Exploring Black History in Missouri by Doris Daniels

I traveled to Kansas City to meet Angela DaSilva, heritage tourism specialist, who put together a trip of her home state of Missouri. She is a leader and true cultural preservationist and has dedicated her life to preserving the Greater St. Louis African American cultural heritage. She is president of National Black Tourism Network. I was introduced to and joined several travel writers gathered to tour Missouri with emphasis on conditions of antebellum slavery. National Black Tourism Network provided a road trip of Missouri to remember and relive the forgotten history. Forgotten Missouri – What the Books Don’t Tell was revealed through the booming, articulate voice of Angela da Silva, while she drove the fifteen-passenger van.

Our first stop in the historic 18th & Vine area to see this historic African American neighborhood at the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District was once the epicenter of the city’s African American community. Today, Kansas City’s rich jazz blues legacy is being kept alive in the minds and hearts of residents and tourist. The American Jazz Museum features four major exhibits of jazz greats: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker. A mixing station allows visitors to create their own mix of sounds. Wee Bop offers children a chance to learn about the swinging sounds of jazz. Jazz Museum admission, $4.00.

Across the foyer from the door of the American Jazz Museum is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. One of the greatest chapters of American history was omitted from the history books. Bob Kendrick guided us through the museum as he told its story of pride, hope and courage. We examined artifacts, photographs, uniforms, equipment, advertising and other Negro Leagues memorabilia. You can walk around the Field of 12 life-size bronze sculptures of great Negro League players, legends. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum admission, $4.00.

When most people think of Kansas City, barbecue comes to mind. Today there are more than 100 barbecue establishments in the area, each boasting its personal house specialty -ribs, pork, ham, mutton, sausage and even fish. We ate dinner at Fiorella’s, Jack Stack Barbecue, Downtown Kansas City, (22nd & Wyandotte, 818-472-7427.) This restaurant rated the highest rated Barbecue Restaurant in the Country from Zagot Survey of America’s Best Restaurants. We were served one-third pound of rib meat -lamb, pork, a beef, chicken and polish sausage. The cheesy corn bake, a casserole dish filled with smoke ham and cheese, was our favorite.

Overnight, stay in Kansas City, at the Quaterage Hotel. The Quaterage Hotel Westport, (560 Westport Rd., 816-931-0001), is a charming little hotel tucked away in one of Kansas City’s most historic districts. The Quaterage Hotel Westport is surrounded by unique assortment of shops, clubs, restaurants, theaters, and galleries. Accommodations include spacious rooms with king sized beds. The hotel has a hot Jacuzzi, Sauna and Health club. This hotel is a wonderful choice. Locals know Westport as a popular nightlife district. Westport’s history includes roles as an outfitting point for pioneers heading west and as the site of a fierce Civil War battle.

We traveled to St. Josephs; there we toured Steamboat Arabia Museum, Patee House, Pony Express, Jesse James Home and Glore Psychiatric Museum. The Steamboat Arabia Museum has over 200 tons of treasure on display.

Arabia Steamboat Museum (400 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64106) In the 1800’s the steamboat Arabia served bringing supplies to settlements along the Missouri River. The steamboat had just left Kansas City when a submerged tree pierced her hull. She sank with all her treasures. Buried 132 years, her excavation in 1988 uncovered preserved 1856 frontier supplies. The Hawley family funded and worked to locate, excavate, restore and display the World’s largest collection. Admission, $12.50 adults and $4.75 for children 4-12 year old.

The Patee House Museum national Landmark, (12th and Penn., 816- 232-8206) was a pioneer hotel and headquarters for the Pony Express. The famous overland mail service by horseback began here on April 3, 1860. The exhibits illustrate the need, creation, operation and termination of the Pony express. Admission, $4.00 adults and $3.00 students ages 7-18. The building was a hotel three times, and a girl’s college twice before serving as a shirt factory for 80 years. Patee House was called World’s Hotel when Jesse James was killed just a block away, at 1318 Lafayette on April 3, 1882. The Jesse James home is now on the grounds of Patee Museum, and displays artifacts found in the grave of Jesse James during the 1995 exhumation of Pro. James Starrs. The Patee Museum displayed a large assortment of Aunt Jemima artifacts and pictures. Admission is $4.00 adults and $2.50 for students under 16. I rode the Wild Thing Carousel at the Patee House Museum. Bruce White carved animals for this 1941 Allen Herschel merry-go-round. Visitors of all ages may choose from a side selection of animals ranging from an eagle and a humming-bird to a pony Express horse. Rides, $1.50 each or 4 rides for $5.00.
Glore Psychiatric Museum (3406 Frederick Ave., and 816- 232-8471) houses the Black Archives of St Joseph. The Glore Psychiatric Museum illustrates how mental illness has been portrayed and treated for the past 7,500 years. The Glore Psychiatric Museum also chronicles the 130-year history of what was once known as the “State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.” The Black Archives features exhibits and displays on the St. Joseph African American experience and their rich cultural heritage. Admission: $2.00 adults, $1 students, ages 7-18.

We ate lunch at Fredrick Inn, steak house and lounge (1627 Fredrick Ave., St. Joseph, MO, 816- 364-5151.) I ate fried catfish, spinach salad with a special house dressing and washed it down with lemonade. This restaurant has a down home family flair.

Pick up Hwy. 45 in Parkville and continue northwest for about 20 miles to the tiny hamlet of Weston, nestled in the bluffs of the Missouri River. Weston still supports a tobacco farming economy and you can visit the tobacco warehouse downtown. Weston Bend State Park boats hiking and biking trails and campsites. There’s still an operating distillery in town and you can visit a number of high quality antique, collectible and house ware stores on Main Street. Weston was an important slave center and active Underground Railroad.
Then we crossed into Leavenworth to see the Buffalo Soldier monument (20 Reynolds Avenue Fort Leavenworth Army Post, Leavenworth Kansas.) Buffalo Soldiers Monument: On July 25, 1992, General Colin Powell honored the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, comprised of African American soldiers, with the dedication of a magnificent bronze statue of a Buffalo Soldier in Ft. Leavenworth. The Buffalo Soldiers, formed in 1886 and named as such by Cheyenne warriors, were instrumental in the opening of the West. Lineage: Constituted 28 July 1866 in the Regular Army organized 21 September 1866 -At fort Leavenworth, Kansas inactivated 20 march 1944 in North America -Redesignated 20 October 1950 as the 510th Tank Battalion (Negro) -Activated 17 November 1950 at camp Polk LA ordered integrated December 1952. Campaigns: Indian Wars, War with Spain, Phillipian Invasion, Mexican Expedition and World War II. Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas is located about 15 minutes from KCI Airport. To enter the military post to see the monument you must have a government issued picture identification.

We traveled to Parkville; here we toured the historic town and visit the Colored School of Banneaker. The school is named for Benjamin Banneker, located at 31 W. Eighth Street in Parkville. Classes were held at Banneker for about 20 years. The school, with 80 students, enrollment outgrew the capacity of the one-room building. A supporter of it was Jesse James. “But for Jesse James, “said the teacher of the school, not long before he died, “I could not have kept up the school.” Students moved to a new Bannekar School in 1904 and the building became a residence. A kitchen and a fireplace that were added have been removed to restore the structure to its original configuration. Union Chapel students reach goal of a million pennies to fund Banneker School restoration. The building is on the register of Historic places and was deeded to the Platte County Historic Society.

We headed to Independence and dinner. We ate the Inn at Ophelia’s, 201 N. Main, Independence, MO 64050. Ophelia’s puts a European flair on fine American cuisine! We enjoyed wonderful food, a taste of Kansas, barbecue. I ate baked fish with rice and steamed vegetables. We stayed over night, at the Courtyard Marriott, (Blue Springs, 1500 N.E. Coronado Drive, Blue, Springs, MO. 816-228-8100.)

Get on U.S. 24 and continue east for about 45 miles to the town of Lexington, MO. The national Old Trails Association came into being and stated in its bylaws: “the object of the Association shall be to assist the daughters of the American Revolution in marking Old Trails and to promote the construction of an Ocean-to-Ocean Highway of modern type worthy of its memorial character.” The Association, under the guidance of its president Harry S. Truman, guaranteed the expense of erecting the monuments. “The Madonna of the Trail” is a pioneer woman clasping her baby with her young son clinging to her skirt. The face of the mother, strong in character, beauty and gentleness, is the face of a mother who realizes her responsibilities and trusts in God. This completed the memorialization of the trail of a young nation as they traveled across the Allegheny Mountains to make their home in the great western wilderness. In Lexington you can shop for antiques, dine in cozy restaurants and learn about the 1861 Civil War battle of Lexington. A cannon ball still lodged in the courthouse column brings history to life. Lexington is a step back in time.
We drove to Pennytown. Pennytown had its origins in the black desire to own and control property. In 1871, Joe Penny (known as “Uncle Joe),” a freedman from Kentucky, paid $160 for eight acres of land in Saline County. Pennytown functioned as one of Missouri’s freedmen’s hamlets settled by emancipated slaves, who bought small parcels of land in fee simple from white landowners. By the turn of the century, Pennytown blacks matured demographically and socially. Throughout Pennytown’s history, the hamlet functioned as a labor village for regional commercial farms. One of the critical cohesive forces in Pennytown was the Free Will Baptist Church. Much history lies in the shadow of this lone structure. Each August echoes of 1870’s freedmen’s voices are heard as former Penny Towners gather on the front lawn of the church to sing, remember their origins, while continuing to illuminate the past for the younger generation.

Arrow Rock, population of 70 people, with on African resident, is one of the oldest towns in the state in continual habitation. We ate lunch at Arrow Rock Station, 502 Main Street, Arrow Rock, MO, 65320. The cook for the Bed & Breakfast prepared turkey, stuffing, vegetables, roll, etc. a wonderful family gathering feast. We went on a guided tour of Arrow Rock, a small, histories and unspoiled town. Arrow Rock has been named a2006 Distinctive Designation by the national Trust for Historic Preservation, an honor bestowed on only 12 communities each year. While on our guided tour Kathy Borgman, pointed out the first African American church built in Arrow Rock following Emancipation, Brown’s Chapel. It is also believed that this building served as the first school. James Milton Turner, an African American whose job it was to see that schools would be built for blacks once they were freed wrote a letter indicating the school was established in 1869. An historian of African American culture has described black churches as “the mother of our culture, the champion of our freedom and the hallmark of our civilization.” A freed black man, Prince Hall, in Boston in the late 1700’s, started the Black Masonic Lodge. Lodges served practical purposes such as providing for funeral expenses and care of orphan children. They also promoted moral living and social activities. A trip to Arrow Rock is not complete until you’ve attended a professional theatre performance at Lyceum Theatre. While you are in the area you should visit the Boon’s Lick Communities. In Booneville we saw an Old Jailhouse and the Sheriff’s house, which were completely built by slaves. Arrow Rock, Missouri, is located in central Missouri 14 miles north at I-70 on Hwy, 41 at Exit 98.

We visited several plantations of Cooper County. The plantation of Crestmeade, Pleasant Green and Ravenswood were either toured or viewed from afar. We were treated to refreshments, and a guided tour by a woman dressed in period attire.

The next stop on our agenda took us to the University of Missouri Law School. A professor of law presented the case of State of Missouri et rel. Gaines. In 1938, Lloyd Gaines was poised to become a major figure in the desegregation of America, but then he vanished. This case was argued November 9, 1938 and decided, December 12, 1938,in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 2 that Gaines could not be barred from the University of Missouri’s segregated law school unless the state could provide a facility of equal stature within its borders. A few months after the Supreme Court victory, Gaines left a Chicago fraternity house, telling the housekeeper he was going to purchase some stamps. Taking only the clothes he wore, he disappeared into the night. He was never seen or heard from again. The reasons have remained a mystery to his family and scholars for decades. Today, R. Lawrence Dessem, Dean and Professor of Law and faculty of the university hopes to proffer an honorary degree upon Lloyd Gaines. The simple letter of request to be granted admission in the law school, lawyers of the NAACP and the Supreme Court decision provided the opportunity for intellectual advancement for Negro youth, today.
The Old Courthouse in downtown St Louis is one of America’s most important historic sites. It was here that slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom and the freedom of his wife, Harriet, in 1847. Scott was freed by a new owner after the Supreme Court decision and died in St. Louis in 1858. Reenactments of the Dred Scott trial are conducted throughout the year at the Old Courthouse. Dred Scott is buried at Calvary Cemetery. We learned that people of African descent: Rev. John Berry Meachum, Elizabeth Keckley, Madame Pelagic Rutgers, William Wells Brown, etc. and the role they played a in the area’s development since St. Louis was founded in 1764.

We ate dinner at a local eatery in St Louis. Then arrived at the Millennium Hotel for an overnight stay. The Millennium Hotel is located 200 S., 4th Street St. Louis, MO., (314) 241-9500. This hotel houses outdoor and indoor swimming pool, fitness center, laundry facilities, palm court, parking garage, Top of the Riverfront revolving restaurant and meeting events rooms. The following morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

The Black history tour continued to the Courthouse, History Museum to see “Captive Passage”. We enjoyed a dinner at Adams Mark Hotel, another version of the taste of St. Louis. The delicious dinner ended with desert, a delightful, large ball of Mississippi Mud ice cream covered in chocolate. After dinner we viewed a play at the Grandel Theatre, Black Repertory Theater. The title of the play was “Before It Hits Home”. Before it Hits Home was about a young father and big city musician learns he has aids. He returns to his Mississippi home to confront not just his own mortality, but also his family’s reaction when he reveals his illness. Featuring Starletta DuPois and A.C. Smith. “Before It Hits Home” is presented through special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc. Production sponsored by Emerson. For tickets, call (314) 534-3810.

The Millennium Hotel Riverfront Restaurant prepared a brunch that is out of this world. We had over two hundred foods to choose from. The chef prepared spare ribs especially for us to taste. By far the best brunch I’ve ever had.
St Louis CVC transferred us to the Roberts Mayfair Hotel. Two local St. Louis Entrepreneurs, Mike and Steve Roberts purchased the Roberts Mayfair Hotel, a Wyndham Historic Hotel. The Hotel was then named The Roberts Mayfair Hotel. The brothers became the first African American hoteliers in the state of Missouri. Now with 182 guest rooms, most of them one-bedroom suites, the hotel also showcases four 18th floor penthouse suites offering living/dining areas, baths with whirlpools, fireplaces, and magnificent cityscape views. The Mayfair has played host to some of the biggest social events in town. Other well-known guests and high profile: John Barrymore, Irving Berlin, Rose Kennedy, Linda Evans, Yanni, Kathleen Battle, The Smothers Brothers, Willie Nelson, Hall & Oates, Roger Williams, Wynton Marsalia, Michael McDonald and Cary Grant unwittingly contributed to the hotel craft when a Mayfair manager servicing Grants suite noticed a trail of chocolates leading from the living room to the bed and finally onto the pillow. A note accompanied the last chocolate to Grant’s lady friend who was expected to arrive later that evening. Impressed with Grants debonair touch, Mayfair management began the practice of placing chocolates on the pillows for all subsequent guests, and the idea quickly spread to other top related hotels. The Mayfair was the first five star restaurants in Missouri and the first hotel west of the Mississippi River to have a roof top pool. Historic predominantly all suite hotel with special touch of old world refinement. Located in the heart of the downtown St. Louis business and entertainment district. Nearby attractions include the America’s center Convention Center, the gateway Arch, restaurants, nightlife and the homes of the St. Louis Rams, Cardinals and Blues. Lambert International Airport is 17 miles away. Donna Holloway, general manager, and her staff prepared and served the St. Louis Style Soul Food Friday: BBQ Rib Tips, smothered Baked Chicken, Collard Greens/ Macaroni & Cheese/ Great Northern Beans, corn bread and rum raisin rice pudding. We enjoyed the wonderful accommodations and delicious food.

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission planned and accompanied the remaining travel writers to the nation’s largest monument and symbol of St. Louis, the gleaming 630-foot-high the gleaming 630-foot-high Gateway Arch. A fascinating new display about the Arch’s pioneering architect Eero Sainnen fills the special exhibit hall within the monument’s Museum of Western Expansion.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is aglow this year as it presents Glass in the garden. The inspirational George Washington Carver Garden honors Missouri’s own “plant doctor” with a memorial statue of the great American scientist, native plantings and a learning laboratory for youth. The Children’s Garden is first and foremost about family fun while completely integrated into the garden’s educational programs. It is designed for children age’s two to 12, with an emphasis on ages four to 10. The path through the Missouri Botanical Garden leads to a harming historic area and founder Henry Shaw’s restored country residence, Tower Grove House. The Victorian area also includes Shaw’s mausoleum, the Kresko Family Victorian Garden, Herb Garden, Kaeser Maze and Piper Observatory. Built in 1882, the Linnaean House is the oldest continuously operated public greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. It was designed by noted architect George I. Barnett, as were its two “sister” greenhouses in Tower Grove Park, the Palm House and the Plant House.

The St. Louis Zoo has a new baby elephant, a 200-ton sculpture titled “Animals Always” greets parks visitors at the Hampton Avenue entry to Forest Park. The massive metal work depicts 60 different animals of all types. Inside the Zoo, visitors can watch animal meals being prepared through oversized windows at the new Animal Nutrition Center and public in the adjacent outdoor garden.
The Black World History Museum features life-size likenesses of African Americans with a Missouri connection whose life activities influenced the state, region, and sometimes the entire country. Visitor’s can meet and learn about Josephine baker, Dred and Harriet Scott, Elizabeth Keckley, William Wells Brown, James Milton Turner, Clark Terry, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Earl. E. Nance Sr., Miles Davis, Madame C.J. Walker. The Museum also features an authentic slave cabin, originally built on the Weight-Smith Plantation in Jonesburg, Mo. Visitors can solve puzzles, view documentary videos, and “board” a scale model section of a ship that is the actual size used to transport Africans to America during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Museum’s “Motherland Museum Shop,” offers Afrocentric clothing, jewelry, figurines, sculptures, books, videos, and greeting cards.

The Missouri Historical Museum seeks to deepen the understanding of past choices, present circumstances, and future possibilities; strengthen the bonds of community; and facilitate solutions to common problems. The society’s collecting process seeks to serve and document all classes and all racial and ethnic groups in the region; its current collecting priorities in all areas reflect that goal. St Louis in Black and White, examine the relationship between various racial and ethnic groups in St. Louis. Through close analysis and group dialogue, students gain a better understanding of race relations in their community and their culture as a whole. This tour uses key historical movements and events such as the Abolitionist Movements and events, such as the Abolitionist Movement, Civil Rights Movement, the urban expansion, to help students comprehend the complexity and diversity of the region. This program examines key questions: What is race? What is racism? How is racism manifested? What are the effects of racism? How has the issue been addressed? The Missouri Historical Society offers programs and outreach services, including traveling exhibitions, tours, theatrical and musical presentations, programs for school classes and youth groups, family festivals, special events, workshops, and lectures. Manuscript Collections has records of free African Americans in St. Louis and Missouri. Admission to this museum is free. We ate lunch in the Merewether’s Restaurant.

Saint Louis Art Museum is one of the nation’s leading comprehensive art museums containing more than 30,000 works of art. Its collections include works of exceptional quality from virtually every culture and time period. The Museum offers a full range of exhibitions, a research library, four conservation labs, varied annual schedule of special events, and community and school programs. The Museum’s art are arranged in three themes; Political Order, Masks and Festivals, and Power Objects. Three installations, along with programs and events, are presented by the museum to honor the influence and contributions of Africans and African Americans to our nation’s art and culture. We may stop to think that people once saw these same artworks in a royal palace, wore them in dance performances, and believed in their power to change the world. Admission to the Museum and its collection is free every day.
The Joplin House State Historic Site has a building that Scott Joplin lived in with the piano that used to compose his ragtime classics. The visitor center exhibits and depict St. Louis and the neighborhood, as Joplin knew them, and additional details about his life and work. By age 11, this child prodigy was able to play several musical instruments, and compose and improvise his own music. Joplin mastered both formal and structure of classical music. Joplin eventually became the leading exponent of a new, syncopated musical genre, “The King of Ragtime”. The operating player piano in the music room allows visitors to listen to piano rolls of the ragtime era, including some that were cut by Joplin himself.