The arts — and history — aren’t dead

Musician J.W. “Blind” Boone. Singer Jane Froman. Both of these artistic luminaries and seven other historical figures from Columbia’s past will come alive through four-minute monologues held during 1 to 4 p.m. on May 29 at their graves in Columbia Cemetery on Broadway.

This event was highlighted in this “Living History event planned for Memorial Day,” article by Rudi Keller, published May 13, 2017 in the Columbia Tribune.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Historic Columbia Cemetery, which also has a Facebook page. The monologues were written by Chris Campbell, executive director of the Boone County Historical Society.

So who else will you get to see come to life – with a consciousness of who they were, their current deceased status and today’s events?

  • Ann Hawkins Gentry, Columbia postmistress from 1838-1865.
  • George Swallow, Missouri’s first state geologist and MU faculty member
  • John Lathrop, president of MU twice.
  • Sgt. Wallace Lilly, a slave who enlisted in the Union Army in 1864 for his freedom.
  • Luella St. Clair Moss, Columbia College president from 1893 to 1920.
  • James S. Rollins, a man considered the father of MU.
  • Walter Williams, founder of the MU School of Journalism and MU president from 1931 to 1935.

Another view of history

During the student protests against racist event in the fall of 2015, some people shook their head and privately wondered — and even some publicly asked — why were students and residents were so angry, so willing to react and protest.

Perhaps one answer lies in Columbia’s history. This article published in the December 2016 issue of the Columbia Business Times shows a view of Stewart Bridge, now gone, replaced with a portion of Stewart Road. This bridge was the site in 1923 of the lynching of James Scott. For decades his death certificate said he was lynched for rape, although he never had had his day in court. It wasn’t until 2010, the article notes, that his death certificate was corrected to read that he died due to hanging by assailants.

You might be shaking your head — wasn’t that so long ago? Shouldn’t that be forgotten? And yet, my grandfather came to this country due to unrest in Europe in 1914. He never forgot and our family still talks about why he came here to escape the war and violence there. Of course, my family has the privilege and benefit of being able to talk about that war and violence, but how do people talk about lynching? The death of a man without a trial? Perhaps they don’t. And perhaps it’s time we do.

That’s why I’m thrilled to see the recent media coverage of this crime, this subversion of our country’s rule of law. It’s only when we as a society talk about what really happened can we heal. A page on this website lists seven different articles or series on the lynching, but I’m sure I’ve missed some. Are seven articles enough to expose the racism inherent in a crime like this? Have we as a city as a culture done enough to warrant the phrase never again? Does this help make sense of strong reactions against racism?

I don’t know, but I do know I appreciate the work of writers and photographers like Grace Vance who wrote and photographed this piece and the generosity of Brenna McDermott, editor of the Columbia Business Times, who gave me permission to reprint the article via the pdf posted.

December 2016 — Stewart Road/Stewart Bridge, Columbia Business Times. Summary:  This piece highlights the fact that a portion of Stewart Road was once Stewart Bridge, the site of Columbia’s last public lynching. Written and photographed by Grace Vance, the piece shows both the view of today and of the past. A pdf of the article is posted with permission from Brenna McDermott, editor of the CBT

Lynching: History finds a home

One of the reasons for this blog is to mark history, and historic homes are, in a way, a marker of history. But for a long time, there wasn’t a marker for a major historic event in Columbia, Missouri: the lynching of James Scott.

lynching-marker09302016

This article, reprinted with permission from George Kennedy and the Columbia Missourian, is about giving one man’s life and a lynching the historic marker in the real world and in our historic knowledge.

GEORGE KENNEDY: Repairing old wounds while another opens

Oct 6, 2016

Two events last week reminded Columbians how far we’ve come along the road of racial reconciliation and how far we still have to go.

The first was the ugly confrontation that began when a group of white MU students, apparently drunk, insulted two female members of the Legion of Black Collegians. It escalated when white fraternity members shouted obscenities at LBC members who had responded to a call for help from the women. Black students replied in kind.

MU police officers arrived, separated the angry groups and made no arrests. The university suspended the Delta Upsilon fraternity while at least two campus offices investigate.

News coverage beyond Columbia included references to the turmoil of last fall and ongoing efforts to improve the University’s racial climate.

Two days later, I stood with 100 or so onlookers beside the MKT Trail at Providence and Stewart Roads to witness the unveiling of a marker that commemorates the 1923 lynching of James T. Scott.

The new plaque reads, “Lest We Forget: Lynching at the Stewart Road Bridge.”

We must not forget, among other things, the roles played by journalists, students and community leaders.

Mr. Scott was a 35-year-old decorated veteran of World War I, a janitor at the university and husband of one of Columbia’s 15 black teachers. He was a member of the Second Baptist Church.

In April 1923, he was accused of raping the 14-year-old daughter of a University professor, arrested and jailed. She identified him as her assailant, but there was no evidence to support that. Later, she would identify a different man.

Patrick J. Huber wrote in the Summer 1991 issue of the Missouri Historical Society magazine, “Columbia’s most influential paper, the Daily Tribune, provided the spark that ignited the town’s smoldering outrage.” He quoted Tribune editor Edward Watson as pointing out that three black men were currently in jail accused of separate rapes and urging, “This trio should feel the ‘halter draw’ in vindication of the law.”

Huber continued, “Less than eight hours after the newspaper hit the street, white Columbia residents responded to the Tribune’s plea for justice.”

A mob estimated at about 2,000, including 200 or so students, stormed the jail, dragged out Mr. Scott and led him, with a rope around his neck, to what was then the bridge carrying Stewart Road over the Flat Branch.

A prominent citizen, later identified in court by two MU journalism students who were present at the lynching — one reporting for the Kansas City Star and one for the St. Louis Post Dispatch — put a longer rope around Mr. Scott’s neck and threw him off the bridge. His neck was broken and he died.

The New York Times published a front-page story with the headline, “Missouri Students See Negro Lynching, Co-Eds Join Crowd Which Cheers the Storming of the Columbia Jail.”

Huber recounts that the newspaper published by the School of Journalism, then called the Columbia Evening Missourian, “took a determined stand against mob violence.” In an editorial two days after the lynching, the Missourian wrote, “The lynching cannot be undone, but Columbia can, in part, clear its name if speedy action against those who committed the crime is taken.”

Only the man identified by the students as the killer was tried. A jury including several prominent citizens needed just 11 minutes to find him not guilty.

The plaque of remembrance was sponsored by the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students, which of course didn’t exist in 1923. That in itself was a sign of progress.

So was the pairing of Clyde Ruffin, now pastor of James Scott’s church and First Ward representative on our City Council, and Mayor Brian Treece, both of whom spoke about the importance of remembering our past and learning from it.

I hoped the fraternity members were listening.

Grand opening of historic home of $19.5 million musician set for Sept. 18

The dedication of the home of a musician who traveled from 1880-1913 performing about 7,200 concerts is set for 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 10 N. Fourth St.

The musician earned about $19.5 million dollars in his lifetime, an amount calculated using information in the National Register of Historic Places document on the house and MeasuringWorth.com, a website designed to calculate value of currency.

The musician was J.W. “Blind” Boone and his story can be viewed from multiple perspectives. He overcame racism, poverty and even trickery to become a successful musician.

Even his home was nearly lost. And now, on Sunday, after years of work from volunteers and city expenditures, will be dedicated and opened to the public.

Note on the calculations: Information in the National Register of Historic Places document states he earned $150 to $600 per concert and performed about 7,200 concerts. Using $150 per concert for 7,200 concerts, his earning would have been $1.1 million. Using MeasuringWorth.com, a website designed to calculate value of currency, that amount would be worth $19.5 million in 2015.

News Release:

The City of Columbia has issued a press release on the event and it is reprinted here with permission:

Contact: Clyde Ruffin

President, John William “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation

573-424-8222

Dedication, grand opening of J.W. “Blind” Boone Home scheduled Sept. 18

COLUMBIA, MO (September 15, 2016) – On Sunday, Sept. 18 the John William “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation will host the dedication and grand opening of the newly restored J.W. “Blind” Boone Home. The event will be held at the home, 10 N. Fourth St., from 2 to 4 p.m. with light refreshments provided after the program.

John William “Blind” Boone, born in 1864, overcame blindness, poverty, and discrimination to become a nationally famous concert pianist and composer. Boone helped to merge African-American folk music with the European classical tradition, a fusion that opened the way for ragtime, jazz, boogie-woogie and much more.

“Even before the Great Scott Joplin, Boone was busy evolving the first true ‘made in America’ genre of music: Ragtime! It became America’s gift to the world,” said Lucille Salerno, emeritus board member of the Foundation and organizer of the former Blind Boone Jazz Festival.

The home was built between 1888-1892 by John Lange Jr. as wedding present for his sister Eugenia Lange and Boone. It serves as a monument to the individual genius and generosity of Boone but it also represents the historic African-American community as a whole — its struggles and accomplishments. The home’s location on Fourth Street is one of the few physical remnants of the community African-Americans built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“The effort to preserve Boone’s home is important, in part, because it is one of the few surviving reminders of the days when Fourth Street was the heart of Columbia’s African-American neighborhood,” said Greg Olson, a member of the Foundation. “At a time when the city, like much of the nation, was deeply segregated, Blind Boone was that rare individual who seemed to have the ability to bring together Columbia citizens of all races.”

The home was purchased by the City of Columbia in 2000 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Renovations to the home included interior restoration, minor exterior repairs and landscaping. The project was approved by City Council on June 3, 2013 and the City portion was paid for with surplus funds from fiscal year 2012. The estimated cost for the City was $326,855 with a $16,500 donation from the John William “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation.

The Foundation was organized in 1997; for more information, visit this link: http://blindboonehome.com/.

Sharp End highlighted in August Columbia Business Times

This article by Brandon Hoops includes historic photos and the insights of Jim Whitt, Ed Tibbs, Lorenzo Lawson, Bill Thompson and Georgia Porter.

It’s headlined A Fresh Memory of Sharp End, and offers some interesting commentary on the times and reality that lead to the urban renewal in Columbia that swept aside that vibrant black community.

 

Civil War to today reflected in Second Missionary Baptist Church

A historic building helps society recall its history, as demonstrated by this magazine article on the 150-year-history of Second Missionary Baptist Church, now at Fourth and Broadway.

Why say it is now at Fourth and Broadway? At one time, Fourth Street was called River Street for the Flat Branch waterway that now runs under Fourth Street, according to at National Register of Historic Places document that outlines the history of the adjacent J.W. “Blind” Boone home.

The article is headlined “Second Missionary Baptist Church reflects o 150 years of rich history,” and was written by Lauren Rutherford and published on April 7, 2016 in Vox magazine.

The piece explains the importance of the church: It housed and houses a community that has endured the insidious lasting harms of slavery and one that has also endured, fought and won many battles in the fight for civil rights. For example, the Rev. Clyde Ruffin helped spearhead an effort to place a tombstone at the grave of a man who was lynched in 1923. The church has been the staging ground of civil rights efforts as well.

This article demonstrates the purpose of historic buildings and how to save historic buildings. First, the purpose of historic buildings is so as a society, we are reminded of our history, good and bad. Second, saving a historic building requires that the building has a use.

Why historic homes matter

Why should we save historic homes? Why do I care about historic homes? Because those walls of wood or brick encapsulate the stories of the people who lived in them, stories which could become lost without those nail and mortar reminders.

How do I know this? A recent article headlined “Ceremony celebrates black Union veteran,” published in the Nov. 9, 2015 Columbia Daily Tribune outlines the placement of a headstone in the Columbia Cemetery. The writer Rudi Keller outlines how Wallace Lilly lived — died, buried without a headstone and nearly forgotten.

Lilly deserves to be remembered. A former slave, he fought as a soldier in the Union army, enlisting on April 13, 1864, notes Keller. All soldiers who fought for their country, many would say, should be remembered. Lilly was promoted twice before being mustered out and then worked to establish the Union veterans group and a black Masonic lodge.

The local Sons of Union Veterans spent four years researching the former slave, the article notes. He was in an unmarked grave since his death in 1932 until this week. The man’s life and memory could have been lost, as he’d died without children and other relatives would be hard pressed to find his grave. As the article notes, “Census records don’t give the names of slaves…”

But because he served and because there are Union soldier organizations and members who care, the name of Wallace Lilly lives on.

Math tells us historic homes matter

Contrast that with a house that exists and so we have the story of another black man and his success. Many in Columbia know the name of J.W. “Blind” Boone because his home remains on Fourth Street, awaiting the completion of its renovation. In his heyday, he was an internationally renowned musician, playing and composing ragtime and classical music. It’s estimated he and his entourage played 7,200 to 8,400 concerts from 1880-1915. The National Register of Historic Places document that outlines why the house which marks his life should be on this national register notes that it’s estimated Boone and his crew made $150 to $600 per concert. The math tells me that this would equal roughly $23.3 million in 2014 earning power, according to Measuring Worth, a website that converts historic dollars to modern dollars.

Born in 1864 to a former slave, Boone died in 1927. His home changed hands and fell into disrepair. At one time, it even looked like his his home might be demolished. But without that house, the story of the multi-millionaire musician might have been lost.

So why should we care about his story? Or the story of Wallace Lilly? Because without these stories of people who overcame adversity, our world would be a poorer one. Not in dollars but in spirt.

And that’s why I think historic homes are important. They keep the stories of our ancestors who strove and succeeded alive for all of us.