History of One Black Family in Chesterfield as Shared by Doris Fraizer
When you drive up the winding roads of the hill, to Doris Frazier’s Chesterfield home, you pass numerous similar houses—each one tidy, well-kept and cozy. When you arrive at her home, it only takes a split second to realize that nearly every item in her home reflects her love of three things—her family, her church and her music.
Nearly all of those small houses surrounding her home belong to descendants of the Frazier family, which is rather extraordinary in today’s age. The history dates back to some of the earliest families in Chesterfield. William West, the great-grandfather of Doris’ late husband, Cliff Frazier, was the slave of the family who once owned this entire property—the Longs.
In the early 1800s there was a large movement of white landowners from Virginia into the area. When they came, they brought their slaves with them. Cliff Frazier’s great-grandmother ended up in the area this way; she was one of John Coleman’s slaves when he settled here. A look at the slave schedules that were part of the Federal Censuses from 1830-1860 show that some of the most common family names in Chesterfield owned slaves—Conway, Bates, Sappington, Dorsett, Long. These are names now most closely associated with places and roads, but they were thriving landowners of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Doris recalls family members talking of William West, describing him as a “very wonderful young man who wanted something in life and accomplished it.” Indeed, he did. The irony is not lost in the fact that in 1881, William West bought the land, now known as Westland Acres or The Hill, from descendants of Lawrence Long, the very family that had once owned him. He purchased 133 acres for $5 per acre. This would have been quite a feat for any average farmer, but a monumental achievement for a former slave– less than 15 years after emancipation. Upon this death, William West divided his property between his seven children, giving each 22 acres—now, divided further among his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Doris moved to Westland Acres, in 1950, after meeting and marrying Cliff Frazier. “When I was a teenager, in high school, the schools would always meet at Lincoln University in Jefferson City for track meets, music choirs and various things. His sisters and I were in school together so he brought his sisters up to Jefferson City. He had his car and I said, ‘Let me drive your car.’ I was only 16! Do you know he let me drive that car and I ran into a ditch? I didn’t know anything about a car!”
A year went by after that somewhat precarious beginning. “I was in a music contest at Berea Presbyterian Church. My music director was Kenneth Billups and he had prepared me to sing Pace, Pace Mio Dio in Italian. The street cars were on strike then, so I wrote Cliff a note and asked him to take me. I guess I fell in love.” After being quite an accomplished music student at Lincoln University, she married Cliff and the two went on to raise six children on The Hill.
When she moved from Maplewood to Chesterfield, her family and friends thought she was crazy. “My mom asked me, ‘You think you want to go way out there?’ It seemed so far because Highway 40 was only a two lane road. When we did marry, we didn’t have anything. Absolutely nothing. I said, ‘I’m not going to live out there without you building me a house. So we built our first house and I’ve been here ever since. When I got up here, in 1950, there were no good roads. The closest grocery store was Rinkel’s, down in Gumbo. They had just gotten electricity. We still don’t have water lines, sewers and gas. We’re on wells and septic tanks.”
That only proved a powerful incentive for Doris to make life better for others in Westland Acres. “I worked for the Human Development Corporation right out here in St. Louis County helping develop neighborhoods. The one thing I did was to try to better the community through education and get people involved. There were about 50 families. We had a one-room school, then eventually a two-room school. I would get basketball teams, baseball teams, exposure to some of the big things here in St. Louis.” There was still a two-room school for black children in Chesterfield as late as the mid-1960s.
During most of the history of the area, both schools and churches were segregated. “For me, I’ve always hated segregation. But growing up in Maplewood, I was always a part of it. I never did like how we were treated in the schools and never did like that we couldn’t do the same things the other schools were doing.” She recalls that her husband’s experience in Chesterfield, albeit segregated, was a bit different. “I do remember my husband, Cliff, saying that in Chesterfield [the races] for the most part got along. He told me, ‘The people out here, they just treated each other like family.’” He experienced more segregation in his early adulthood during World War II. “He didn’t really know the difference until he went into the Army.”
Doris is deeply tied to her community through the bonds of her church, which has long been the social center of The Hill. Union Baptist Church now sits tucked away atop the hill within walking distance of her house. While it is relatively new, started in 1921, it was preceded by several other churches in the area. The Colored African Baptist Church, formed in 1868, most likely sat on the same land as the current church. Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church was located on Wild Horse Creek Road. Its predecessor, Antioch Baptist Church, established in 1841 and was a church where white and black residents worshiped together– although black members (and all women) did not have full voting privileges within the congregation. Shortly after the Civil War, the church segregated into a white church and a separate black church. There is no evidence as to why this occurred. As a testament to the close-knit church community here, two of her siblings who were astounded at Doris’ move to Chesterfield, later made the drive to attend her church.
I asked Doris how music fit into working with the community; she emphatically responded, “It had to fit in! When I was 15 years old I played piano for my first church.” She has subsequently played piano and directed the choirs of many of the Baptist churches in Chesterfield and Creve Coeur. Doris has also taught music to more than thirty students—and still teaches. Doris also had a singing group with her siblings—the youngest four of twelve. They were known as Doris Frazier and the Fiddmont Singers and recorded four gospel albums.
Having a front row seat to the evolution of Chesterfield from farming community to bustling suburbia doesn’t bother the longtime resident. “I’m for progress. Cliff and I worked on bettering this community since I got out here.” Amazingly, her family still owns about 90% of the properties in The Hill.
The hum of bulldozers currently encroaches at the base of the hill. In the years to come, large suburban houses may sprawl across the land that William West once worked so hard for and proudly gave his children. Will the people whose homes cover this ground realize the legacy of the land beneath them? They will likely not know the fascinating Doris Frazier, with her many stories of the area or the stories of all those who came before her. No bulldozer can erase the history and legacy of the Frazier and West families – that song will sing on. Then again, perhaps Doris will remain on The Hill for a few more decades singing the song herself.
Information for this article was obtained by an in-person interview with Doris Frazier and primary research, as well as the book “From Whence We’ve Come…” by Judy Maschan (1987).