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Missouri Travel Sites Rich in African-American History

Dred Scott. George Washington Carver. Scott Joplin. Buck O’Neil. You might be famil­iar with the names, but have you been to the cour­t­house where Scott, a slave, sat after he suc­cess­fully sued to earn his free­dom? Have you walked the grounds where Carver devel­oped his love for agri­cul­ture? Can you hear the music play as you imag­ine Joplin sit­ting at his piano and com­pos­ing “The Entertainer” or pic­ture what O’Neil’s accom­mo­da­tions might have been like for road games?

If you answered “no” to these ques­tions, it’s time for a visit to Missouri, a state rich in African-American cul­ture and a great loca­tion to learn about the peo­ple who strug­gled to gain free­dom, fought to make con­tri­bu­tions to soci­ety, put their own stamp on a gen­er­a­tion and sim­ply wanted to get in the game.

Old Courthouse, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo circa 1862

Old Courthouse, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo circa 1862

The Old Courthouse in St. Louis, plays an impor­tant role in the his­tory of African-Americans in Missouri and in American his­tory. It was the site of the first two stages of the Dred and Harriet Scott free­dom trial, which began in 1847, spark­ing debates that divided the nation and play­ing a cen­tral role in the begin­ning of the Civil War.

If you’d like to walk the halls where the Scotts’ bat­tle for free­dom began (roughly 300 other peo­ple sued to earn their free­dom at the cour­t­house, too), view a dis­play about the trial or watch a video fea­tur­ing an inter­view with one of the Scotts’ descen­dants, visit the Old Courthouse, which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It is open from 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. daily and admis­sion is free.

George Washington Carver — One of 20th Century’s great­est scientists

The free­dom Scott sought was some­thing Carver enjoyed and his early life is inter­preted at the George Washington Carver National Monument,, located on the prop­erty where Moses and Susan Carver lived just out­side of Diamond in Southwest Missouri. It was at this site, once a work­ing fam­ily farm, where Carver’s love for sci­ence and the out­doors was born.

Although he sought to fur­ther his edu­ca­tion, he often was denied access to schools because of his color. But he per­se­vered and earned a master’s degree in agri­cul­ture in 1896 — the same year Booker T. Washington asked him to head the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Institute.

It was quite an achieve­ment at that time,” says Diane Eilenstein, a Park Ranger at the Carver National Monument. “That’s an inspir­ing story in itself.” Spanning 240 acres, all of which is con­sid­ered the mon­u­ment to Carver, the park focuses on Carver’s first love: the out­doors. The mon­u­ment fea­tures the mile-long Carver Trail, the Carver Family Cemetery and the 1881 Carver House.

Additionally, park staffers con­duct hands-on exper­i­ments in plant sci­ence at an on-site lab. Tours are offered daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and a vis­i­tor cen­ter and museum are open daily from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. The Carver Monument also will host spe­cial films on African-American his­tory dur­ing January and February.

Scott Joplin — A vision­ary in music

While Carver was a pio­neer in the field of sci­ence, Scott Joplin was a vision­ary in music. His abil­ity to com­bine musi­cal styles earned him the moniker “The King of Ragtime.” Today, Joplin’s life and times are pre­served by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources at the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, in St. Louis.

The sounds of Joplin’s music still fill the air at this home, where Joplin lived with his wife, Belle, and pro­duced some of his better-known works, includ­ing the “The Entertainer” (fea­tured in the movie, “The Sting,” Oscar win­ner for Best Picture of 1973).

This site is an inter­pre­ta­tion of him, his music, and Ragtime music,” said Sue Holst, an infor­ma­tion offi­cer with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks. “We’ve even recre­ated what we call the new Rosebud Café, which inter­prets a café or music hall that would have been in exis­tence dur­ing his era.”

The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site is open from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through February. From March — October, hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon — 4 p.m. Sunday. Tours are offered every hour. And if you enjoy Joplin’s music, make a trip to Sedalia, home of the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, This year’s event is set for June 2–6 and will mark the festival’s 30th year.

You’ll find another area that pays trib­ute to the con­tri­bu­tions of African-Americans by vis­it­ing Kansas City’s muse­ums at 18th and Vine, home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum.

During his life, Kansas City’s John J. “Buck” O’Neil played for and man­aged the Kansas City Monarchs, the city’s Negro Leagues fran­chise. Today, a sculp­ture of O’Neil looms over a field of leg­ends depicted on a replica base­ball dia­mond at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,

O’Neil’s story is just one of many told at the museum, where guests must earn the right to set foot on the field by read­ing and learn­ing more about the game’s his­tory, great play­ers and busi­ness­men. As you enter, take note of the chicken wire that sep­a­rates you from the field when you first walk in: That’s how most African-Americans were seg­re­gated at ballparks.

Before step­ping onto the field, you’ll have the chance to read about greats like Satchel Paige and James “Cool Papa” Bell, who was so fast, even Olympic cham­pion Jesse Owens wouldn’t race him around the base paths.

The museum is open 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and noon — 6 p.m. Sunday.

The same build­ing also houses the American Jazz Museum, where dis­plays focus on Louie Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. At each sta­tion in this mod­ern facil­ity, infor­ma­tion about the fea­tured musi­cians and his or her con­tri­bu­tions to the genre is pre­sented, and you’ll find lis­ten­ing sta­tions to hear them in action. And while the American Jazz Museum has plenty of infor­ma­tion about the his­tory of jazz, it also plays a vital role in today’s jazz scene.

Inside the museum are the Blue Room jazz club, where some of the country’s hottest acts per­form, and the Gem Theater, a 500-seat per­for­mance venue. The American Jazz Museum also is open 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

Elsewhere around Missouri, you’ll find a vari­ety of loca­tions where the his­tory and cul­ture of African-Americans is depicted or inter­preted. Among them is the Black Archives in St. Joseph, where dis­plays focus on the Underground Railroad, deseg­re­ga­tion and African-American his­tory in the St. Joseph area. An on-site museum also includes the area’s African-American Hall of Fame. The Black Archives are open 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 1 p.m.- 5 p.m. Sunday.

If you’re near Missouri’s cap­i­tal, Jefferson City, you’ll find a cou­ple of oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn more about African-American his­tory in the Show-Me State.

At the Missouri State Museum, which is oper­ated by DNR and located in the Capitol, there’s a spe­cial dis­play called “Slavery’s Echoes” where quotes from inter­views with for­mer slaves give first-hand accounts of work­ing con­di­tions, fam­ily life, hous­ing and treat­ment they endured. Also in the dis­play, you’ll find “hands-on” arti­facts like shack­les and cloth­ing, along with an audio com­po­nent that allows you to hear sto­ries from the afore­men­tioned interviews.

Jefferson City is also home to Lincoln University, one of the nation’s his­tor­i­cally black col­leges. Lincoln University was founded in 1866 by Civil War sol­diers from the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantry, many of whom were Missourians, with the goal of pro­vid­ing higher edu­ca­tion to freed African-Americans. Today, you can walk through the pic­turesque cam­pus and visit the Soldiers Memorial Plaza, which pays trib­ute to the university’s founders.

African-American sol­diers in the Civil War also are the focus of another impor­tant Missouri State Historic Site being devel­oped by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks. The site is asso­ci­ated with the Battle of Island Mound and will show­case the area near the bat­tle­field where African-American sol­diers first fought in the Civil War.

That’s a pretty major inter­pre­ta­tive find,” Holst said of the site. “It’s sig­nif­i­cant not only statewide, but nationally.”

This 40-acre park, located south­west of Butler in Bates County, was home to what was called “Fort Africa,” a house that served as the oper­at­ing base for the sol­diers of the First Kansas Colored Infantry. The men of this infantry engaged in bat­tle nearly three months before President Lincoln’s admin­is­tra­tion approved the enlist­ment of African-American fight­ing units. The Missouri State Parks Foundation cur­rently is lead­ing a cam­paign to raise money to develop this site.

For more infor­ma­tion about African-American his­tory, or to receive a free copy of the 2010 Missouri Travel Guide, log onto

Photo by army.arch

Related posts:

  1. Ohio Events Celebrate Black History Month
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  5. In search of Missouri’s ‘Best’ — From Cheeseburgers to Scenic Drives

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