ABOVE PHOTO: Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kanasa City.
(Tommy Brison / Shutterstock)
By Renée S. Gordon
The date of the entrance into the region that is now Missouri by Europeans is disputed. Some historians date its “discovery” as 1541 with De Soto’s explorations. Others believe that Father Marquette and Louis Joliet were the first in 1673 when they set out to explore the land and convert the native population. The indigenous people who had lived there for several thousand years met both parties. The three largest tribes were the Osage, the Illini and the Missouri. The Missouri, “the big canoe people,” gave their name to the state.
Missouri was included in the territory Robert de LaSalle claimed in 1682 as New France. Almost immediately traders and miners began entering Upper Louisiana and records indicate that the first slaves were brought from the islands by Phillippe Renault to mine lead in 1720. It would be more than a decade before permanent settlers arrived.
In 1803, the US purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for $15,000,000. The following year Lewis and Clark were hired to explore and document the new land and York, Clark’s slave, was a member of the expeditionary force. York is usually credited with being Kansas City’s first African American.
Missouri first petitioned to become a state in 1818 but the issue increased in importance with the 1820 “Missouri Compromise.” The following year Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state along with Maine’s admission as a free state.
Francois Chouteau, Kansas City’s first European settler, built his first trading post in 1821. In 1838 the Town Company purchased the Prudhomme farm and established the city’s original downtown.
In 1850, Kansas was incorporated, the following 10-years were a crucial time in the country’s history and the Kansas City area became a microcosm of the sentiments of the country at large. This time the issue was whether or not Kansas Territory should be granted statehood as slave or free. Battles erupted on the border between Kansas and Missouri as pro and anti-slavery forces fought to gain control. The Territorial Legislature outlawed slavery in Kansas in February of 1860 and on January 29, 1861 Kansas was admitted as a free state. Less than three months later the Civil War erupted. At that point Missouri had 898 slaveowners, 3,944 slaves and 70 free blacks. The state did not secede.
Quindaro, a National Park Service, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site, though not in Missouri, is an important historic site. The land was home to the Wyandotte Indians and, because of its location on the Missouri River, became both a settlement and departure point for escaping slaves. The fascinating story of Quindaro, Kansas is interpreted in two museums and an overlook that provides a view of the archeological remains.
The town was established in 1853 by Abelard Gutherie and named after his Wyandotte wife Nancy Quindaro. It lasted until the Civil War at which time many of the men joined the army and their families moved to safety.
The focal point of the John Brown Memorial Plaza is a life-sized marble statue of John Brown. The $1,700 needed for the sculpture was raised by African Americans and was placed there in 1911.
Old Quindaro Museum relates the very personal stories of the inhabitants of Quindaro with an emphasis on the black population. Housed in one of the oldest homes, once owned by John Walker the son of a former slave, the displays include photographs and artifacts. www.oldquindaro.org
The Quindaro Underground Railroad Museum tells the broader story of the town’s place in abolitionism and the events and people who impacted the era. The museum’s galleries are located in the Vernon Multipurpose Center on the site of an 1854 school.
Prior to returning to Missouri visit one of Kansas City, Kansas’ most significant African American sites, Sumner High School. Turn of the century Kansas did not have segregated high schools but in 1904 Lewis Gregory, a black student, killed Roy Martin who was white. White students claimed to feel unsafe and in 1905 the Kansas State Legislature enacted a law that allowed segregated schools only in Kansas City.
Sumner High school, named in honor of noted abolitionist Charles Sumner who was physically beaten during a session in the Senate for his antislavery beliefs, was constructed at a cost of $40,000, was staffed with a highly educated faculty and produced academically outstanding students until 1978. The Alumni Room of the current Sumner Academy preserves and showcases the legacy of the school and serves as a repository for documents, yearbooks, photographs, uniforms and memorabilia.
Many who pass are unaware of the history of the Huron Indian Cemetery, but you will and you should add it to your list of sites. The tale begins with the removal of 664 Wyandotte natives who were removed from Ohio to Kentucky in 1843. Nearly 100 of them died of illness while camped along the Missouri River, their bodies were interred on this parcel of high ground and the cemetery was founded. There are more than 400 people buried there, many with original gravestones. A series of plaques at the entrance recount the history of the people and the place.
In the 1890s people wanted the real estate and the Sec. of the Interior was instructed to sell the land and rebury the bodies in Quindaro Cemetery. Two of the daughters of one of the people buried there padlocked the gate and camped out in the cemetery for two years to protect it. In 1909 one of the women, Lyda Conley, argued the case before the Supreme Court. She lost. In 1913 the US government repealed the sale.
John Wornall moved from Kentucky to Kansas City, Missouri in 1843 with his family and five slaves. He purchased 250-acres and later began construction on “the most pretentious house in the section.” The Georgian Colonial was erected of slave made bricks and was part of a farm that consisted of several outbuildings including slave quarters. The house was completed in 1858. During the Civil War it served as a hospital for both the Union and the Confederacy.
Tours of the house begin on the porch with its 25-ft. Greek columns and continue into the furnished interior. Many of the furnishings are original and other pieces are authentic to the period. Paranormal tours are offered as well as guided house tours. www.wornallhouse.org
Tom Bass, an exceptional African American, was born a slave in 1859 fathered by his owner’s son. He was raised by his black grandfather and from an early age exhibited an exceptional ability with horses. He moved to Kansas City in 1893 and established his own saddle horse training business. He invented the “Bass bit,” still in use today and trained horses for Buffalo Bill and Teddy Roosevelt. He rode in several presidential inaugurations, attended Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and represented the state of Missouri at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Bass is considered a founder of the American Royal Horse Show, one of the city’s premier events. His life and achievements are featured in the American Royal Museum. There are interactive displays and outstanding equine exhibits. www.americanroyal.com
Liberty Memorial Tower, a monument dedicated to the memory of those who served in WWI. Fundraising efforts raised over $2.5-million in less than two weeks. The 1921 site dedication was attended by all five of the military leaders. The completed Egyptian Revival monument was dedicated in 1926.
In 2006 the monument was designated a National Historic Landmark and in December of that year the $102-million National WWI Museum opened. The goal of the museum is to honor the memory of those who served through a holistic presentation of the “Great War” from its causes to its impact on both individuals and the world.
Visitors enter the museum by walking a ramp that takes them below and inside the monument. A sky-lit lobby allows views of the Tower as you cross a glass bridge into the exhibit area. The Paul Sunderland Bridge is designed for guests to look up to see the sky and the memorial and below them where 9,000 red poppies rest on a field. Each poppy represents 1,000 combat deaths. Poppies continue to be symbols of WWI because the soil content caused them to be the only thing that would grow in the combat fields. Leaving the bridge you are submerged in the events of WWI. The 12-minute orientation video is a must. It presents a vivid picture of the political events that ignited the war.
Tours are self-guided and proceed chronologically in a circular fashion. Immersion Galleries showcase large-scale objects featured in dioramas. The sound and light, 15-minute, Horizon Theater movie focuses on “America’s Entry into the War and the 20th-Century.” The film is projected on a large screen framed by a Field Tableau of “No Man’s Land.”
The second portion of the museum deals with “America at War.” It highlights the war effort and the homefront. Main Gallery exhibits end with the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
On view until December 31st is ” “World War I All-Stars: Sports and the Inter-Allied Games.” Seven major league players, five minor league players and three pre-Negro League players died in WWI military service. Their stories and that of other players are interpreted here. The complex also includes a museum shop, the Over There Café and Research and Education Centers. www.theworldwar.org
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is the newest jewel in Kansas City crown. This architecturally sublime, 285,000-ft. structure, houses two halls beneath a futuristic glass roof and features a wide variety of performances. www.kauffmancenter.org
The Marriott Kansas City Downtown is in the heart of the city and offers easy access to all the sites and attractions I’ve covered. Special features include fine dining, a pool, fitness center and deluxe accommodations. Check for specials and online. www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mcidt-kansas-city-marriott-downtown
Kansas City is renowned internationally as a city of jazz but it is that and much more. It has more fountains than any city in the world other than Rome, more boulevards than any city except Paris, some of the nation’s best restaurants and the friendliest people. There are direct flights from Philadelphia. Don’t wait. Get going. Kansas City is waiting.
I wish you smooth travels!
The hot new ticket on Broadway will be “Motown: The Musical” scheduled to open March 11, 2013. The book is written by Berry Gordy and the music, well, the music is MOTOWN!!!!!! Save the Date. www.motownthemusical.com
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