Black History, Sharp End

I never get tired of this

One of the best things that happened in Columbia was when Sharp End was marked. Here’s a 2015 video about the marking of this economic and social heart of Columbia, which was lost due to urban renewal and some misguided policies.

I never get tired of watching this video about Sharp End, an area of Fifth and Sixth Street and Walnut Street!

The Sharp End Heritage Committee should be lauded over and over. Thanks to all who made this happen including James Whitt, Larry Monroe, Sheon Williams, Kenny Green, Mary Beth Brown, Mike Brooks.

I’m sure I’m many names. Fill me in!

Events, University of Missouri, Women

Black women fighting for equality

Strong women fighting for equality isn’t new. At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, MU History Professor Keona K. Ervin will discuss her book, “Gateway to Equality: Black Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis.”

The event will be held in Fisher Auditorium in 88 Gannett Hall.

According to an announcement from the State Historical Society of Missouri, one of the sponsors of the event, her talk will cover these historic times:

“From the Great Depression to the 1960s, the city of St. Louis experienced significant decline as its population and industrial base stagnated while its suburbs expanded. To combat ingrained racism, crippling levels of poverty, and substandard living conditions, black women workers in St. Louis formed a community-based culture of resistance, fighting for fair and full employment, a living wage, affordable housing, political leadership, and personal dignity… and … effectively grounded working-class struggle in movements for racial justice and set the stage for the defining campaigns of the explosive 1960s.”

The lecture by Ervin is part of a series is sponsored by the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Center for Missouri StudiesUniversity of Missouri’s Division of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity; and the Missouri Humanities Council.

Black History, Events, National Register of Historic Places

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/.

Areas, Black History

Lost Black history spotlighted on Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Black history will be the brought back to life on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 with the unveiling of a marker to highlight a place that once existed — Sharp End — will be highlighted. From 5:30 to 6:15 p.m., members of the Sharp End Heritage Commission and city and state officials will mark the unveiling of a historic marker near the REDI offices on Walnut Street.

This once vibrant entrepreneurial area filled with black-owned businesses including barber shops, restaurants, taverns and other firms filled the 500 block of East Walnut Street, now home to the Columbia Post Office and a city parking garage, according to this May 17, 2015 article by Rudi Keller in the Columbia Tribune.

Why is this important?

This site ColumbiaHistoricHomes.com stems from a desire to save and reveal Columbia’s history. Once a person dies, his or her life story can fade. But when there’s a building, that story can be sometimes be found again. For example, few people know that an early woman journalist once lived in the house at 121 West Boulevard North — or that she’d nearly been given up to a wealthy Boonville, Missouri family.

That’s why Tuesday’s event is so important. It will bring back to life history and lives that can’t be highlighted through the buildings and homes, which are all now gone, except for a few notable exceptions, such as J.W. “Blind” Boone’s home, Second Baptist Church and St. Paul’s Church. The history of these buildings is highlighted in this National Register of Historic Places document.

Looking for more of Columbia’s black history? Here are several links:

Black History Lessons by Kevin Walsh, Inside Columbia, February 2015.

Interested in doing your own sleuthing on black history? I can’t wait to dig into this collection at the State Historic Society: Boone County Black Archives Collection. It includes information on the 1923 lynching.

Looking for a great read? Here’s a review of Gary Kremer’s recent book, “Race and Meaning.”

As for me, I’ll be at the event on Tuesday, when Columbia marks history that I’m grateful didn’t fade once the buildings were gone.

Historical Homes

Annie Fisher home slated for demolition

In a way, a piece of history is about to meet its demise, this time a landmark of black history. The Annie Fisher Home at 2911 Old Highway 63 South is now slated for demolition.

Yet, in some ways, the history of Annie Fisher and her accomplishments will live on.

For now, the former location for a restaurant and catering service operated by Annie Fisher, a black entrepreneur born in 1867, is in danger of being torn down. The home, built in the 1920s, is now sandwiched between large apartment buildings. The two-story, window-filled grand building is now owned by Merle and Charlotte Smarr.

The Smarrs have filed a request for permission to demolish the house, according to August 18 2011 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, and the 10-day waiting period for the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission to take action has passed. The Historic Preservation Commission named the house to the Notable Properties list in 2009.

This will be the second home of Annie Fisher that has fallen to the wrecking ball and the second that has fallen to the results of changes in Columbia. A 15-room home she built earlier at 608 East Park Avenue was torn down in the 1960s as a part of a 1960s urban renewal project, according to 2009 Columbia Housing Authority document.

Yet, even if this home, too, is demolished, the story of Fisher’s success and life will remain with us.

Sept. 22, 2011 — A discussion of the Columbia Public Library’s One Read selection, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2011 in the Columbia Public Library, Friends Room will include a discussion of Annie Fisher, Blind Boone, Douglas Park and the Sharp End, using historical photos and documents.

2010 — A Facebook page dedicated to the Annie Fisher House Project includes a video tour of the home as well as historical documents.

In 2009, the Columbia Housing Authority named the Downtown Food Pantry after Annie Fisher. The document outlining the honoring of Fisher notes, “…Ms. Annie Fisher (1867-1938) of Columbia came from humble beginnings and became a self-made local African-American businesswoman and nationally renowned caterer and restaurateur … saved enough money to open her own restaurant .. and operate a mail-order business that sent her foods to customer around the world…”
2009 — This You Tube video on City Scope: Annie Fisher, Cateress of Columbia, narrated by Bill Thompson notes the house has 81 windows. Thompson says she put so many windows because she wanted the people eating at her restaurant to be able to look out at the beauty of Columbia and Boone County.

The house has had many champions, most recently Sheila Kitchen Ruffin, who in 2010 founded the Annie Fisher Project to save the home. According to the August 18, 2011 report, Ruffin has been unable to drum up necessary support for the project.

A Feb. 8, 1911 article from the University Missourian is headlined: ”Her Cooking Famed Throughout States.” It goes on as follows:

“Mrs. Annie Fisher, Columbia Negro, Serves for the Best of Society. Owns silverware for 250. Chipped Potatoes, Beaten Biscuits and Fruit Cake Renowned Dishes.”

The June 17, 1938 article from The Call announced her death. “Mrs. Annie Fisher, Famed ‘Beaten Biscuit Woman’ of Columbia, MO., Succumbs.” It goes on to note she died at her home at 608 Park Avenue at age 71. The article also includes information on the building at 2911 Old Highway 63 South, stating, “Twelve years ago she opened a dining room on highway 63, about a mile and half south of Columbia.” That would be the home now in danger of demolition.

Fisher and her accomplishments have been in the media recently as well. In the February/March 2009 issue, Columbia Home & Lifestyle published an article on ”Lost Black Neighborhoods,” and “My Favorite Things: Verna Harris-Laboy.”

Fisher, according to the article on black neighborhoods, “was world-renowned for her beaten biscuit recipe, which won her a first-place award at the 1904 World’s Fair.” She had a catering business which she used to pay for the Park Avenue home and then later the Highway 63 home.

Harris-Laboy, who researched Fisher and often dressed up as her for presentations at local schools, said Fisher was born in 1867 and only received a third-grade education. ”Fisher also had china and silverware to accommodate 1,000 people (she rented her supplies out when she wasn’t serving a party) and a mail-order business. Her courage and business acumen would be extraordinary at any time but are particularly remarkable for a black woman of her time and place,” notes the article written by Christina George.