Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri

Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri

by Gary R. Kremer


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No one has written more about the African American experience in Missouri over the past four decades than Gary Kremer, and now for the first time fourteen of his best articles on the subject are available in one place with the publication of Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri. By placing the articles in chronological order of historical events rather than by publication date, Kremer combines them into one detailed account that addresses issues such as the transition from slavery to freedom for African Americans in Missouri, all-black rural communities, and the lives of African Americans seeking new opportunities in Missouri’s cities.

In addition to his previously published articles, Kremer includes a personal introduction revealing how he first became interested in researching African American history and how his education at Lincoln University—and specifically the influence of his mentor, Lorenzo Greene—helped him to realize his eventual career path. Race and Meaning makes a collection of largely unheard stories spanning much of Missouri history accessible for the first time in one place, allowing each article to be read in the context of the others, and creating a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Whether you are a student, researcher, or general reader, this book will be essential to anyone with an interest in Missouri history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826221162
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Gary R. Kremer is Executive Director of The State Historical Society of Missouri. He is the author and editor of numerous works, including James Milton Turner and the Promise of America: The Public Life of a Post-Civil War Black Leader; Missouri's Black Heritage, Revised Edition; and George Washington Carver: In His Own Words (all University of Missouri Press). He lives in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Read an Excerpt

Race and Meaning

The African American Experience in Missouri

By Gary R. Kremer

University of Missouri Press

Copyright © 2014 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8262-7336-9


Some Aspects of Black Education in Reconstruction Missouri

An Address by Richard B. Foster

In 1933 Carter G. Woodson, writing on the educational problems confronted by black Americans, charged that whites "had thoroughly demonstrated" they were no longer willing to serve a useful function in the educational life of blacks. "They have not," he said, "the spirit of their predecessors and do not measure up to the requirements of educators desired in accredited colleges." That, Woodson suggested, was unfortunate. For there had been a time, shortly after the Civil War, when a number of sincere Northern whites had gone South "and established schools and churches to lay the foundation" for black colleges. There was, in Woodson's view, little doubt about the moral soundness of those men's motives. Indeed, in his words: "Anathema be upon him who would utter a word derogatory to the record of these heroes and heroines."

Some thirty-four years later, Henry Bullock, another historian of black education in the South, also extolled the qualities of whites who founded Southern black schools during the early years of Reconstruction. These people, whom he categorized as coming mainly from the religious groups of the North: "were in the main devout Christians.... They were largely trained in New England colleges and universities and were probably some of the best prepared of the nation's small supply of common school teachers. They had interpreted the Emancipation Proclamation in terms of what it was supposed to mean—the freedom of Negroes to care for themselves and participate in a free society like other people."

Richard B. Foster, a founder of Lincoln University of Missouri, was one such man. Foster was born and raised in Hanover, New Hampshire, and was graduated from Dartmouth College, well steeped in the Congregationalist tradition. He was the descendant of an old New England family which had emigrated from Ipswich, England, before the Revolution. He taught school in Illinois and Indiana prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Foster demonstrated his abolitionist sentiments as early as 1856 by taking part in the John Brown raid upon Fort Titus, Kansas. In 1862 he entered the service of the Union Army as a private in the First Nebraska Regiment. When Abraham Lincoln authorized the formation of black regiments, Foster immediately volunteered to join the Sixty-second United States Colored Infantry, later rising to the rank of lieutenant. He was in command of the rear guard at the battle of Palmetto Ranch, Texas, May 25, 1865.

At the end of the war, Foster was asked by the men of the Sixty-second and Sixty-fifth colored regiments to act as their agent in the establishment of a school for blacks in Missouri. Foster accepted this expression of confidence and left the next year for Missouri, carrying with him more than $6,000.00 in cash and pledges raised by the members of the Sixty-second and Sixty-fifth. In 1866 he founded Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri, and there served the cause of black education as principal of the school for the next six years.

The following document, an address delivered before the State Teachers' Association in St. Louis in 1869, offers some insight into the problems he faced in Jefferson City, and the problems black education, in general, faced in Reconstruction Missouri. Foster's address was published in the Jefferson City weekly Missouri State Times, May 21, 1869.

* * *

Address Upon Colored Schools Delivered Before the State Teachers' Association at St. Louis, Mo., May 17th, 1869 By R. B. Foster, of Jefferson City

The State Superintendent reports in this State thirty-four thousand colored children "of educable age." As it is at last discovered that they are educable, it becomes an interesting question what provision is made that their possibilities of educableness may be realized.

A summary of the reports of County Superintendents shows fifty-nine public colored schools in the state, and an attendance of 2,000 pupils. One-seventeenth! This showing must be erroneous. There must be more than 2,000, there must be more than one-seventeenth of the colored children of the State in school. There are many subscription schools, some of them quite small, and some taught by indifferent teachers, but still doing something. There are many schools supported by benevolent societies in the North, whose teachers are thoroughly qualified, and endued with self-denying missionary spirit. [Many of these have not been] reported by indifferent superintendents.

All this is so. The office of the Freedmen's Bureau in this City has reports of seventeen schools, with sixteen hundred pupils, some of whom are and [some are] not, included in the other list. I estimate that there are about five thousand colored children in the State attending school.

On the other hand, the same indifference that fails to report all the schools, also fails to report all the children. I shall not be thought unreasonable if I estimate fifty thousand as the number of this class for whom schools should be provided; certainly not if a small allowance be made for adults.

So, instead of the number two thousand, and the ratio one-seventeenth, we may claim the number of five thousand, and the ratio one-tenth, as actually provided with schools. Is this a showing to be proud of? Can we point to those figures with exultation? But perhaps the character of such schools as the colored people enjoy is so high as to atone in part for the paucity of their numbers. Would it were so! But is it reasonable to expect this? By what test or tests shall we judge? By the respect given to the teacher? By the money paid them? By the cost of the school-houses? By the value of the furniture and apparatus provided? Alas! by all these tests, the colored schools are inferior.

It is undeniable that as a general rule, the teachers of colored schools are held in less estimation, and are in less danger of becoming rich than the teachers of the white schools. Understand, it is not the teachers but the schools, whose cause I am pleading. If there is any teacher of a colored school, who cannot make a living at that, let him do something else or starve. Better that an incompetent should starve than go into the school-room as a teacher, even of Negroes!

But as to school-houses. How many good school-houses in this State have dusky faces for occupants? Houses that would be satisfactory to the white children of the locality? Where are they? Where is one? In St. Joseph the colored school-house is a frame building—all rest are brick. Are there any forty thousand dollar school-houses in St. Louis for the five thousand colored children?

In Jefferson City, has been partly bought and partly built, within a year and a half, a comfortable brick for the white children, containing four [large] rooms and a recitation room, and furnished with good desks—at a cost of about ten thousand dollars. Not too much certainly, no, not half enough for one thousand children. But the colored school is provided with a frame twenty-two feet wide, built for a school-house in the antediluvian ages, and for years considered worthless, resuscitated by an outlay of five hundred dollars, and furnished with the home-made desks thrown out of the white school-house. How is that single room for three hundred and fifty children?

Number of colored children one-fourth the whole, cost of their school-house one-twentieth! Would St. Louis, would the state show a nearer approximation to equal justice than that? I imagine not. I suppose the majority of colored schools in this state are taught in cabins and in churches. In the rural districts in cabins never meant for school-houses, and in towns in churches never fit for a school-house. For though a church may well go into a school-house, a school should never go into a church.

In fact, I presume that my school-house, the one just referred to, that cost five hundred dollars to revive it—is much better than the average house occupied by my kind of school. I have a room six feet too narrow, but of good length; with an entry, in an airy, beautiful situation; with good windows and good roof; not quite a good floor; wall and ceiling plastered; walnut desks, made by a mechanic who was a good workman, but who did not know how a desk should be made for the comfort and health of the pupil; and a good, large black-board, and three small ones. In that room—not always as good as now—I have taught nearly three years. Will you bear with me while I describe the scene of my first entrance on my labor there as memory recalls it?

The rain is pouring in torrents. As I approached the school-house, I am stopped by a creek, the bridge over which has been swept away—usually fordable, but now impassable by reasons of the flood. A half hour's detour, and the scrambling of several fences brings me to the sanctuary of learning. What a sanctuary! The rains pour through the roof scarcely less than outside. I could throw a dog through the side in twenty places. There is no sign of a window, bench, desk, chair or table. In this temple of the muses I meet two pupils. On the next day the same scene is repeated. The third day the rain has ceased, the creek has become fordable, and seventeen pupils are enrolled; and for more than six weeks, new names are added to the register every day. I will not weary you with details of gradual improvement since. I have taught one hundred and thirty pupils in that house at one time, without assistance. But since last January, half my scholars have been sent to an assistant, half whose wages are paid by the school board, who teaches in a church with her brother, the principal of Lincoln Institute, and I have been comparatively happy.

I have not troubled you with these details as supposing they have any value of themselves, but they illustrate the difficulties under which colored schools have been established in this State. And I was not the pioneer. It deserves to be recorded that the two ladies who first taught a colored school in Jefferson City were stoned in the street, and owed their safety to the protection of Governor [Thomas] Fletcher. Yet I think our circumstances were and are not worse but better than the average. Still less are you to suppose that I have taken this covert means to complain of the board of education. Far from it. Their treatment of me has been generous, and they have gone to the extreme limit of their means in providing for my school.

But we may as well accept that the colored schools of this State are mostly in poor condition; too few in number, little thought of, little cared for. As a state we are not doing our duty for the education of the colored people, and probably not doing half so much as most of us, in our self-complacency, think we are.

It is comparatively of less consequence that the teachers of white schools should be fit for their post. For, mark you, the colored children have no other means of education than the school room. They have no intelligent parents, no refined homes supplied with books and papers, to supplement the deficiencies and correct the mistakes of the teacher. Let him have provincialisms of speech, antiquated and false methods of instruction, and his pupils receive it all as law and gospel. Soon the older pupils will be taking little subscription schools in the rural district, and will at least perpetuate and propagate all the falsehoods they have learned.

Therefore, I say emphatically the colored schools need the best of teachers. How shall they be obtained? There are not competent teachers for the white schools in the State. Have any of you known a surplus of thoroughly competent teachers, unable to find situations in any community in the State? But, as I have intimated, the white schools usually give better pay in money and social position than the colored; and teachers would be more than human if they did not seek the best places. There are needed today in this State one thousand first class teachers for colored schools, and there are not one hundred whose qualifications rank as fair. I know of only one way to [get] colored teachers. We can draw some from the North and East; we must educate the most at home.

There are but few occupations fairly open to the colored people that are both honorable and lucrative. Next to farming, which is the most honorable of all, the rightly pursued, the most lucrative, for it pays health, quiet, peace of mind, communion with God and nature—the highest, purest, sweetest life is that of him who sucks the breast of mother earth, next to farming is teaching. That profession has received a special honor in taking a Prof. [Ebenezer Don Carlos] Bassett from his school-room in Philadelphia—and mark you, he had a good school-house—to be Minister to Hayti. Missouri has a colored teacher, J. Milton Turner of Boonville, who, if he did not receive the mission to Liberia, was at least worthy of it. He, instead of myself, ought to have delivered this address to you.

In encouraging colored teachers I would not discourage white teachers from taking colored schools. I am no friend to the dogma that colored people must keep to themselves in school and church. I am the sworn enemy of caste in all its forms. But here is an inviting field which fit persons ought to enter, the need can not be otherwise supplied, and in some cases, not being themselves entirely free from that caste spirit that has been and is such a bitter enemy to them, they prefer teachers of their own color.

They are an imitative race, and imitation, like love and justice is blind. It seizes alike on virtue and vice. And they have derived from us something of that spirit of caste which we so faithfully cherish.

While no white church in the land would accept the ministrations of a colored pastor, though he were another Athanasius or Augustine; while no white regiment would consent to be led into battle by a colored colonel, though he were a worthy successor to Hannibal and Toussaint L'Ouverture, let us not blame them too severely if they sometimes prefer teachers of their own class, especially as some white men and women have thought themselves good enough to teach schools, who were confessedly not fit to teach white children.

We must then have colored teachers. Whence? How? We must draw what we can from outside. Immigration has been the salvation of Missouri. A few carpet-baggers of the right kind would help the colored people amazingly. [But] we can not count much upon them. The supply of suitable material is too limited; and other fields, where the blacks are stronger, an educated man might get to Congress, are more attractive. Then we must educate them at home. How? In the scattered, irregular, inferior schools, and poor schoolhouses they now have? How many teachers of colored schools are there today in Missouri who are graduates of some good normal school, up with the progress of the age and the science of teaching, and thoroughly competent to train teachers? If there is one, it is beyond my knowledge. Then we must have a normal school to train colored teachers.

That's what we want. A normal school in a suitable location, provided with good buildings and a good corps of instructors, and with tuition free. There are large numbers who would seek its advantages, who, in two years, would make second class teachers, and in four years would become first class.

Some of the pupils would, in one year, be better qualified than three-fourths of those now in the field. The buildings for such a school ought to be erected this summer, and the school to open with two hundred pupils next September. Is it possible to do that? Ten thousand dollars added to what is now ready for that purpose would put up the buildings. Let me explain what I refer to as now ready for the purpose.

In January, 1866, I was in Texas, a Lieutenant in the Sixty-second regiment United States Colored Infantry. I was about to be mustered out on a consolidation of the regiment into four companies. A sort of spontaneous movement arose to raise a subscription to establish a school in Missouri—ours was a Missouri regiment—of which I should take charge. The primary idea was for the benefit of colored soldiers. I did not suggest the undertaking, but accepted it as an indication of providence as to my field of duty. The immediate results, were five thousand dollars from our regiment, thirteen hundred and twenty-five from the [S]ixty-fifth, and two thousand dollars from the Freedmen's Bureau; the organization of a legal board of trustees under the name of Lincoln Institute; and the opening of the school in September, 1866, in the manner I have before referred to.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: Race and Meaning in Missouri History: A Personal Journey 1

Chapter 1 Some Aspects of Black Education in Reconstruction Missouri: An Address by Richard B. Foster 17

Chapter 2 Pennytown: A Freedmen's Hamlet, 1871-1945 28

Chapter 3 "Yours for the Race": The Life and Work of Josephine Silone Yates 41

Chapter 4 The World of Make-Believe: James Milton Turner and Black Masonry 54

Chapter 5 George Washington Carver's Missouri 68

Chapter 6 Nathaniel C. Bruce, Black Education, and the "Tuskegee of the Midwest" 82

Chapter 7 "The Black People Did the Work": African American Life in Arrow Rock, Missouri, 1850-1960 95

Chapter 8 "Just like the Garden of Eden": African American Community Life in Kansas City's Leeds 113

Chapter 9 The Whitley Sisters Remember: Living with Segregation in Kansas City, Missouri 130

Chapter 10 The Missouri Industrial Home for Negro Girls: The 1930s 142

Chapter 11 Black Culture Mecca of the Midwest: Lincoln University, 1921-1955 158

Chapter 12 Lake Placid: "A Recreational Center for Colored People" in the Missouri Ozarks 171

Chapter 13 William J. Thompkins: African American Physician, Politician, and Publisher 185

Chapter 14 The Abraham Lincoln Legacy in Missouri 200

Epilogue: New Sources and Directions for Research on the African American Experience in Missouri 213

Notes 225

Index 261

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