February marks Black History Month, and Missouri has its share of important figures, from Dred Scott and George Washington Carver to jazz and ragtime musicians and Negro League baseball players. These museums create an interesting itinerary for observing this special month.
Here is a sampling of sights to consider exploring during Black History Month (and year-round, for that matter).
George Washington Carver National Monument
Tucked away in the southwest corner of the state, five minutes southwest of Diamond, the George Washington Carver National Monument covers the site of the Moses Carver farm where George Washington Carver was born to a slave girl in 1864. As an infant, he and his mother were kidnapped by Civil War guerrillas. George was returned; his mother was never found.
Funded in 1943 and opened in July 1953, this is the first National Monument dedicated to a black American and the first to honor someone other than a president.
Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site
The plot of rolling prairie near the Kansas border honors the African-American soldiers who fought a small but important Civil War battle.
The 240 soldiers, many of them escaped slaves, were members of the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. In October 1862, they won a battle against a larger force of Confederate forces, marking the first time black troops were used in Civil War combat.
The Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site, 20 minutes west of Butler, has a circular gravel path that traverses some 40 acres of reclaimed prairie.
The 18th and Vine Historic District of Kansas City
The 18th and Vine area was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s to the 1960s. The Negro Leagues were founded near the district in 1920.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opened in the early 1990s. The complex was expanded in 1997 with the addition of the American Jazz Museum, which showcases the city’s musical heritage. The Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum is a museum by day and a working jazz club by night.
These first-class museums contain hundreds of photographs, artifacts, interactive exhibits and films.
Scott Joplin House State Historic Site
Like jazz, gospel, blues and rock, African Americans played a dominant role in creating yet another genre of music. Scott Joplin combined the structure of classical music with the free-flowing expression in jazz and gave the world the tinkling sounds of ragtime.
Born in Texas, Joplin took formal music classes in Sedalia, Missouri, where he wrote “Maple Leaf Rag,” earning the title of “King of Ragtime.”
The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site encompasses the second-story flat, in a large brick house, where Scott Joplin lived in St. Louis. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 1984, the house and adjacent row buildings were acquired by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and underwent an extensive restoration to become the first state historic site dedicated to an African American.
The Old Courthouse
The majestic Old Courthouse is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Park in St. Louis, which includes The Gateway Arch. Built between 1839 and 1862, the courthouse has a long history, highlighted by the landmark Dred Scott case.
The courthouse was the site of the first two trials of that pivotal case, in 1847 and 1850. Scott and his wife, Harriett, were slaves who sued for their freedom, arguing that they had lived in free territory with their owners.
On the courthouse grounds, a bronze statute depicts Dred and Harriett Scott. Dred Scott’s grave is in Calvary Cemetery in north St. Louis.