Ferguson, Missouri, is a majority-black city governed and policed mostly by whites. The mayor is white. The police chief is white. The police force is 94 percent white. Only one of its six city council members is black. Ferguson, with a 67 percent black population, seem to defy electoral logic
Ferguson was founded in 1855 on 10 acres of land with its train Wabash RR train depot at its center. It became a city in 1894.
The population of Ferguson grew rapidly during the first six decades of the twentieth century, from 1,015 people in 1900 to 22,149 people in 1960, an average growth rate of 5% per year. Since 1960 the population has remained nearly constant but the racial makeup of the city has undergone radical change.
In 1990, residents of Ferguson who were identified in the U.S. Census as White comprised 73.8% of the total, while those identified as Black made up 25.1%.
In the 2000 census, 44.7% were White and 52.4% were African American.
In the 2010 census its population 21,203 was 29.3% White and 67.4% African American. The remaining 3.3% is Hispanic, Asian, Native American and other in that other.
The pattern of re-population in Ferguson is common throughout city of St. Louis’ inner-ring suburbs. In St. Louis deteriorating schools, infrastructure, and services along with rising unemployment pushed African Americans from the neighborhoods in the city that had at one time been warrens for other immigrant groups: Irish, Italians, Poles, Bohemians et. al.
They went where those previous settlers went- to the suburbs- and pushed those groups further out from the city. The white population was nearly halved from 1990 to 2000 and then again from 2000 to 2010.
The whites who remained did so largely because they owned businesses in or near the town or they lacked the resources to make a move. One thing is clear in speak with white residents. They did not intend to give up “their town” without a fight. They organized and they focused on clear goals. One was keeping the town government in the hands of the long time residents.
The issue boils down to who votes. Ferguson’s black community is younger, poorer, more transient, than the white population. All of these factors make black residents less likely to go to the polls, especially in low-turnout municipal elections. And so whites, whose roots are deeper and who are organized to mobilize, dominate politically.
By way of example…..6 of the 7 seat on the city’s school board were held by whites in 2013 with the 7th Hispanic. The board had been in a power struggle with a young superintendent of schools, Art McCoy, and eventually suspended him. There were protests at school board meetings and even some public demonstrations.
In the wake of the controversy, three black candidates chose to run for the school board; despite the anger over McCoy’s ouster, only one managed to win a seat.
The same pattern has prevailed in every election to every office and every board including those that oversee the hiring of public safety officers.