The Missouri mosaic
In the expanded and diversified world of travel and tourism, heritage travel has taken on a whole new meaning and purpose for many travellers.
In some senses, heritage travel is indeed a search for self; but not just a journey or quest for a sense of cultural identity and roots. Often during such travel experiences one discovers a collective sense of self, the human community in all its hues and shades, for better and for worse.
We travel to experience the diversity of human society in all its manifestations, and in so doing we discover commonality.
Why Missouri is content-rich travel
Missouri is one of those “layered” destinations that because of its cultural mosaic encourages reflection and a renewed interpretation.
It is the quintessential destination where still waters do indeed run deep. In many ways, it is a state that has seen the proverbial best of times and worst of times. And as Jimmie Edwards, one of my colleagues so succinctly put it during our time in Missouri, “History writes itself according to its own convenience.”
Although the physical landscape of Missouri is enduring (and a geological story in itself), the cultural landscape is complex and often very subtle.
Meandering through Missouri is the kind of travel that tugs at the heart strings.
This lush and verdant landscape through which history flows along semi-concealed rivers, iconic biways, and of course the mighty Mississippi, embodies the idealism and idyllic frontiers ─ both historic and conceptual ─ of America.
And yet, the legacy of the institution of slavery is only a heartbeat away.
However, what I discovered that seemed very much “bred in the bone” and inherent in the historical landscape of Missouri was also an equally innate drive for self-determination.
In many ways, despite the miseries of history, Missouri is one of those endless moments in time in which the aspirations of human civilization are regenerated.
Icons, archetypes, and role models
Missouri is fertile ground for the imagination, and as the following individuals demonstrate, imagination – the ability to think outside the box, as we say today – is an essential tool of visionaries.
George Washington Carver
He has been referred to as the Thomas Edison of agriculture or at one point during his early career, they called him “the plant doctor.” As landscape shapes culture so too does it shape character. And there may be no better example of this than George Washington Carter whose innate understanding and keen observation of the interconnectedness of the intricate biological systems surrounding him, made him a pragmatic visionary in his own time but also, in contemporary 21st-century terms, he has come to represent universal common sense.
As a visionary and pragmatist, he saw all living things as interrelated and had a profound understanding of why civil rights and civil liberties are crucial to human prosperity:
“A successful life is one of service through helping others; real education helps us understand life, bringing us the kind of happiness that inspires us to help humanity; true religion is expressed in love and kindness toward all life; science worthy of its name is truth, which sets us free.”
A visit to the George Washington Carver National Monument (a National Park) is an opportunity to put human “greatness” in its full perspective.
Dred and Harriet Scott
Given the constitutional importance and significance of the “Dred Scott versus Sandford case” (1799 – September 17, 1858), in which a slave (Scott) unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in the Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, it is an experiential lesson in justice and injustice to visit that same Courthouse today. His courage, and that of his wife Harriet – one must remember the enormity of the power structures they were opposing – are difficult to fully appreciate.
As an example of someone who legally was a “non-person” in the United States, and the property of another, it is also dramatic irony that no one knows exactly the circumstances of his birth, knowledge that most of us take for granted.
Exemplifying one of the most important legal and moral precedents in American history, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet were slaves who had lived in states and territories where slavery was actually illegal. Despite this legal irony, the United States Supreme Court ruled seven to two against Scott. That landmark decision stated that neither he, nor any person of African ancestry, could claim citizenship in the United States. For this reason, it was also stated that Scott could not bring suit in any federal court. And even though Dred and Harriet Scott had lived temporarily outside Missouri, the fact that they had lived in “free” states had no effect on their potential emancipation under the Missouri Compromise, which, itself an ironic turn of historical events, divided the nation following the Louisiana Purchase creating a so-called “balance” of free and slave states.
In essence, the rights and freedoms of human beings were sacrificed and lost in the arbitrary constitutional events. In the final analysis, the Court decided that to free Dred and Harriet Scott would deprive their owner of her property.
To learn more about this landmark decision, click here.
Daniel and Nathan Boone
I am guessing that Carl Jung would have had much to say about the “frontier experience” as an operant factor in the North American psyche, especially in terms of influencing how Europeans related to the land, the “wide open spaces,” and how the opportunities and challenges that these geographic and topographical realities influenced the collective behaviour of the principal nations on this continent.
On so many levels, the frontier experience was an archetypal experience, and there is probably no more archetypal (and romanticized) character than Daniel Boone.
When the early non-indigenous explorers started to penetrate the forests, prairies, and extensive water routes of Missouri (the mighty Mississippi being foremost among the latter), they were crossing conceptual borders and entering new territories that, in a folkloric sense, have entered the collective consciousness of Americans as well as all those outside the United States who have identified with the free spirit of the frontier.
Some of the first of this new breed of pioneers to arrive were the Boones, initially the sons of Daniel, and then the great wilderness-loving woodsman himself, whose fame as an archetypal character actually preceded him.
Missouri at the time was at the heart of great transitional shifts on the continent, and the Boones (Nathan especially) became major players. However, irony and the culture of nostalgia (or perhaps it is sentimentality) once again must be factored into the real history, at the risk of being accused of revisionist history.
Seen as the embodiment of the white European’s westward movement, Daniel Boone was actually fleeing from “civilization” rather than taming nature. Nathan, on the other hand, was the more entrepreneurial of the two. And, as is the case with so many significant American figures, it cannot be forgotten that the Boones were also slave owners.
The Nathan Boone Homestead and State Historic site near Ash Grove, Missouri is also a highly recommended stop.
And a visit to the Daniel Boone Home & Boonesfield Village is also an opportunity to learn much more about the reality-based life on the American frontier.
Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens
Wherever Twain travelled in the world, it would appear that he always understood clearly where he was really coming from. Like George Washington Carver, he too was a man who understood the simple (but not simplistic) truths of life. He also understood hubris, and often expressed his awareness of it in subtle ironic ways. In a speech titled, “Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims,” which he delivered on December 22, 1881, he said, “I am a border ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man.”
A man known for his wit and wisdom, Twain was not adverse to issuing the occasional and somewhat mournful caveat about the importance of living well, living with integrity, and practising humanism. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he wrote, “Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’t rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving.”
Twain’s presence and long-range effect on American culture, especially his appreciation of Black culture and a truly grassroots approach to life, can still be felt throughout Missouri, especially in his boyhood town of Hannibal.
Twain also of course embodies the universal art of storytelling and oral history, and given the layers of human experience inherent in Missouri, one can easily understand why some of those stories may escape notice or simply require more time to emerge.
Father Moses Berry and the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Center
Father Moses Berry’s religious heritage as an Eastern Orthodox priest goes back to the first century of Christianity; whereas his African-American heritage and personal history are much more recent, but in many ways just as profound. When he returned to the family farm in Ash Grove, Missouri he “came home” in many senses of that term. And when he established an Orthodox Church and the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum, in which today you will find one of the best and personal collections of “memorabilia” and artifacts relating to the institution of slavery as well as to Father Berry’s own personal African-American heritage, he created a living testament to all those who personify the significant and historic role that Blacks played in Missouri and in the United States.
Father Berry’s great-grandmother Caroline was descended from a slave who, according to the simple family tree in the Heritage Museum was an “unknown slave of African heritage.” This “unknown” woman was however owned by the Boone family, and Father Berry is a direct descendent of Nathan Boone through Nathan’s wife Maria. After being set free, Caroline married William Berry and the two started a 40-acre homestead on which Father Berry and his family still live.
On his father’s side, Moses Berry’s great-grandfather was Wallace White, a former slave and the first black soldier in the Union’s Missouri 6th Cavalry.
As the caretaker not only of a large treasury of family artifacts but also of the history of this part of Missouri, Father Berry has preserved in his simple but poignant museum many unique items including a massive neck iron, leg shackles, and a medallion from the A.G. Brock Slave Trading House that advertised “healthy, strong slaves.”
Through informal talks and lectures Father Berry strives to reconnect African-American history with the overall historical American experience. When he displays the chains and implements used to assure his ancestors’ enslavement, he tells those he is speaking to that these artifacts and the almost unimaginable events they represent are part of the collective history of the United States. He also emphasizes that “You have to step back to look at history or it gets too emotional. I take advantage of everything around me to explain this or else they wore these things in vain.”
This small Heritage Museum is an important stop on any visit to Missouri. You can also visit it virtually by clicking on the following link:
Katherine Lederer was a professor at Missouri State University who chronicled black culture in the Ozarks starting in the 1970s when she wrote an article about the lynchings of three black men on Easter weekend of 1906 in Springfield, Missouri. The tragic event was a catalyst and precipitating factor that led to an exodus from Springfield of African-Americans who had achieved affluence and prosperity in Missouri; but the events were overshadowed by the San Francisco earthquake.
In the 20th century, Lederer amassed a collection of more than 2500 photographs and in 1986 wrote “Many Thousand Gone: Springfield’s Lost Black History”. Her work, which documents the lynchings and profiles the area’s black community, are now housed in Missouri State’s Katherine G. Lederer Ozarks African-American History Collection. The collection contains more than 7500 documents dating back to the Civil War and many of them, like the ones here, give a profound sense of an African-American community in Springfield that was cohesive, thriving, and well-integrated into the municipality of Springfield.
Katherine Lederer died in Springfield, Missouri on November 24, 2005.
For more information, read Katherine’s article “My Old Man’s A White Old Man: Black Women Search for Roots”.
You can also access the university’s archives by clicking here.
Sometimes called America’s Main Street or The Mother Road, the historic Route 66 (in the “Show Me” state) is the stuff of folklore, legends, and nostalgia. It is also one of the best examples of the iconic American road trip, although if you look at the facts carefully, the actual highway itself was not exactly the stuff of dreams.
But go ahead, take a virtual trip down memory lane along Route 66.
Sainte Geneviève, Missouri
When I arrived in the colonial and pioneer town of Sainte-Geneviève, Missouri, which is promoted as t he only French colonial village left in the United States, it was a kind of out-of-body experience. As someone who visits and writes about Québec frequently, I felt strangely right at home. This town also communicates clearly the cultural convergence at the core of Missouri. The only thing I did notice, however, was the lack of information about the free black residents of the town who lived here before the Civil War.
To view more images (and imagery) of Missouri and its African-American history and heritage, visit my Flikr page and The African-American Heritage of Missouri.”
Other Recommended Missouri Travel Resources
(a) Hike or bike along the Riverfront Trail to Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing.
(b) Explore the Dred Scott decision by visiting the new exhibition at the Old Courthouse where the landmark Dred Scott slavery trials began.
(c) Pay your respects to the King of Ragtime at the Scott Joplin House, a Missouri State Historic Site.
(d) In St. Louis, visit the George Washington Carver Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
(f) See the collection of African arts and artists at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
(g) Visit the Walk of Fame in “The Loop” neighbourhood honouring such artists as Josephine Baker, Chuck Berry, and many others.
Of special interest, in terms of this travel article, are the African-American artifacts and art works. The Museum is also actively soliciting heritage items from the general public. If you have any such items and wish to contribute them to the Museum, you should contact:
Missouri Historical Society, Curator of African American Collections, P.O. Box 11940, St. Louis, MO 63112-0040, (314) 746-4527 (Collections division)
See also the following videos on YouTube
Both timeless and out of time, the African-American historical experience in Missouri is not to be underestimated nor taken for granted; at its core there is an irrevocable hopefulness.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THE UNITED STATES
June 11, 2009
Mr. HARKIN (for himself, Mr. BROWNBACK, Mr. LEVIN, Mr. DURBIN, Mr. KENNEDY, Mr. LAUTENBERG, Ms. STABENOW, Mr. BOND, and Mr. COCHRAN) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was ordered held at the desk
Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
Whereas the system of slavery and the visceral racism against people of African descent upon which it depended became enmeshed in the social fabric of the United States;
Whereas slavery was not officially abolished until the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of the United States in 1865, after the end of the Civil War;
Whereas after emancipation from 246 years of slavery, African-Americans soon saw the fleeting political, social, and economic gains they made during Reconstruction eviscerated by virulent racism, lynchings, disenfranchisement, Black Codes, and racial segregation laws that imposed a rigid system of officially sanctioned racial segregation in virtually all areas of life;
Whereas the system of de jure racial segregation known as ‘Jim Crow’, which arose in certain parts of the United States after the Civil War to create separate and unequal societies for Whites and African-Americans, was a direct result of the racism against people of African descent that was engendered by slavery;
Whereas the system of Jim Crow laws officially existed until the 1960s–a century after the official end of slavery in the United States–until Congress took action to end it, but the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day;
Whereas African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws–long after both systems were formally abolished–through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty;
Whereas the story of the enslavement and de jure segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of the history of the United States;
Whereas those African-Americans who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws, and their descendants, exemplify the strength of the human character and provide a model of courage, commitment, and perseverance;
Whereas, on July 8, 2003, during a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave port, President George W. Bush acknowledged the continuing legacy of slavery in life in the United States and the need to confront that legacy, when he stated that slavery ‘was . . . one of the greatest crimes of history . . . The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times. But however long the journey, our destiny is set: liberty and justice for all.’;
Whereas President Bill Clinton also acknowledged the deep-seated problems caused by the continuing legacy of racism against African-Americans that began with slavery, when he initiated a national dialogue about race;
Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African-Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States;
Whereas the legislatures of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the States of Alabama, Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina have taken the lead in adopting resolutions officially expressing appropriate remorse for slavery, and other State legislatures are considering similar resolutions; and
Whereas it is important for the people of the United States, who legally recognized slavery through the Constitution and the laws of the United States, to make a formal apology for slavery and for its successor, Jim Crow, so they can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all people of the United States:
Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
that the sense of the Congress is the following:
(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS
(C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.
Nothing in this resolution
Passed the Senate June 18, 2009.