The Last Children of Mill Creek

"A critical addition to our understanding and preservation of the people who once lived in the thriving community that was annihilated by city leaders beginning 70 years ago."—Chris Naffziger, St. Louis Magazine

A true story of growing up in segregated St. Louis, The Last Children of Mill Creek is the debut memoir by a talented writer finding her authentic voice later in life.

Vivian Gibson grew up in Mill Creek Valley, a neighborhood of St. Louis razed in 1959 to build a highway. Her family, friends, church community, and neighbors were all displaced by this act of “urban renewal.” The Last Children of Mill Creek is a moving memoir of family life at a time very different from the modern-day, when many working-class African-American families did not have indoor plumbing and when sundown laws were still in effect—and a document of an era that is now often forgotten or denied. Gibson recreates the everyday lived experiences of her family, including her seven siblings, her crafty college-educated mother, who moved to St. Louis as part of the Great Migration, and her at-times forbidding father, who worked two jobs to keep them all warm and fed. With an eye for detail, she sketches scenes of friends, shop owners, teachers, and others who made Mill Creek into a warm, tight-knit, African-American community, and reflects upon what it means that this community was destroyed in the name of racism disguised as “progress.”

In Gibson’s words, “This memoir is about survival, as told from the viewpoint of a watchful young girl —a collection of decidedly universal stories that chronicle the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.”

Vivian Gibson was raised on Bernard Street in Mill Creek Valley, and has lived in New York City and Liberia. She started writing short stories about her childhood memories after retiring at age sixty-six. Her work has been produced as part of "50in50: Writing Women Into Existence," at the Billie Holliday Theater in Brooklyn, and published in The St. Louis Anthology (Belt Publishing, 2019). The winner of the 2020 Missouri Humanities Literary Achievement Award, she lives in St. Louis.

More praise for The Last Children of Mill Creek:

"A spare, elegant jewel of a work. ... The reader hears in it echoes of Zora Neale Hurston’s rich, sensuous descriptions of rural Black culture in Their Eyes Were Watching God. At other times, Gibson’s prose channels Gwendolyn Brooks’s quiet attentiveness to the beauty and texture of everyday life in Maud Martha. ... The Last Children of Mill Creek is joyful, nostalgic, mischievous — a love letter to Gibson’s childhood."—Ellen Wayland-Smith, The Los Angeles Review of Books

"Gibson’s memoir offers an intimate retelling of her family’s story, but also beautifully and truthfully documents the life and death of one African-American community in mid-twentieth century St. Louis. Childhood is, for most of us, where our true home resides, and The Last Children of Mill Creek is a tribute to Gibson’s, one told with deep generosity, humor and love." —Angela Mitchell, author of Unnatural Habitats and Other Stories

"Gibson's words on paper are somehow both overdue and perfectly timed. Her perspective and stories about Mill Creek are a gentle—but firm—reminder of what exactly is lost during the slow march towards "progress." It is Gibson's intimate recounting of her parents, brothers, grandmother, and other neighbors that bring Mill Creek not back to life, but into focus, showing us that neighborhoods might disappear, but people do not. The Last Children of Mill Creek is not just a memoir, it's a window into a place, time, and community that St. Louis' establishment might otherwise have you forget—written with the familiarity, warmth, and love characteristic of an author who's only just getting started."—Ryan Schuessler, editor of The St. Louis Anthology

April 20, 2020 | ISBN: 9781948742641 | MEMOIR | PAPERBACK | 5 X 7.25 | 160 PAGES