An abundance of relatively new and often easily accessible sources are available to twenty-first-century scholars of the African American experience in Missouri.
Access to the Dred Scott opinion rendered by the Missouri Supreme Court, along with many other race-related Missouri Supreme Court cases.
One of the resulting collections from a joint project by the Missouri State Archives and the St. Louis Circuit Court. These case files include, not surprisingly, the most famous freedom suit of all, that of the slave Dred Scott, but they also include more than three hundred others, among them the case of Winny v. Phebe Whitesides, an early nineteenth-century case begun in 1819, two years before Missouri statehood.
Records as obscure as "Coroners' Inquests," likewise, can provide insight into important historical events. Using the name William Lyons, a researcher can find information that will take him or her to Case No. 738, a case in which William Shelton (aka Stagger Lee) killed Billie Lyons in December 1895. The coroner's report of this case closely parallels the narrative that formed the foundation for the American classic, the "Ballad of Stagger Lee."
There are a number of state records groups available in their original hard-copy format in the collection. These include the reports to the legislature of the Missouri Negro Industrial Commission, a state agency created in February 1918 by Governor Frederick D. Gardner. The commission originally came into being at the request of African American leaders in Missouri who wanted to empower the state's black population to contribute to the war effort by buying and selling war bonds. They also wanted to improve agricultural production and food conservation among African American farmers and consumers.
A number of federal records have become available recently that provide exciting possibilities for adding to our understanding of the African American experience in Missouri. In particular, these records provide glimpses into such topics as the recruitment of African Americans into the Union Army, the treatment of "Contrabands" (that is, slaves captured by Union soldiers), the theft and confiscation of slaves, and the physical treatment (or mistreatment) of slaves.
These nominations provide in-depth research on specific structures still standing in Missouri, along with supportive data that document why those buildings are deemed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
Examples related to African American history
Among these surveys is one titled "African American Schools in Rural and Small Town Missouri." The purpose of this survey, conducted by historians Gary R. Kremer and Brett Rogers, was to identify and describe buildings still standing in the state that once housed segregated African American schools. The survey, funded jointly by William Woods University and the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, includes hundreds of pages of narrative, photographs, maps, and summations of oral histories collected and produced between 1999 and 2002. The full text of the survey may be accessed at the following links:
It is very common to find posters in these records advertising the sale of slaves, including in some cases children as young as one and two years old. The May 1861 case of Benjamin W. Smithson of Cedar County, for example, lists two African American girls on the estate inventory and documents that Mr. Smithson's widow gave Colonel James Johnson power of attorney to hire out a slave named Mariah. Likewise, Franklin County Probate Court Records document what happened to the thirteen slaves of Valentine Hunter, who died in 1850.
The vast majority of circuit court case records remain undigitized and are housed in courthouses in the counties in which the cases originally occurred. These cases are as diverse as they are fascinating; they provide a great deal of insight into every era of Missouri history.
The Callaway County case of State of Missouri v. Celia is an exception. This case, which documents the circumstances surrounding the 1850s instance of a young slave woman (Celia) who killed her master after being sexually abused by him for years, was recently digitized and can be found online here (UMKC) and here (Missouri State Archives). Ultimately Celia was executed, after a judge refused to accept her attorney's effort at a self-defense plea and after an all-white jury, half of whose members were slave owners, found her guilty of capital murder. This circuit court case served as the foundation and principal source of Melton A. McLaurin's highly acclaimed 1991 book, Celia: A Slave.
Arguably, the most significant "new" research materials available to scholars of African American history in Missouri are the countless local public records housed in the state's courthouses and city halls. Always present but not widely accessible until the emergence of the Missouri State Archives' Local Records Program during the early 1990s, this material has been unearthed, rescued, and made available by local records archivists who work in this program.
Another federal record group that holds great promise for scholars of Missouri's black history, especially African American women's history, is the collection of pension records compiled by the federal government in the wake of post–Civil War congressional action aimed at ensuring "that the widows and children of colored soldiers" receive pensions earned by the roughly hundred thousand African American soldiers who served in the Union cause during the Civil War. As historian Noralee Frankel pointed out in a 1997 article in Prologue, "It was the complicated procedures involved in documenting nonlegal slave marriages that make these pension records so rich for women's and family history". Historian Dianne Mutti Burke pointed the way for Missouri scholars in the use of these records in her book, On Slavery's Border.
Federal census returns are extremely helpful in documenting black life, especially the 1940 federal census, which lists, among other things, the occupations of individuals, as well as the amount of money they had earned over the previous twelve months. This census also indicates whether individuals listed had changed residences over the previous five years.
The African American Experience in Missouri digital collection includes digitized manuscripts by or about African Americans, including personal papers, records of black organizations and churches, collections with significant information on African Americans, civil rights, slavery, and daily life.
Contains scores of interviews that date to the mid-1990s. In many instances, these interviews deal with topics of racial history, including struggles over civil rights legislation. Many of these interviews have been transcribed and can be accessed online.
Among the interviews in this collection is one with State Representative Elbert Walton Jr. from St. Louis. The collection also includes interviews with brothers Roy Cooper Jr. and Alex Cooper, two members of one of the most prominent and well-known African American families of the southeastern Missouri delta.
This collection contains oral history interviews and related correspondence with eighteen individuals who played with or were associated with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League.
Contains audio recordings and transcriptions of interviews with jazz musicians who played in Kansas City during the "Golden Age of Jazz," roughly the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s.
The collection consists of interviews with people who attended Douglass and/or Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. The collection consists of digitally recorded interviews, audio logs, and photographs. The collection is ongoing and open to interviews concerning any school and/or civil rights topic in Missouri.
This collection contains nearly a hundred items, including receipts for sales of slaves, deeds of emancipation, personal correspondence, and broadsides advertising rewards for the capture and return of runaway slaves.
This guide evidences the presence of a number of documents pertaining to African American soldiers from Missouri during the Civil War.
Contains newspaper clippings, political flyers and handbills, business cards, and photographs of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century African American life in St. Louis. This collection is especially strong in materials pertaining to what was known as the Market Street Black Business District.
Bob Moore at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, in conjunction with Missouri State Archives local records archivist Mike Everman and a bevy of interns, has developed this site. Among the items on this site are lists of the freedom suits, lists of emancipations through the circuit courts, lists/database of free Negro licenses through the county court, and lists/database of slave auctions through the St. Louis Probate Court.
Although this collection contains much material beyond the borders of Missouri, it is still useful for students of Missouri history. This collection was created in 2000 and can be accessed online.
The material in this collection was produced through a grant-funded collaboration between the Kansas City Public Library and the Black Archives of Mid-America. It features oral histories with fifty-six individuals, primarily African Americans, whose stories shed light on the black experience in Kansas City during the mid-twentieth century. The interviews were conducted in 1975 and 1976.
The origins of this collection date to 1926 when W. R. Howell, a history teacher at the all-black Lincoln High School in Kansas City, and Priscilla Hurd, a librarian at the Kansas City Library's Lincoln Branch, began to assemble material by and about Kansas City African Americans. The Lincoln Branch closed in 1971 and the collection moved to the Kansas City Public Library. Subsequently, the collection was named in honor of Dr. John Ramos Jr., the first African American elected (1961) to serve on the Kansas City Board of Education.
Located in Kansas City, Missouri, the Black Archives has a number of collections that document that city's rich African American heritage. With the exception of some photographs, the bulk of these materials are not available online, however. One of the largest of the collections housed at the Black Archives—and arguably, one of the most important—is the one that contains the papers of Chester A. and Ada Crogman Franklin, longtime owners and publishers of The Call, Kansas City's important African American newspaper. The Franklins published this newspaper from 1919 until Ada Franklin died in 1983.
The resources on this page have been adapted from a chapter of the book Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri by Gary Kremer. If you have suggestions for other resources for African American research in Missouri, please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.