East Saint Louis Oral History Project: Neighborhood Activism and Community Change
27th – 28th September 2002
Date of Interview: September 27, 2002
Place of Interview: Truelight Baptist Church, East Saint Louis, IL
Other people present:
Samantha Baacke Nicole Knysch
Adam Basch Judie Levy
William Collins Marchant Martinelli
Gareth Giles Bob Zimmerer
President of South-End Neighborhood Development Organization (SENDO)
Mrs Watts grew up Natchitoches, Louisiana until her junior year in high school when she moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas. During high school she worked in a florist as well as a dress-shop. In addition, Mrs. Watts volunteered at her high school by washing blackboards, sweeping the floors, and helping with other janitorial work after school.
Mrs. Watts’ father worked as a landowner and a businessman while she was in high school. She has two older sisters and no brothers. As for her own family, her and her husband, who worked with the railroad industry in East Saint Louis, have one daughter.
She moved to the St. Louis area in the 1940s.
Summary of the Interview
The interview took place in the basement of Truelight Baptist Church on Friday afternoon, September 27, 2002. The Urban Planning group members and Mrs. Watts sat around a table facing each other during the thirty-minute interview. Group members introduced themselves to Mrs. Watts by telling her their name and something unique about themselves in order to break-the-ice before the interview began. During the interview, a fan turning on and off in the room caused parts of the interview to be inaudible. Nevertheless, at the end of the interview Mrs. Watts hugged every group member; completely “melting-the-ice.”
Some of the topics Mrs. Watts’ mentioned included the Casino Queen Riverboat and the South End Neighborhood’s past and present. Her revelation of the Casino Queen’s importance pointed out its drastic and positive effect on the city’s finances. (For example funding basic services like police cars.) More importantly, she focused on the absence of community involvement in East Saint Louis. This amazed the group because community involvement struggled throughout the city’s history – from the time she moved there in the 1940s until the present. Mrs. Watts said she created and joined SENDO for this very reason. (see quotes below)
“I thought [South End Neighborhood] would be a good place to live. I like substance and after driving around looking for a place to move I could tell.”
“I better get involved in what is going on; as opposed to just
living here and spending my time in St. Louis!”
Interviewer: You indicate that you may have had the choice to leave East St. Louis but did not. Is that accurate?
“How did you guess? [Laughter] So Smart!”
Interviewer: Could you describe why you chose to stay?
“Perhaps it was a challenge.”
Interviewer: What made you want to become apart of this organization?
“I felt that there was so much that needed to be done and I felt that I could help.”