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act eventually outlawed these practices. But more subtle forms of housing discrimination persist to this day. Real-estate agents across the country show black clients fewer homes for sale in white neighborhoods than they show to white, Hispanic, and Asian clients, according to a 2014 report by the Housing and Urban Development Department. In recent years, civil-rights attorneys have sued a St. Louis bank, a real-estate agency, and a suburban community for reportedly discriminating against African-American home buyers.
In 2001, HUD sued the suburb of Vinita Terrace after the local police marshal allegedly intimidated an African-American real-estate agent who was showing a house to one of her clients, who was also black.
Vinita Terrace, like Ferguson, is a St. Louis suburb that has changed in recent decades from a predominantly white community to a predominantly black one.
Albert Zadow, the village marshal at the time, was sitting in his patrol car across from the house that Fannie Simpson was showing to her client, according to the complaint. The court file said Zadow approached them and told Simpson he was writing her a ticket for illegally showing a house that had not yet passed an inspection, according to the complaint. When Simpson argued that the house had passed, Zadow allegedly said he would take her to jail if she didn't take the ticket. When Simpson's client complained, according to the complaint, Zadow stopped writing the ticket and put his hand on his gun.
Simpson took the ticket.
"Welcome to Vinita Terrace," Zadow reportedly said, after handing Simpson the ticket and walking away.
Simpson and her client filed a discrimination complaint with HUD, and the Justice Department sued. The village agreed to settle the lawsuit, paying $16,500 to Simpson and $20,000 to her client, who had decided not to make an offer on the house. That house was later sold to a white family.
In 2011, Midwest BankCentre settled a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department, which accused the St. Louis bank of only opening branches in the city's white neighborhoods to avoid lending money to African-American homeowners. Only 2 percent of the bank's mortgage loans financed purchases in the north side of the city, according to the complaint.
These subtle forms of discrimination have made it hard for African-Americans to prosper in St. Louis, says Alderwoman Tyus, who spends a lot of her time urging the city to board up empty buildings and cut the grass. The city owns eight homes on her street, but Tyus says it's unlikely that immigrants or white families will move in. And it bothers her that Asian immigrants will open corner stores and restaurants in her community, but they won't hire people who live here, or even live here themselves.
"Nobody wants to live next to black people," she says.
Janie Boschma contributed to this article