Black Geographies Canoe Tour of St. Louis

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

- This Langston Hughes poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," was inspired by his view from a train crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis in 1920.


This unique canoe tour of the river city of St. Louis centers Black and Indigenous relationships to our rivers, historically and today, commemorating and restoring connections to these waters. The tour engages issues including environmental justice, broader histories and legacies of racialized violence, resistance, resilience, and place-making.

Research and planning for this tour continues, with new sites, practices, and information resources being layered on with each offering, making the tour as dynamic as our rivers. The tour is typically offered by invitation to groups of students and community partners, in partnership with Big Muddy Adventures.

We hope to collaborate in offering a public tour in the near future. For now we provide a map and other information at this site to support self-guided tours and reflection on our relationships to the rivers.

Tour Map (In Progress)
“The act of making corners, neighbourhoods, communities, cities, rural lands, rivers, and mountains sacred is central to their defence and the defence of the communities that love and cherish them.”

- Katherine McKittrick & Clyde Woods, in Black Geographies and the Politics of Place (2007), p. 5.


In 2022 Dr. Robin McDowell launched the Black Geographies Canoe Trip through her seminar “Black Geographies: Space, Place, and Ecologies of Power” in the Department of African and African American Studies (AFAS) at Washington University in St. Louis. This trip was made possible through the AFAS Department curriculum development fund.

The outing was designed as a companion to readings exploring theories of Black space and geographic histories of St. Louis, centering Walter Johnson’s The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. Participants paddled from a launch point in north St. Louis to the Gateway Arch in a 30-foot canoe with expert guides from Big Muddy Adventures.The original trip focused on the desecration of these vital and sacred waters, as discussed in Pt. 4  of "Something in the Water," recounting the origins of the Black Geographies River Trip and the ability to understand history through a river (access below).

The most recent trip - organized through Memory for the Future, in partnership with the WashU & Slavery Project and STLer City Working Group, built on this foundation, adding additional sites and information resources.

Read: "Something in the Water"Visit: Big Muddy AdventuresVisit: The Washu & Slavery ProjectVisit: STLER City Working Group