Black History Month: A Strange Letter and an un-Fair Move?

Sometime after their marriage in 1913, Joseph P. Micheau and his wife Edna Lewis moved their family from Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri. According to Joseph’s 1917 draft card, they  lived at 4210 Cote Brilliant and then apparently at 3128 Fair Avenue. The 1920 census places them on Fair Avenue.  Later, however, they moved to 1923 Whittier, which is documented in the 1922 Gould’s St Louis City Directory.  Their daughter, Edna Micheau Penny, recently recalled life as a toddler at 1923 Whittier.  But for some reason, the family seems to have moved back to the Cote Brilliant neighborhood by the 1930 census.  Perhaps the letter below contains the clues as to why they moved from the Whittier house.  The letter is reproduced in the condition that I received it more than eighty-five years after it was written.  The identity of the writer, other than his name (and I’m not sure we’ve got that right), is unknown.

Aug 29-‘ 24

Mr. Joseph P. W. Micheau
1923 Wittier Str.
St. Louis Mo

My dear Mr. Micheau:

Your letter Aug. 22nd inst. was recd today my absence from the city till last evening, being the reason for delay in seeing your communication.

Since my arrival home I have had some information regarding the movement started by the people of this neighborhood, relative to restricting their District. As you can readily understand they have a right to use any legal means to promote their property interests. You and I cannot justly complain of the exercise of such right.  Where our interests are concerned, we should use every legitimate means to conserve their value–I feel sure that you as a Catholic gentleman would not intentionally desire to injure your neighbor even though he be a white man. And any white man should be as particular in his desire to respect the rights of his fellow citizens of the colored race.–yes, God Almighty has created, redeemed and seeks the welfare of the colored race as much as He does those of any other race.  Your soul, and the souls of your dear little ones are precious in the sight of Heaven.  And it will make no difference what our color, nationality, or race may be, provided we do God’s holy will and seek honestly, the salvation of our precious souls.  I am sure therefore that you will never buy a word or deed seek to violate the precepts of the decalogue.  If any of our people by word or deed sought to injure any man, no matter what his color or race, I would protest against such injuring.  In a word, I believe in justice for every man.

Up to the present, I have not had  an opportunity of getting a clear and thorough understanding of the movement referred to.  One thing you can be assured of, no one will slight you or any of your race, while I am able to defend you–which at the same time, I will be ready to endorse any just effort for the common good.

Very respectfully and sincerely,

Your friend,
Peter Johnson [remainder illegible]

Joseph Perry Micheau (1888-1975) with his daughter, Edna Mary, at their home at 3128 Fair Avenue, St Louis, c. 1921.

Photographer unknown.  Original found in the effects of Edna Penny Wells (1941-2008), daughter of Edna Mary Micheau Penny; now in the possession of Margarett Penny Manson, Carmichael, California.


February 2010
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