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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

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