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Creve Coeur rights a wrong of institutional racism

A park has been named after Dr. H. Phillip Venable, an African-American medical pioneer, after his family's land was acquired by eminent domain.

CREVE COEUR, Mo. — A historic wrong is being made right in Creve Coeur.

City officials Saturday re-dedicated Dr. H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park.

According to the city website, Creve Coeur originally acquired land for the park from Venable by the power of eminent domain. This happened in the late 1950s through an effort led by people seeking to exclude the Venables because they were Black.

In 2019, Creve Coeur city council members apologized for the actions of their predecessors and renamed the park after Venable.

At ceremonies Saturday afternoon, Creve Coeur Mayor Robert Hoffman said, “It’s a reckoning of a mistake that was made about 60 years ago in my opinion. It was overt racism. And this is an opportunity we have to not only correct it but educate the young and make sure we go forth and know the history of this park.”

City Council member Heather Silverman said, “I think we’re beginning that step of righting a wrong, and I really hope through community involvement we can make sure things like this don’t happen again in our community as well as within the region.”

Dr. Venable served as chief of ophthalmology at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, the only hospital in St. Louis for African Americans at the time. Venable also became the first African American to join the faculties of Washington University and St. Louis University schools of medicine.

Dr. Will Ross, professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine said, “His engagement with his students and residents is legendary. He trained dozens of residents in ophthalmology. He became an expert in glaucoma and other eye diseases, and really was nationally known for his expertise.”

Some of those who took part in the program, Saturday, included Dr. Venable's relatives.

Venable’s niece, Rossalind Yvonne Venable Woodhouse, said, “I am pleased to be able to greet you on this auspicious occasion. So many people here are surprised to be here. And I am among that group.”

Venable’s nephew, Allen Wade Wright Venable, said, “Dr. Venable and his wife, Katie, fought for their land all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, where the judges ruled against him. This led to his family being forced out of the land and home he built.”

It’s a painful history, but it’s ushering in a new era in Creve Coeur. That park re-dedication was originally scheduled two years ago but postponed due to COVID.

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