East St. Louis is a legendary American city, for all the wrong reasons. Those three words conjure up thoughts of extreme poverty, extreme crime, and danger, sometimes perceived, and sometimes very real. It wasn’t always that way, to hear some locals talk. Others will tell you it was always that way.
In its prime, East St Louis was the place you went because if you couldn’t get a job there, you couldn’t get a job anywhere. And after the late 1960s, it became the place you stayed when you had no other options, but how it became that is something of a geographic and historical accident.