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From the fight for civil rights to the roots of American music, Black history in Missouri is rich with individuals and events that have helped shape the nation.


Missouri’s Black musicians were major contributors to the development of multiple musical genres.

Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District and the Gem Theater, built in 1912, in Kansas City.
Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District in Kansas City, home to some of the greatest jazz legends of all time.

Scott Joplin and John William “Blind” Boone were key in the creation of ragtime. Kansas City claims, “While New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, America’s music grew up in Kansas City.”

Charlie “Bird” Parker was instrumental in developing bebop, a popular type of jazz. St. Louis has long been a center for the blues, the foundation of modern American music.

St. Louis native Chuck Berry made a name for himself as the “Father of Rock and Roll.”

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Missouri-born authors earned literary acclaim for written works that shared the experience of being a Black person in America.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” published in 1969, was the first of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical works.

Langston Hughes, born in Joplin, was known as an early innovator in “jazz poetry” and a leader in the Harlem Renaissance.

St. Louis native Maya Angelou was a celebrated poet, memoirist and civil rights activist. Over the course of 50 years, she authored multiple autobiographies, essays, poetry, plays, and movie and television scripts.

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Black innovators created products and techniques that not only made life easier but helped advance society.

An interpretation of George Washington Carver’s work station based on reference images from Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, George Washington Carver Museum.

George Washington Carver, born near Diamond, was best known for developing hundreds of uses for peanuts, but he also revolutionized the field of agriculture through research and education.

Tom Bass, born and raised near Mexico, Missouri, was an acclaimed horse trainer known for his gentle way with horses. Bass broke the color barrier in the equestrian world and trained horses for Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody and Will Rogers.

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Decades of segregation in Missouri spawned thriving Black business districts in cities across the state.

Poro College, opened in 1918 in St. Louis by Annie Turnbo Malone, was a cosmetology school and entertainment venue that catered to Black residents.

The areas included The Foot in Jefferson City, The Wedge in Hannibal, The Sharp End in Columbia, Vine Street in Kansas City and the Ville in St. Louis.

The districts served as a cornerstone of Black life and culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were some of Missouri’s most prolific business communities of the time.

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Civil Rights

The Dred Scott decision. Mary Meachum’s Underground Railroad river crossing. Court cases calling for equal access to education and housing. President Truman’s order to desegregate the military. Missouri has played a significant role in the quest for racial equality since the early 1800s.

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