In St. Louis, race still divides

In St. Louis, race still divides
In St. Louis, race still divides

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In St. Louis, race still divides 03:19

Story highlights

  • Two neighborhoods in St. Louis each tell a very different story about politics
  • Al James' lives in an area known as Jeff-Vander-Lou while Drew Burke lives in St. Charles

In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, CNN toured the nation in a retro-fitted Air Stream camper to give voters a chance to speak their mind about the election. The drivers of the CNN #MyVote camper, Al James and Drew Burke, both grew up in the St. Louis area: James, who is black, grew up on the city's north side; Drew, who is white, lived in the suburbs across the river from St. Louis County. While both men live in the same region, they had very different experiences and perceptions of the city. The video tells their stories.

(CNN)Al James' neighborhood on the north side of St. Louis is known as Jeff-Vander-Lou, named after great men like Thomas Jefferson and Peter Lewis Vandeventer.

Today residents refer to it as JVL -- Just Vacant Lots.
     "There were a lot of companies around here at one point in time that had a lot of jobs," James said. "They are not fixing the neighborhood back up. People are moving out, and you have a lot of vacant houses."
    Al James looks back on his childhood fondly, but admits times have changed. He's looking for a presidential candidate that will bring it back to its better years.
     "I am going to vote for Hillary," James said. "She has education on her mind for helping the youth, and what she's trying to propose, that will help the country."
    Al James and Drew Burke, the #myvote campaign camper drivers.
     JVL is a predominantly black neighborhood with sections of low-income housing. In just the last year vacancies are up 22% in the area, according to real estate data firm, ATTOM Data Solutions.
    It's just a 20-minute drive from Ferguson where two years ago people rioted in the streets against police after the death of Michael Brown. Those riots created racial tension and divided parts of the city.
    "When I was growing, most of the cops were friends," recalled James. "It wasn't until we got to high school that it all started to change. I know they're not from here. Most of the cops that patrol this area now are white cops."
    James remembers his days spent at the Gamble Community Center where he'd play from morning until night.
    "Growing up here families looked out for each other," said James standing in front the community center. "If I was down here and something happened to me before I get back down to my house, my grandmother already knew about it. Now it's every man for themselves. Every family for themselves."
    James admits there are some things Clinton has done that he doesn't agree with. But what's most important is a candidate that could handle another situation like Ferguson.
    "Donald's not the type of person because if the blacks are out and they are upset he will be ready to say, 'Lets send the Marines in there. Let's take them all out,'" James said.
    Al James in his old neighborhood, Jeff-Vander-Lou, in St. Louis.
    James lives just five minutes from his childhood home. He hopes his vote for Clinton helps turn the "just vacant lots" into booming businesses again.
    "I love my community and my neighborhood," he said. "What's left of it."
    Separated from St. Louis by the Missouri River, the town of St. Charles, Missouri, where Drew Burke spent his childhood, feels a world away from James' neighborhood. With freshly manicured lawns dot the tree-lined streets near Francis Howell North High School, where Burke went to school.
    "It's a whitewashed area. Not a lot of diversity," Burke said as he drove the streets near his childhood home. "If there were a dozen [students of color] in my graduating class, I would be surprised."
    While parts of St. Louis rioted in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Burke and his neighbors were largely insulated from the turmoil. The Missouri River, he said, can act as a dividing barrier between the two communities.
    "There is perception among some residents in this county that there is a very different culture on the other side of the river," he said.
    Doing business in the St. Louis area, Berke has had few interactions with police whenever he travels around town for his job. But James described an entirely different experience on a day to day basis. He avoids neighborhoods like Burke's.
    Drew Burke
    "I hardly ever go to his side of town. For the most I don't go out there because I get profiled," James said. "I'm going to get pulled over. So I just choose not to go out there. I stay away from it. I will go 30 minutes out of my way just so i don't have to go through a certain municipality."
    Carefully planning a route just to avoid certain areas because of police is not something that Burke -- and many other white Americans -- have ever had to even consider. Burke said that in some cases, he feels like he gets a pass.
    "There are certain neighborhoods in St. Louis where if I rolled a stop sign and the cops saw that I was white in a predominantly black neighborhood, they would not pull me over," he said.
    On the road together, Burke and James have had a lot of time to talk. They trade stories about St. Louis, the neighborhoods where they grew up and where they still live today. And of course, they discuss the presidential election. They both see the election is divisive, but hope for the best after November.
    "What would make this country great in my eyes," said James, "is just everybody getting along."