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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, www.nps.gov/jeff/planyourvisit/och.htm 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, www.nps.gov/gwca/index.htm, 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, www.MoStateParks.com/scottjoplin.htm 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, www.ScottJoplin.org/. 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, www.NLBM.com/s/index.cfm.

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, www.AmericanJazzMuseum.com 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, www.StJosephMuseum.org/black_archives.htm 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 www.VisitMO.com.

Photo by army.arch


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