Race Relations and the Black Holocaust
First let me assure you that I am not a Historian – nor do I pretend to be. There are many fine Historians in Sedalia and Missouri but I am definitely not one of them. There is also the Missouri Historical Society which is fabulous with Dr. Gary Kremer, long time Director, who is also fabulous. Though I enjoy History and reading, my professional capacity is that of Psychologist – which possibly explains why I am so incensed by the racism which still exists. It was, and is, inhumane!
If we just stop and think about it though, there are lots of reasons why we’re stuck in regard to black/white relationships in Missouri. #1 might be that there is practically no (as in none) social interaction among whites and blacks. Do you yourself as a white, have black friends? or vice versa? As Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out years ago – Sunday (a day devoted to Christianity with Black and White churches) is the most segregated time of all. That was also a time when white Churches in general, did nothing to help the racial problems. In fact in Missouri, the Methodist Church split over the slavery question and took years to become United again.
To continue on, research shows that social networks of Whites are 91% white which is much higher than Blacks social networks of some 61% Black. That would seem to suggest that Blacks are more receptive to social integration than Whites are. Whites do not seem to be moving out of their own comfort zone, as much as Blacks are.
Thus though the African-American has been among us – he has not become one of us.
How do we take that last step? How do we move so Blacks are truly one of us. Or Whites are one of them? However, you want to look at it. Aren’t we supposed to be the UNITED States of America? How do we address this widespread social separation? For it is in social settings that we truly get to know each other and become friends.
America’s race relations are possibly better than they have ever been (which may not be saying much) but we are not there yet. Ferguson, Mo. tells us that. But it was a fun thing that President Obama at the annual Press Dinner bash last January could joke and say he’s been told that his hair is so white he could now talk back to Police!! I don’t think he would have said that during his first term as President!
But seriously, we know we are not there yet in Missouri (and probably lots of other places) so let’s try to figure out why- which is why this Black History Library came to be-to present the History of Blacks and to come together as a town, Sedalia, Mo. and as a Nation. We are so anxious to solve the race problem, that we don’t take time to study it, yet this History is our avenue to understanding racism.
First of all, we do have to know a little history. History, as stated, is our avenue to understanding racism. How else, to paraphrase Atticus Finch in to “Kill a Mockingbird” can you walk in the other person’s shoes??
Missouri, a Mass of Contradictions
Missouri was a mass of contradictions at the beginning of the Civil War. Tempers were already high and revenge a way of life due to the Border War with Kansas from l851 on before the Civil War commended in earnest in l86l.
Loyalties ranged from slave owners (blacks are the mud-sill of society and markedly inferior), abolitionists (arch foes of slavery), Confederates (we want to secede and join the Confederacy), Unionists,(we don’t want to secede, we want to stay in the Union) southern heritage (we like being the elite), German and Irish immigrants (hated slavery and the planter elite), big planters (very well educated in the East) and small farmers (could seldom read or write), city folks (St. Louis a thriving Northern business city), and country folk (subsistence farming, especially in the Boot Hill and Northern Missouri).
A complete mis-mash of cultures and markedly divergent views. Politics transcended all of this and was entered into most heartily with great debate and often violence. . Vigor and oratory usually won out. Abe Lincoln received very few votes in Missouri as he was felt to be “unsound on the position of slavery” He struggled throughout the war to keep Missouri a very necessary Border state as a buffer from invasion.
At the end of the Civil War, Missouri was thus exhausted, depleted and in mourning for what had been lost. Out of all of that though, there was almost an unanimous agreement that somehow the African-Americans, the slaves were to blame. Thus began the Black Holocaust that scourged Missouri, especially in the Boot Hill and the Nation. A war of terror on a people needing help, understanding and nurturance. From slavery to this?
Thus to understand racism in Missouri we have to know a little about how it started–or who started it. So here goes, consider the following:
Slavery in Missouri
As one of Rose M. Nolen’s books points out, slaves were bought to Missouri from Haiti and the West Indies in 1720 by the French to work in the lead mines in what is now the Eastern Ozarks and Washington County. As part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Missouri came into being named after the Missouria, a tribe of Indians who peopled the state in the 1600’s. Thus insofar as the French had introduced black slavery around 1720, Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state on August 10, 1821 as part of the Missouri Compromise with Maine coming in as a free state. The Missouri Compromise was one of the many attempts of the government to hold the nation together, slave and free.
The rich fertile soil of mid-Missouri soon began to attract the interest of southern planters, and was thus primarily settled in the early years by southerners out of Kentucky and Tennessee as General George R. Smith (credited with founding Sedalia, Mo. ) and his father-in-law David Thomson (credited with founding Georgetown, Mo. ) arrived in the late 1830’s with creaking wagon loads of provisions, their respective families and some 60 slaves between them from Kentucky. As of course, there were not any roads at that time, it was uphill/downhill, chopping the way through forests, fording rivers, and probably fighting off Indians etc. Travel was especially arduous, dangerous and slow though the women were afforded some type of covered convenience, lumbering though it probably was. The men no doubt rode horses, but the slaves of course walked.
George R. was the consummate politician. To find a favorable biography about him, you have to go to the biography his two daughters wrote! They adored him! However he got things done, like getting the railroad to come to Sedalia, Mo. and also became its first Mayor. On the issue of slavery, the good General waffled as did most of the State. He owned slaves and was probably quite happy that Missouri had entered the Union in 1821 as a slave state long before he arrived on the scene. He did not however want Missouri to secede and leave the Union during the Civil War. He was thus considered a a strong Union man though a slave owner. He wanted slavery to continue – but he wanted Missouri to stay in the Union. He was not for secession. (Seceding from or leaving the Union). I’m saying this several times, and different ways because for me it’s been a confusing topic!
Thus Missouri became one of the prized Border States along with Kentucky, West Virginia and Maryland professing “Neutrality”. The good General was thus known as a “strong Union man” who owned slaves, not too uncommon then. Awkwardly enough the Governor of Missouri, Clairborne Fox Jackson was very much a Southern sympathizer and so removed himself, his governing cabinet and his family to exile in Marshall, Texas seeking a more favorable environment as war became imminent. (Though some historians point out that General Lyon ran him out when the North captured Jefferson City) A pro-Union government was also established in Missouri. (Quite a split – for one State to have two governments, one for the Confederacy (south) and one for the Union (north)! In addition, Missouri’s star appeared on both the Missouri State Flag and the Southern Cross Flag, and of course, the people were also divided over the whole affair and had been for some time.(The problem about Kansas coming in s a “slave state or free state” had been raging for some time.)All that confusion and dissension is enough for Missouri to be diagnosed with something of a “personality disorder” as the State became even more convoluted as the War continued!)
Thus, sufficient dissension on this subject and other slave related matters so reigned in Missouri between strong minded men that it caused President Lincoln to reportedly often say that Missouri “was a never ending problem”. Probably because Missouri couldn’t decide whether to be slave or free! It is also noteworthy that Missouri at the Republican Convention when President Lincoln was running for a second term did not support his nomination. He was considered “unsound on the position of Slavery”. We thus can get some strong indicators as to why Missouri became so torn over the slavery issue and the Civil War. In fact some thought that staying in the Union with President Lincoln would safeguard slavery? (Figure that out??, talk about complicated politics!)
After the initial influx of Southern planters, Missouri had actually become mostly settled by small farmers who worked the land side by side with their slaves, although there were still some wealthy southern planters like Smith/Thomson who had resources and enjoyed power. Other wealthy planters lived in the area around the Missouri River in a region called Little Dixie encompassing some 14-17 counties. Here Hemp, an especially valued crop for the production of rope to bind cotton bales and moor flat boats, was extensively grown and Hemp slaves highly valued. These were large, powerful male slaves as breaking the Hemp cane was very physical. In addition other Southern crops readily cultivated by gang cultivation by slaves thrived as cotton and tobacco. Ruins of fine old plantation houses in that area can still be found. (See Gary Fuerhausen, “Little Dixie and Its Slave Cabins”, firstname.lastname@example.org. who has researched extensively on this subject.
There were also slaveholders on the western prairie of Missouri next to Kansas and the bootheel region near Arkansas which was pro-confederate. Settlers in the Ozarks were predominantly from eastern slave states and also remained loyal to their slave heritage though most had few slaves. (But most considered themselves – southern?)
In addition to the diverse opinions of strong minded men, Missouri was in a precarious position before and during the Civil War, but also highly valued as a Border State. It also had more population than any of the other Border states, i.e. Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland and later West Virginia when it separated from Virginia. Actually the population of the five Border states was equal to about half of the total population of the Confederacy.
Strategically, Missouri protected the Union’s (North’s) western flank and was situated on the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Thus to keep Missouri happy and to have it remain as a Border State was paramount to the economic and military strategy of the Union (North), so rightly thought, President Lincoln. The North’s eventual control of the entire Mississippi Valley was one factor which defeated the South. Missouri was thus an important key to this success.
Missouri was in a rather precarious position though as unlike the other border states, Missouri jutted up into Union, non-slave territory. Missouri was a slave state but was thus in the middle of rather hostile territory. Though Missouri upheld the southern heritage, the slave culture, but found slaves constantly being helped to freedom by her neighboring Illinois and Ohio and then of course, Kansas as all that horror developed.
Abolitionists (those vehemently against slavery, as in VEHEMENT!, of the John Brown type) were very active and delighted coming into Missouri, and helping slaves to freedom to Canada which of course caused Missouri no end of trouble and anger. (Remember, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe!) By then, the Dred Scott decision of 1857 in Missouri had gone through the courts stating Blacks were still slaves even if they had been taken to a free state and they had no rights Whites had to observe. Of course, Fugitive Slave act of 1850 was already on the scene which further amended mandated that escaping slaves must be returned to their masters under threat of imprisonment/fines. The Plessy court decision of 1896 seemingly advocating segregation had also become the law of the land and all was now set for chaos as slave catchers ran around kidnaping slaves to return them to their owner for a nice reward!
As tensions began to escalate and hostilities continued to increase, then there was the problem with Kansas as mentioned (this author’s Home State!!) Missouri desperately wanted neighboring Kansas to become a slave state so Missouri’s slaves wouldn’t keep running over there to freedom!. Kansans weren’t about to be told anything however and insisted on putting the slavery issue to a vote bringing hordes of Missourians and various others over to vote illegally for slavery. It definitely is a problem when over 6,000 people voted but only 2,000 are registered voters! This (plus other events) caused a horrendous uproar with the rise of the Guerrilla Bushwackers (southern sympathizers), the Kansas Jayhawkers, who were against slavery (the Red Legs as they wore red leggings) the Lawrence massacre, Order #11, the fanatical abolitionist John Brown and various other atrocities too numerous to mention!
Kansas was evidently so impressed with Mr. Brown that they had a huge mural made of him in the State Capital, practically breathing fire and holding a “Beecher’s Bible” (rifle) and a Bible in his outstretched hands!
The Border War between Missouri and Kansas thus erupted and the infamous Order #11 where the Union General Ewing evacuated and burned down some 3 plus counties on the Missouri/ Kansas Border that were accused of helping the Southern leaning Missouri Bushwacker guerrillas created all kinds of havoc and left some 20,000 people homeless.
The Guerrilla war inflicted widespread suffering on civilians; it upended the border region’s economy and society. Even in peace, turmoil prevailed.
The Chaos Deepens, the Negro Halocaust Begins!!
War within a War!
Thus, throughout the Civil War, and actually several years before, Missouri was divided and in an unbelievably chaotic state. Was it Union – or was it part of the Confederacy? As a Border State, it was supposed to be neutral but men fought on both sides, though primarily for the Union with Missouri sending some 115,000 men to the Union and about 30,000 to the Confederacy.
Families were thus torn apart, at times brother against brother and against the father. As draft requirements increased, women and children were left to fend at home and ward off marauding vigilantes, soldiers, whatever! This was thus a doubly vicious war. Memories of divided loyalties still exist and healing has possibly never been achieved as the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy still uphold their cause and multiple cemeteries’ have sections designated to the Confederacy in Missouri.
A Little More History
St. Louis, Mo. was a commercial center and considered a Union stronghold with a Federal Arsenal there as well as in Liberty, Mo. The North with the commercial/industrial opportunities was of more interest to St. Louis than the agricultural developments of the South. St. Louis had also a large element of German Immigrants who had fled the aristocracy and wanted nothing to do with slavery and that caste system. That is what they were trying to get away from. The fiery Union General Nathaniel Lyon held sway there and Southern efforts with General Sterling Price to take it throughout the war failed.
“The Meeting at the Planters House, St. Louis, June 11, l861” (The Conference that started the Civil War) Following is the description: This fateful confrontation was the demarcation between imperfect and uneasy peace in Missouri and outright war between Secessionists and Unionists. Seated on the right, is Ex. Governor Sterling Price, soon to become General Price, leading Southern General of the Civil War. Facing is Governor Clairborne Fox Jackson, and an aid of the Governor, Col. Thomas L. Snead. After the 4 to 5 hr. meeting, General Lyon (with his back in the painting) who was accompanied by Col Frank P. Blair and Maj. Conant of his Staff. (Blair and Conant not in the painting) closed it as he had opened it turning to Governor Jackson and saying, “This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.” General Lyon did not intend for his Union troops to be limited to St. Louis which is what Governor Jackson desired.
“And then without another word, without an inclination of the head, without even a look, he (Lyon) turned upon his heel and strode out of the room, rattling his spurs and clanking his saber, while we, whom he left and who had known each other for years, bade farewell to each other courteously and kindly and separated-Blair and Conant to fight for the union, we for the land of our birth (Price and Jackson)” Thus ended a destiny shaping conference – And so began the Civil War! Missouri’s attempt to remain neutral in the midst of growing strife failed.
Prior to that meeting, in St. Louis a street battle erupted between Union Soldiers under General Lyon’s command and Southern leaning sympathizers. On May 10, l861, General Lyon also captured the Governor’s militia (Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson) which had been hastily called up, paraded them as captives through the Streets of St. Louis and a riot erupted. Lyon’s troops, a Missouri militia mainly composed of German immigrants who were new recruits, opened fire on the attacking crowd, killing 18 and injuring 100. Thus began a very messy war!
Though Missouri possibly did not experience the heavy fighting that other more Southern states did, there were battles and skirmishes in all areas of the state, from Iowa and the Illinois Border in the Northeast to the end of the state in the southeast and southwest on the Arkansas border. Counting minor engagements, actions and skirmishes, Missouri saw over 1,200 distinct fights. Only Virginia and Tennessee exceeded Missouri in the number of clashes within the state’s boundaries.
There was one particularly significant major battle at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Mo. on August 10, 1861 which resulted in a Confederate victory early in the war with the Union army retreating. Winning this battle, the Confederates opened the way to sweep Missouri and claim it for the Confederacy. However, the Confederate Army also suffered heavy losses and decided against pursuit. This decision proved to be a fatal mistake, for never again would the Union Army be at a disadvantage in Missouri. With this decision, Missouri was assured a place in the Union.
Other Confederate victories that need to be mentioned are the Battle of Lexington (also referred to as the battle of the hemp bales as the Confederates used water-soaked hemp bales as a traveling barricade to win a decisive victory) and the Centralia Massacre in which Guerilla Bill Anderson shot and killed 7 unarmed Union soldiers and then with the arrival of Confederate reinforcements massacred and scalped the outnumbered arriving Union soldiers.
Price’s Missouri Expedition, known as Price’s Raid and the Battle of Sedalia.
This was a 1864 Confederate Calvary raid through the states of Kansas and Missouri, Former Missouri Governor and now General Sterling Price with a massive army undertook a sweep from St. Louis across Missouri including Sedalia which proved to be largely disastrous. (Can you imagine what it would be like to have a massive army marching across the land, probably foraging as they go?) He had hoped Missourians would join his force but that largely did not happen.
Battle of Sedalia
Camped out in what is now Crown Hill Cemetery, with artillery, Calvary and foot soldiers numbering some 1500 men and under the command of Brig. General M. Jeff Thompson, the Confederates quickly over-ran Sedalia as the Union force had been called away to defend St. Joseph. Entering into Sedalia, the men began to loot and burn and sought out and murdered blacks who had helped build the breastworks along Main Street and destroyed their shanties North of the railroad tracks. (It is the hope of this writer to erect a plague at that location to honor those courageous black fighters). With the pleadings of some of the young white women who knew some of the soldiers, the burning of the main hotel stopped. Thompson and his men then abandoned Sedalia to rejoin Price’s main force, leaving the town once more in Union hands where it would remain for the rest of the war.
The Battle of Westport, Mo. was a decisive Union victory. As was the Battle at Pea Ridge, Ark. The handwriting was on the wall!
First Battle of Black, Armed Soldiers
A very significant battle in Black History was fought at Island Mound, Mo. near Butler in 1862.
A fire-eating, newly elected white Senator from Kansas and rabid abolitionist, James Henry Lane began to enlist Blacks to form a “fighting brigade” in Kansas. He and his fellow ardent followers termed the Frontier Guard had previously been In Washington D. C. protecting the newly elected President, sleeping at the foot of his bedroom door as assignation plots were rampant. The President however, with great foresight, had shared concerns about Mr. Lane’s emotional state!
To develop a fighting Black army, James Lane probably took it upon himself with great vigor to recruit blacks who mostly had fled from slavery in Missouri and come to free Kansas and safety. He turned them into a fighting army. His efforts succeeded. The Island Mound battle, considered a win for the Union was highly significant as it had for the first time, engaged armed blacks, named “The First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry “ to fight the South.
Is all this over?
With a Union victory and slaves emancipated, Missouri, a very Southern pro-slavery state who nevertheless stayed with the Union (the North), emerged bowed and bloody with the slavery question possibly settled by law, but not in reality. Bloody and bowed it is true, but not in spirit. Missouri as most of the South began seeking revenge, with some viewing the North as Federal invaders, trying to redeem their “Lost Cause” To redeem their way of life, to be on top again –which of course meant that the black man was on the bottom. Didn’t he cause all of this!!
In addition to all this, there was the unending animosity between neighbors, towns, business with memories of someone burning down someone else’s house and running off all the livestock. Army revolvers were everywhere even in Church and with men working the fields constantly carried them. Who knew who could be lurking behind a tree. No one knew who their enemy was or who had done what to whom. This was a period lasting long after the Civil War of pure chaos and lack of civil protection and government which still haunts us to this day. .
Also, after the War, bank failures reduced the economic power of the old elite, the large slaveholders along Little Dixie and the Missouri River Valley. In 1861 these and other southern men had used the banks to arm local Confederate recruits through a kind of “check-kiting” scheme. They counted on repayment from the victorious Confederacy. Instead, the banks folded and were bought by Unionists.
Then there was the hunger for revenge. The war had been brutal: ambushes with rifles of any kind, torture, scalping, summary executions, house and farm burning. Victims and perpetrators often knew each other. “Peace meant an opportunity to get even, (a new definition)!
And on the bottom of all of this, the Black was going to remain – if most whites had anything to do about it and they did having all the power. Multiple ways were developed to demean and subjugate Blacks. Of course, it really all started with the U.S. Constitution.
3/5 of a Person
Thus the U.S. Constitution actually dealt the first blow to the negro’s full status as a person. In it, they were referred to as “other people” in order not to use the word “slave”. They were to be counted as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of representation in Congress according to the 3/5 Compromise and to be considered “poperty”. So at the end of the Civil War, the U.S. now had some 40 million “other people” supposedly free but with virtually no rights as a person. This was going to turn out to be quite a problem!! (And it did!)
In addition, The Drake Constitution (named after its author, Charles D. Drake described as an articulate bully from St. Louis) after the war imposed tight restrictions on secessionists in Missouri who had wanted Missouri to leave the Union or were sympathetic to the South or who were “with the South” (whatever that meant) on anyone who would not take the “Iron-Clad Oath”.
That Oath was a declaration that one had not committed any of 86 acts (that is quite a list), ranging from armed rebellion to expressing sympathy for an individual secessionist! Those who could not swear to it were barred from voting, running for office, sitting on juries, teaching, preaching the gospel or serving as lawyers or corporate officers. County registration boards and supervisors would have the power to bar anyone from voting whom they suspected of disloyalty.
This so incensed those with southern loyalties, especially in the North East section (St Joseph, etc.) and also around the Jesse James homeland that even more chaos and murders took place. Wit fury they rejected this offer of amnesty of not having committed any of the 86 acts!!
Needless to say this document was vigorously hated and despised and certainly did not bring the state of Missouri together after the war.
The Black Holocaust Began
(Though to some, Holocaust is a debatable term, upon study and reflection to this writer, it seems quite accurate)
The Birth of Jim Crow
Jim Crow was actually a handicapped Black stable hand. He learned to “jump Jim Crow” to amuse his white superiors. It developed into a black minstrel act, until finally many, many ways surfaced to try to convince Blacks that they were really inferior so they wouldn’t confront the white power structure. See “The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia”at Ferris State Un., Big Rapids, MI 49307
Jim Crow laws named after the somewhat light-hearted black minstrel act thus actually became a rigid system of segregation, discrimination and humiliation that barred African Americans from a status equal to that of a white person. (from the 3/5 other people category to ??)- not much progress. The legality of Jim Crow laws actually came from the infamous Plessy case in which segregation of passengers on railroad cars was deemed acceptable.
Separate described everything. Separate water fountains, entrances, work rooms, restaurant facilities, motel rooms etc. to ad museum! The Black was essentially” persona non-grata” and ear-marked to be an “inferior” person. Any way to humiliate and subjugate the black race appeared. The term Jim Crow thus became to be used to refer to African-Americans and had its legal basis in the Plessy decision where “separate was decided to be equal”.
The Jim Crow laws completely encircled an African-American’s life and “cut him off at every turn” economically, politically, legally, socially and personally (black people were rarely shown common courtesy by white people, In fact, whites often picked out blacks for harassment. White people could threaten, beat, rape, torture and kill (lynch) blacks with little fear of punishment).
The Jim Crow era in United States history actually began towards the end of the Reconstruction (1870’s) and lasted until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Yet the Jim Crow Era was more than a body of legislative acts on the federal, state and local levels that barred and demeaned African-Americans from being full American citizens. It was also a way of life, an attitude that was insidious, corrosive, degrading and pervasive, infecting men’s hearts as well as their minds.
Terrorist groups as the Ku Klux Klan also sprang up to ride through the night to harass and intimidate blacks, to burn out their communities and churches and “keep them in their place”. Outnumbered and out-gunned hundreds of lynchings of blacks took place. No one really knows how many, though later statistics kept at Tuskegee Institute and also by a black woman journalist, Ida Wells Brown, list them in the thousands.
Many reasons are given: the aforementioned system of racial inferiority (they are not a real person, remember the 3/5 law), the culture of white supremacy, xenophobia (resistant to anything new or different) and of course, plain old Jim Crow racism to ridicule, degrade, humiliate and keep the Blacks separate and “unequal”. All of this is a good example of why we study history – so we don’t repeat it!!
Since it was decided that Blacks were the cause of all the uproar and besides that, they were definitely inferior, barely human, lynchings of blacks began to be commonplace. About any reason was good enough: not stepping off the sidewalk for a white, not tipping your hat to a white, looking at a white woman “lewedly” or the Black just not keeping in his place!! (Whatever that meant?) No one knows for sure how many blacks were lynched but Missouri is believed to be ranked near the top!
The NAACP shows 81 lynchings between 1889 and 1916 in Missouri. Editorials in the Springfield, Mo. newspapers encouraged “good negroes” to take notice of lynchings lest they befall the same fate! (See “White Man’s Heaven” by Kimberly Harper. The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks In the Southern Ozarks, l894-1909). In addition to Jim Crow bigotry, Ms. Harper shows how post-Civil War vigilantism, an established tradition of extralegal violence and the rapid political, economic, and social change of the New South era combined to create an environment that resulted in interracial violence. (Of concern also, was that when Blacks did get the right to vote they voted Republican, angering Southern Democrats especially in close elections).
(a few here listed, many more available on-line)
Sedalia, Mo. Heath’s Township,(North of Sedalia)
In 1853, the good General George R. Smith ruled against the law of the masses and tried to dissuade a mob to allow justice to prevail and not to burn the negro slave Sam in Heath’s Township, North of Sedalia at the stake.
Sam was accused of murdering and raping a white woman, wife of a farmer, which was symbolically the ultimate affront to white values. Despite the General’s efforts, the crowd took the man from jail and ceremoniously burned him at the stake, first gathering their own slaves to witness this horrific spectacle as an object lesson. (of what – the cruelty of whites, the lack of justice for blacks!))
George G. Vest, later U.S. Senator from Missouri who witnessed the event, described the scene as being composed of cool, experienced men and all appeals to them were in vain. They were lacking in the usual irrational thinking of mob psychology.
That General Smith would attempt to intervene with this particular legal system to protect a slave did register with these folks and significantly lowered their opinion of the good General. Their original intention before Smith’s protests had been to hang the man. After that, hanging was not enough.
The 1903 Joplin, Mo. lynching
Thomas Gilyard was lynched from the arm of a telephone pole by a mob. He was a negro tramp accused of shooting a Joplin police officer. A crew of some 2,000 white men went to the Police Station and threatened to tear it down if the Negro was not released to them. The mob then took the doomed man to the corner of 2nd and Wall streets, one block from the Police Station and lynched him to a telephone pole.
The mob next went to the homes of all the people of color and burned their homes and ran them out of town. Many stayed gone until so-called law and order was restored. Many never came back. Though the ringleaders of the mob were identified, they were never held accountable.
In this Queen City of the Ozarks, Springfield, Mo. area residents white and black, shopped at black-owned businesses, and associated with black city leaders and professionals. All were especially happy to shop at the Black owned Hardwick Grocery, so prosperous it had 12 delivery wagons and many happy white customers. Though most city facilities remained segregated, black citizens held seats on the city council and the school board, positions with the sheriff’s department, post office and at times, the police force.
Springfield was thus regarded as a tolerant city for blacks and many sought refuge there from less hospitable towns. But that changed in 1904 when Nina Brake wife of Springfield’s police officer Jesse Brake (both were white) gave birth to a mixed race son.
After the birth, a black man named John McCracken (likely the father) was arrested after visiting the Brake home. Later that night, several hundred white men, led by Officer Brake swarmed the county jail. However, the Sheriff anticipating violence had already moved McCracken to another county jail. Months later, McCracken was apprehended and sentenced to 30 years for burglary and attempted assault.
As black/white relationships continued to deteriorate, two years later in 1906 on Good Friday just before Easter, a mob (some 3,000 strong) in Springfield Mo. broke into the Greene County Jail, carried two black prisoners Horace Duncan, and Fred Coker to the city square. Ropes were placed around their necks, they were doused with coal oil, set afire and lynched for the alleged assault of a white woman.
The mob, “Overcome with their orgy and filled with exultant frenzy over their success returned to the County Jail where they found another suspect, Will Allen and he met the same fate. The murder of the three men quickly became known as the “Easter Offering” These men were lynched beneath the Gottfried Tower on the square where a Statue of Freedom was above the Tower. The lynchings made the front page of newspapers across the nation but faded with the news of the earthquake that leveled San Francisco the next day.
Even though some whites tried to stop the violence and bring the lynchers to justice, the majority of African Americans fled the Springfield area, leaving only a few behind and forever changing the racial composition of the region. Eighteen white men were eventually identified as leaders of the mob, including former policeman Jesse Brake whose wife had given birth to the black baby. All the men were acquitted.
This horrific exodus is captured in Professor Katherine Lederer’s book, “Many Thousands Gone” available at the Springfield, Mo. Historical Society. The Black community once thriving and most upright essentially left Springfield, Mo never to return.
Lynching of James T. Scott Columbia, Mo. April 23, 1923
Hundreds looked on as any angry mob dragged a black University of Missouri janitor from his jail cell in April, 1923, publicly lynching him before he could stand trial on charges of raping a white professor’s 14 year old daughter.
Historians say the instigators included some of Columbia’s most prominent citizens. The crowd that watched James T. Scott hang was filled with laughing and cheering students from the first public University, the University of Missouri, west of the Mississippi.
Columbia, Mo. Mayor and longtime resident Bob McDavid said he only recently learned about Mr. Scott, whose hanging had occurred some 75 years ago, but he told those gathered there that an event recent enough to occur in their lifetime was one that should never be forgotten. “The James Scott lynching did not happen in a different world, in a different time or a different place,” he said.
Maryville, Mo. lynching of Raymond Gunn, 1931
Of especial merit and horror was the 1931 lynching of Raymond Gunn in Maryville, Mo. Mr. Gunn, a black farmer was accused of raping and murdering the white school teacher there. He was taken from the jail by a mob, tied on top of the school house, doused with gasoline and set ablaze.
I guess I consider this ”of special merit”, and relate to this with special revulsion as 1931 was the year of my birth and if that had been my father I would surely , never, never and never forgot that (in response to those who say, why don’t Blacks just get over it because lynchings don’t happen now!!) – Maybe not, but it’s surely in the memory – permanently!! Learning to live with those nightmares is a mighty task! (See Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a pending DSM!V psychiatric diagnosis).
Tommy Dean Gaa, 66, Maryville, was sentenced Friday in Nodaway County Circuit Court in connection with an assault, classed as a hate crime, the defendant committed on Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Maryville Hy-Vee supermarket.
Gaa entered an Alford plea to a felony charge of third-degree assault motivated by discrimination in October. Defendants entering such a plea do not admit guilt, but acknowledge that the prosecution probably has sufficient evidence to win a conviction.
In terms of sentencing and establishment of a criminal record, an Alford plea is no different than a guilty plea.
Presiding Circuit Judge Roger Prokes sentenced Gaa to 75 days in jail along with five years of supervised probation. Failure to meet the terms of his probation would mean that Gaa could serve up to three years in prison.
According to court records, Gaa grabbed the arm of a Hy-Vee employee in the grocery store’s dining area. The employee, who was not identified due to the nature of the crime, had asked Gaa if he wanted white or wheat toast, and Gaa responded by saying, “I’m prejudiced. I’ll take white.”
Moments later, according to court records, Gaa approached the employee and grabbed her arm in a manner that caused bruising then asked her if she “liked to party.”
Records further show that Gaa told the woman, “I have a place I would like to take you where I hung your grandpa.”
A probable cause statement filed by a Maryville Public Safety officer indicated Gaa initially denied making the statements, then admitted that he committed at least some of the acts described above.
According to the officer’s report, Gaa also “volunteered” a comment about there being “good and bad” people of different races, and in doing so uttered an offensive term for people of African descent.
Prokes said the assault charge filed against Gaa would normally have been a misdemeanor but was elevated to a felony under Missouri’s hate crimes statute.
Riots or Massacres?
Besides the lynchings, there were multiple “riots” in the bigger cities which happened throughout the U.S. East St. Louis was a major one. However, as more perceptive historians note, these were not “riots” as much as “massacres”. The massacres of blacks by whites, burning of their communities, homes, schools and churches until blacks began to fight back. Then they subsided.
An effort toward atonement
However, he was also a large slaveholder though he was not comfortable with slavery. He also believed in the punishment of slaves. He was a Republican and a Unionist and supported Missouri not seceding, but staying in the Union during the Civil War. While a member of Congress, through his efforts, the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was also passed due to President Lincoln’s plea for help from him.
His Great, great, Nephew Clay Westfall Mering in Arizona began conducting research on Mr. Rollins his great, great Grandfather and he and his siblings set up an endowment fund for Black Research in an effort to somewhat atone for Mr. Rollins’ slavery past. At first the University did not want to use information about the fund that was “negative” – the slavery past! However, Mr. Mering insisted stating he wanted the truth to be known. The University acquiesced, but still says that they would have publicized it differently (meaning white-washed it!) if Mr. Mering had not insisted. (No one wants to talk about the past – right!, but that is the only way we get over it, have courage and TALK!)
The Rest of History up to you
There is much more history that needs to be presented here, but in the cause for some sort of brevity, I leave the remaining years for you to discover. As previously mentioned, there is an excellent soft-cover book, “The Civil War’s First Blood” which carefully presents the complexity of factors affecting Missouri prior to and during the Civil War. I would strongly suggest you read it, as Missouri occupied an unique place in history before and after the Civil War.
As Missouri found out, it was impossible to remain “neutral” with the South and the North on your property waging war and not respecting your ownership and each taking what they wanted and killing who they pleased!!
The following years of World War II and the FDR “Nothing to fear but fear itself” years did help, though segregation persisted. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a lifesaver for many young black men and probably for many, the first time they had a full meal!. The Writer’s Project helped many elderly Blacks learn to read and for once we heard some of the stories of the slaves (though possibly sanitized so as not to offend the white listeners).
The Civil Rights era beginning in the 40’s began to move lives and challenge deeply entrenched racist thinking, but at tremendous cost to others. As it became apparent, laws didn’t change hearts! Many talented men and women devoted their lives to this effort – and lives were also lost in this endeavor.
This website lists books strongly recommended you read. (and you will never be the same again, believe me). Controversial folks like the Black Panthers (Rose was a member of the Black Panthers though she never talked much about it to me) and Malcolm X besides the perseverance, courage, insight and faith of James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, Julian Bond, to name a few as well as the revered Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. have brought about more progress.
When Mrs.Percy Lewis, a “negress” from Marshall, Mo. won first prize for her painting, “Farm Life” a loud furor arose! In fact some vowed to file a formal protest against the judges. However, it was called ” the finest example of primitive art I have ever seen” by Austin Faricy teacher of aesthetic at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.who judged the exhibits. Mrs. Lewis’s only remarks on the debate was, “They judged it, didn’t they?
MOBEBLY, MO. WEDNESDAY EVENING, AUGUST 23, 1939
City Students Grumble as Blue Ribbon Is Awarded Work of Marshall Woman , SEDALIA, Mo.. Aug. 23.
A college professor gave first prize in the State Fair art show to a negro woman’s “primitive” and started the biggest row in Missouri art circles since Thomas Hart Benton painted the murals at the state capitol. The prize went to “Farm Life” by Mrs. Percy Lewis, who painted on muslin because she had no canvas and used big dabs of aluminum shellac as well as oils. Carefully trained Kansas City and St. Louis artists who lost out to Mrs. Lewis grumbled that her work was “primitive art.” “Exactly,” replied Austin Faricy, professor of esthetics at Stephens College for women, Columbia, Mo. “It is the finest piece of primitive art I have ever seen.” Then, as he took his leave: “If any riots starts, you know where to find me.” Farley’s fear of a riot was almost borne out when visitors were admitted to the gallery. The crowds gathered in front of Mrs. Lewis’ picture. And how they did argue! The museum is doing the best business at the fair. One of Tom Benton’s students, Robert Graham of Kansas City, was second with a picture of a reclining nude. The visitors said it was “a sensation, but not enough of a sensation. Benton was sketching “somewhere in the Ozarks” and could not be reached for his opinion. Mrs. Lewis couldn’t be reached either. She has no telephone. Wife of a veterinarian, she lives in a battered farm-house on a country lane near Marshall, Mo. The lack of perspective of her picture is startling. Cats and dogs roaming the barnyard are all the same size. It appears she painted from a high tower for there are only two inches of sky. The scene shows a log cabin, a negro couple in a surrey, a hunter and his dog, a manure pile and pitchfork, livestock and a negro boy and girl drinking at a well. Robert Graham of Kansas City, won second.
President Abraham Lincoln entering Richmond, Virginia on April 4, l965 with his son Tad after the city surrendered to the North. It was also Tad’s 12th Birthday. This day was one of Mr. Lincoln’s last. Ten days after this walk, Mr. Lincoln would be dead.
Abraham Lincoln was one of the few men in history that stood on principal and not popular opinion. While the passage of time has proved his wisdom, and few today question his cause, at
the time he was a man standing alone. Standing alone, standing against popular opinion, and standing on principle. His courage and integrity led our country out of the bankrupt institution of slavery and onto a path of opportunity and equity for all men. It is a long path, and a journey which we have not yet completed. Abraham Lincoln, however, firmly established the objective and clearly set our course.
Mr. Lincoln,we thank you for your courage and your bravery. You came upon the National scene in a day and time that slavery was an accepted practice in this land. There were those in the South who owned slaves and those in the North who traded in slaves – and there were all those who looked the other way. Upon this backdrop, you stood bravely – and you stood alone – and you said “enough”. You raised the righteous indignation of a Nation, and you led us to a better place. May you rest in peace.
– Dr. Marge Harlan and the Rose M. Nolen Black History Library
Why are we still stuck? – We need to see Color? – Yes, color, as BLACK AND WHITE
However, we are still stuck. We need to talk and to see COLOR! Yes color. When we whites, with the best of intentions skip over the whole color bar – we in effect are denying Blacks their identity, culture, heritage and WHO THEY ARE!!. This may seem quite radical, but true. We Whites don’t know a thing about Racism. Most of us have the best of intentions, believing if we don’t mention color, don’t see color – that helps. It doesn’t. You are creating an invisible person when you do t-hat. Ask those who know, – the Blacks themselves!
What needs to be done though – is for Blacks and Whites to just talk to each other. Not to worry – not to try too hard – but just relax and talk. Remember the efforts of Starbucks to get us talking! A great idea, but it met with little success –and quite an uproar. Not sure why. Just too revolutionary an idea, I guess. Possibly now Ferguson and the horrible massacre in South Carolina has occurred, it might have some success.
But whatever, coffee drinker or not, try to talk about anything, the weather (usually always a safe subject) the grandchildren – how did your garden do this summer with all the rain- Just to break the ice, or talk about the price of groceries (we all have to eat!). Whatever it takes to just start making conversation, eye contact and start being friends! Just two human beings trying to relate!
Let them tell you how life has been for them. Just listen. And listen some more – and learn. The information is there as to why the races haven’t become one, why Blacks are among us but not one of us – and the same for Whites.
Do your part – and if there is anything this little self-funded Library in a small town in the middle of Missouri (long a segregated state) can do to help you, let us know. That is why we became and that is why we are here. Though a tough go, It has been a labor of love! Now for your own tough job and your own labor of love–to talk and hug-and talk again. Until we are finally truly one Nation under God.
– Dr. Margaret L. Harlan , A retired (but hopeful) psychologist!