More on the Early Joplin Black Community

In 1915, Theodore Baughman, a correspondent with the African-American newspaper Topeka Plaindealer, wrote a brief, but detailed account of Joplin’s black community. Baughman observed that although there were less than a thousand African-Americans in Joplin, there were four black churches, and a number of fraternal organizations, though, he noted, none of them had their own meeting hall.

Baughman disappointedly observed that the black community in Joplin was not “given very much to commercialism.” Still, in the paragraphs that followed, he wrote about a few entrepreneurial souls who sought to make a

P. Fred Romare, the “harness king” of Joplin, was born December 8, 1858 (according to a 1920 passport application) or in 1860 (according to his Missouri death certificate), in Chester, South Carolina.* His father, Paul Romare, was a native of Sweden who worked as a bank clerk in Chester. It was there that he fathered Fred with an African-American woman named Esther. When the Civil War broke out, Paul Romare enlisted in the Confederate Army, and served the duration of the war. After the war ended, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, married a white woman, and eventually became the president of the Atlanta National Bank. He left his mulatto son, P. Fred Romare, behind in South Carolina.

Between 1880 and 1910, P. Fred Romare and his wife Rosa moved to Joplin, Missouri, from South Carolina for reasons still unknown. As a youth, he worked as a carriage maker, and he continued this trade in Joplin. Romare became well known for his wide selection of carriages, buggies, and harnesses. He housed his business in a handsome two story brick building located at 818 Main Street and employed three white men as harness makers. Romare lived at 1826 Pearl until his death on October 20, 1934.

Baughman also called on the Reverend J.N. Brownlee at his real estate office at 521 ½ Virginia Avenue. Brownlee was fortunate to still be alive after he became embroiled in a scandal in 1912 that raised the ire of Joplin’s white community, and led to threats of lynching. According to one newspaper account, young white girls allegedly would meet at Brownlee’s office to drink brandy, beer, and wine. One young white woman, Pearl Nugent, a seventeen-year-old stenographer employed by Brownlee, was found dead in Brownlee’s office. The coroner’s jury ruled she committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid.

Fortunately for Brownlee, attorney John Castillo produced letters that showed Nugent had allegedly been assaulted by a married white man named Walter Bishop from Chitwood, and that she may have committed suicide as a result. The coroner’s jury, in the course of its investigation of Nugent’s death, raised questions about Brownlee’s habit of employing young white women in his office, his lewd treatment of his employees, and his alleged attempt to blackmail the man accused of assaulting Pearl Nugent. Scared of a repeat of the events of 1903, when Thomas Gilyard was lynched in downtown Joplin, many black residents began leaving the city, though one paper noted it was mainly the “shiftless class” that left. The paper added, “No mob plays will be tolerated by the police, however, and the blacks will be protected if there is any hint of uprising.” Joplin Police Chief Joseph Myers warned it was against the law to incite mob violence and that he would not hesitate to stop talk of lynching Brownlee with force.

In an indication of the limited opportunity for black men in Joplin at the time, many of Baughman’s “success” stories were men who worked as janitors at Joplin’s leading businesses. Benjamin Davis worked at Aldridge’s, Arthur Young and Frank Caldwell both worked as janitors at Miner’s Bank, and Joseph Stover was the head janitor at the Keystone Hotel. Although today many may not think that working as a postal carrier a prestigious job, Baughman considered it one for African-American men during this time and N.T. Green, one such gentleman, Baughman wrote, “is one of Uncle Sam’s trusty men.” There were also enough African-Americans in Joplin to keep Dr. J.T. Williams busy after he graduated in 1908 from Meharry Medical College, a historically black medical school in Tennessee.

The Turf Bar, which one will find mentioned in the pages of the Joplin newspapers, was possibly owned by George Lindsay. The Turf was located at 123 Main Street and served Budweiser, Middle West, and Falstaff beer. In 1914, under a different owner, it was considered one of the finest bars in Joplin. J.W. Brown’s People’s Café was located just down the way at 109 Main Street

While turn of the century Joplin was a bustling growing city, it was also a city that limited the many opportunities available to the color of one’s skin.  Joplin’s early African-American residents none the less persevered to the best of their abilities to build a life for themselves and their families in Southwest Missouri.

Afternote:
The African-American artist, Romare Bearden, was named after P. Fred Romare, who was a friend of his great-grandparents. He stated in an oral history that the name was pronounced, “ROAM-a-ree.

White Man’s Heaven Now Available in Paperback & E-Book Format

One of the best books to come out on Joplin history is now available in paperback and electronic book format. White Man’s Heaven, by Kimberly Harper, chronicles the 1903 Joplin lynching of Thomas Gilyard and ensuing race riot, among similar events in other Southwest Missouri cities. In addition to outstanding reviews, White Man’s Heaven recently won the Missouri Humanities Award for Distinguished Achievement in Non-Fiction.

You can now pick up White Man’s Heaven in Paperback from such places as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble online.

In addition, an e-book version is available at GooglePlay and and iTunes.

Cover of White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

Guest Piece: Joplin’s Black History – Leslie Simpson

The history of Joplin from the point of view of its black population has been difficult to trace. People are probably aware that Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, but his family left when he was still an infant. There was also the infamous lynching episode and subsequent flight of black citizens in 1903. But what about those who stayed, worked, raised their children, and died in Joplin? What were their lives like?

The earliest black inhabitants of southwest Missouri were, obviously, slaves belonging to the first white settlers. The 1850 slave schedule for Jasper County listed 212 slaves, including 3 belonging to John C. Cox, who later established the town of Joplin. There were 166 slaveholders registered in the county in 1861. Slaves were itemized on county probate records and deed transfers as well. It is heart-rending to read some of these documents. For instance, there is the account of an entire family (Sarah, Mary, Henry, Lewis, Susan, and Matilda) being sold for $1 and of three “copper-colored slaves” given to Arabella Sanders by her mother Margaret as a gift.

What happened to these people after they were freed? How did they earn a living? The 1870 census reveals the few occupations that were available to them—mill work, farm labor, and housekeeping. The mining boom, which put Joplin on the map in 1872, gave the freed slaves many more options. The 1880 census indicates that they held jobs in hotels, butcher shops, saloons, laundries, livery stables, in addition to doing farm and domestic work. They also worked in the mines. In fact, some were even mine owners! The Black Seven mine was owned by seven black men.

Joplin’s population grew from 9,943 in 1890 to 26,023 in 1900. Business was booming, and there was work for all. The 1900 census reveals an interesting trend. In addition to the previously noted occupations held by blacks, there were also more skilled professions listed—teacher, preacher, physician, barber, stone mason, plasterer, coachman, ice man, carpenter, taxi driver, grocer, upholsterer, and woolen mill, to name a few. But this trend did not last, probably due to the Great Depression and to the end of the mining era. In the 1937 Negro City and County Directory the majority of Joplin’s black citizenry were porters, domestic workers, and janitors. The only black-owned businesses were a dry cleaner, shoe shine parlor, barber shop, shoe repair shop, and a boarding house.

Speaking of 1937, the introduction to the Joplin city directory for that year, written by the Chamber of Commerce, enthuses that “The population is almost entirely white and almost entirely composed of intelligent, native stock, thereby eliminating the chief source of recurrent labor troubles.”

These are merely observations based upon a few historic documents. The black history of Joplin has yet to be written.

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and Joplin: A Postcard History.

George Sears

In 1907, the front page of the Joplin News-Herald featured the obituary of George Sears. Obituaries on the front page were not uncommon, but in this case it was unusual that Sears was featured so prominently because he was African-American. Both the Joplin Globe (a Democratic paper under Gilbert Barbee) and the Joplin News-Herald (the city’s Republican paper) failed to highlight the lives of the city’s African American residents, save for when they were caught committing crimes.

His obituary stated,

“’Uncle’” George Sears, one of the best known and most highly respected colored citizens of Joplin, died at his home, 112 Pearl Street [Avenue], this morning at 9:30 o’clock. Uncle George would have been 60 years old in seven days and has been a resident of Joplin ever since there was a Joplin. He was the first negro in Murphysburg.

He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1847, and came to Joplin when a young man. When he first came to Joplin, he engaged in mining which he followed until he became too old to work in the ground. He then took up janitor work of the M.E. Church on Fourth and Wall Streets. He joined the Baptist church when young and was a Baptist deacon for about twenty years. He was also a member of the K.P. and Masonic lodges.

Uncle George has distinguished himself several times in the Republican convention by making speeches and exerting his influence for the party. He had gained a famous reputation as a barbecue cook and was always in demand.

He was married in 1885 and leaves a wife and three daughters and one grand-granddaughter. A few years ago, out of pity for two little orphan boys, Deacon Sears adopted them and they were often seen with him. The arrangements for his funeral have not yet been completed, pending word from a minister. Throughout his life in Joplin, Uncle George bore a spotless reputation and stood well among all those who knew him.”

Rarely does one see such an obituary for an African-American in any of the early Joplin papers. From his obituary, however, it is clear that George’s passing was featured on the front page for several reasons: One, he was the “first negro in Murphysburg.” Second, he was an active participant in local Republican politics. It is possible he worked to secure African-American votes for Republican candidates which, the News-Herald being a Republican paper, may have been grateful for. Third, he was known as a top-notch barbeque cook, and probably served up ‘cue to a large segment of Joplin’s population throughout the years.

Kansas City Bottoms: Part II

A portion of the Kansas City Bottoms was leveled to make way for the new Union Depot station (left side of photo).

As time passed and mining operations relocated across the area, the Kansas City Bottoms was transformed as “a few factories and mills” dotted the valley and its hillsides. Although there was talk that the Kansas City Southern Railway would build rail shops in the bottoms, the project never came to fruition.

This led to an effort to “more or less isolate the city’s riff-raff of humanity there. It became a sort of ‘red-light’ district, and flourished with gayety, containing gambling houses, saloons, dance halls, and rooming houses.” As Joplin continued to grow, the area grew more desolate, and “buildings were moved, burned, or fell in ruins.” The Kansas City Bottoms soon became a sprawling slum that doubled as a dumping ground. At the turn of the century, an angry mob descended upon the Bottoms and chased out a number of prostitutes who had taken up residence there. Soon the area became populated with African Americans, some of whom had been chased out of Pierce City in 1901, after a brutal race riot ended in the expulsion of Pierce City’s black residents.

A lifelong Joplin resident shared her memories of the Bottoms in a letter to the Joplin Globe:

“Where the [Union Depot] station is now and scattered throughout the valley were shanties occupied mostly by colored folk. This place was known as the Kansas City Bottoms. There was a footbridge over Joplin Creek near where the Union Station is now. Rather than walk around to Broadway, for four years I walked through the Bottoms and came onto Main Street at about A Street on my way to high school.”

“A girl or woman did not dare to cross the Bottoms without an escort. It was not even safe for a man,” the woman continued, “My boyfriend who later became my husband lived on the West side and he never crossed without a weapon. There were often holdups and sometimes murder in the Bottoms. There was no Broadway viaduct then.”

One former Joplin police officer claimed that “policemen were virtually given orders ‘not to bring any of the ‘bottomites’ out.’” This reportedly meant that a police officer should “shoot at the least provocation and shoot to kill.”

Burt Brannon, Joplin Police Officer

Officer Bert Brannon

Charles Sweeney, Joplin Police Officer

Charles Sweeney

These reputed orders presumably came after the death of Officers James Sweeney and Bert Brannon in 1901 after they were shot and mortally wounded after arresting a gang of vagrants in the Kansas City Southern rail yard and the death of Officer Theodore Leslie who was killed in 1903 while searching the rail yard for a burglary suspect. In 1909, work began on the Third Street viaduct, which spanned the Bottoms to connect East and West Joplin. (To Learn more about the Third Street Viaduct – click here) A year later, work began on the Joplin Union Depot, and a portion of the Kansas City Bottoms was leveled to make way for the expanded railyards and station. (To learn more about the leveling of the Bottoms for the Depot, click here)

By 1915, the condition of the Kansas City Bottoms was as close to a living hell as one could find in Joplin. One account painted a bleak picture of life in the bottoms: “Squatters, trash and garbage haulers, tramps and other transients” moved into the bottoms, living in shacks, shanties, broken down wagons, and tents. Men, women, and children lived in abject poverty. Few outsiders dared enter the bottoms as it had a reputation as, “a most dangerous place. It hardly was safe for a person to enter in daylight. After dark, entry into the hollow by an outsider was practically synonymous with suicide.”

That same year, however, the Kansas City Bottoms would experience a significant transformation for the first time since Sergeant first struck lead.

Hi-Ki, Joplin’s “Wild Man”

W.H. Evans

Over the years Joplin saw its share of curiosities. In her book, Tales from Joplin, Evelyn Milligan Jones recounted the story of the “Man Horse.” According to Jones, the Man Horse was an individual who believed he was a horse and could often be seen “charging down the street pulling his own buggy. He had his boots shod with horseshoes, and sometimes ate hay from the back of his wagon, or grass at the roadside.”

Just as a real horse would, the Man Horse would “shy at a blowing piece of paper and run wild for a few blocks.” Regrettably, Jones has little else to say about Man Horse, nor did she divulge his real name. Man Horse was only one of a handful of characters to roam the streets of Joplin.

Another colorful character that Jones recounted was “Nigger” Evans. Joplin composer Percy Weinrich remembered him as the “big man who used to roam the alleys and byways of Joplin in his trash wagon.” Mothers would tell their children, “If you don’t behave, Nigger Evans will get you!” Evans inspired such fear that the Joplin Elks “dressed him up in a leopard suit, and provided him with a whole haunch of meat which he flourished like a club, pausing only to gnaw at the raw meat now and then as he marched along. Children who saw this had wilder nightmares than TV can inspire.”

But there was more to “Nigger” Evans than just a crude racial caricature. His real name was W.H. Evans and he made his living in Joplin as a “city scavenger.” As he made his way through the streets of Joplin, Evans stood out due to his extreme size: He was six feet eight inches tall, weighed 350 pounds, and wore a size 15 shoe.

A native of Cairo, Illinois, Evans was born to slave parents. According to Evans, his father “stole his mother from Alabama and then ran off to sea.” As soon as he was grown, Evans joined the Ninth United States Cavalry, where he served for five years. He later worked as a railroad brakeman in Texas. It was during this time in his life that he killed a fellow African American with his fists, ending his ambition to become a prizefighter. Despite his past, Evans found employment with the Barnum and Wallace circuses as “Hi-Ki the Wild Man.”

Barnum circus barkers would cry out to curious crowds:

“Hi-Ki, the flesh-eating wild man. Species of Cuban negro. Captured forty-two miles south of Manila by a group of American soldiers. Cannot understand a word of English. The only one in captivity.” For those brave enough to view “Hi-Ki” they entered a tent and saw Evans seated in a cage chewing on a piece of raw beefsteak handed to him through the bars with a pitchfork.

When asked about his days in the circus, Evans opined, “Barnum was a little off when he said the American people like to be humbugged. It is not because they want to be humbugged that makes them pay out their money, but it is their desire to learn and see something they never saw before. The American people ain’t afraid to invest in anything if it’s new.”

After he left the circus, Evans settled in Joplin where he owned “several thousand dollars’ worth of property besides a farm of 120 acres in Texas and town lots in Palestine and Bremond.” In Joplin he was known as a “wonder of the people of his home town and the ‘bogy-man’ of the little children.”

Evans was enough of a local fixture in Joplin that in 1896, his name was put before the Republican county convention as candidate for coroner, but his name was withdrawn from voting, and he left the convention hall in disgust.

Evans claimed, “They hadn’t more’n got half way through voting when some Republican gets up and says that if they elect me as coroner and the sheriff dies, they’d have a nigger sheriff. Then he went on and talked about what he called ‘wisdom.’ and then they quit voting. Then I told them what I thought about the Republicans. There wasn’t no money in the job then anyway, just empty honors.” Evans later joined the Democratic Party.

He explained to a reporter, “If old Abraham Lincoln could come back to this country again he would say the same thing about the Republicans and would run them all out. The Republicans just use the negro as a tool to be held up and hammered and they are doing the negroes in the south more harm now than anybody else by arraying them against the best friends they’ve got down there. No, sir, I’m a Democrat, and I expect to help fight for the Democrats, even if I did go down to defeat twice with [William Jennings] Bryan.”

Evans believed “everybody ought to take part in politics. If a man is honest and his character unimpeached, he should have consideration. But it’s all a manipulating scheme, and the feller that gets elected goes off with the cream.”

At the time Evans made his statement, Democrats were considered the party of “wets,” which is to say those who were against prohibition. Curiously he declared:

“But some of these white folks around here ain’t much fitting to govern themselves. I has always been an anti-prohibitionist, though I never drank nor used tobacco, except I drank a little whisky for medicinal purposes but that don’t do much good. But I’m going to vote for the prohibitionists this time. The other night I saw thirty-six men with buckets over their shoulders drinking beer in a saloon at one time. Then they do something and blame the other feller for it. Whisky in, wit out. I wouldn’t say a word if they was the only ones hurt, but more of them fellers had wives and children at home. Yes, I’m going to vote for the prohibitionists this year.”

For a man who wore a leopard suit, Evans viewed the world with a far more serious perspective than many whites may have assumed and refused to acquiesce to the image of a mere wild man.

The Joplin Advance

Over the years, Joplin was home to many newspapers: The Advance, the Evening Times, the Free Press, the Globe, the News-Herald, the Labor Record, the Missouri Trade Unionist, the Morning Tribune, the Daily News, the Southwestern, and the State Line-Herald. These are just the ones that survived for posterity. There were other papers published in Joplin that, due to neglect, the ravages of time, and lack of interest, did not survive. Editors and owners may have thrown the bound volumes in the rubbish bin, fires may have destroyed them, or they simply crumbled away over time, printed on poor quality paper. There are, for example, no known surviving copies of the Joplin American, the paper that Thomas Hart Benton worked for when he lived in Joplin. There were also many local papers, such as the intriguingly named Carterville Rocket, that did not survive, either.

Of the papers that did survive and are captured for all time on microfilm, only one Joplin paper represented the interests of the city’s African-American population, the Joplin Advance. The Kansas State Historical Society collected and preserved the sole surviving issue of the Advance, allowing us a very limited look at the sole African-American newspaper in Joplin.

The first issue of the Joplin Advance was published on Friday, May 10, 1895. It was four pages in length. The first page bore the following greeting:

“Salutatory:

We have come among you to stay and assume a part of the responsibilities of the citizens of Joplin and vicinity. We will say that we have to profess to make except to do all the good we can and the least harm possible, advocate nothing but [missing word] Republican principles, for the promotion of the general welfare of the Negro race and his friends.

In order for the colored people of Joplin and the surrounding towns to maintain and keep the ADVANCE from going to the walls, it is necessary for them to read every advertisement of the merchants very carefully and patronize only those. The fact is, that no business man wants to advertise in any paper unless he expects to be benefited thereby. The advertisements [sic] is the back bone of a newspaper and, unless a merchant is benefited by advertising in a colored paper, as a matter of fact, he will not advertise. We regret to say, that our people cannot afford to maintain their press, and if we expect to have a newspaper in our midst, we must patronize the merchants who advertise in, and extend a friendly hand to our enterprizes [sic].

In looking over the broad field in this county with an eye singular to the prosperity of our people, we can see a great chance for an improvement, political, socially, and otherwise, and we firmly believe that, if we can bring about the state of things by the publication of a first class patriotic Negro newspaper, dedicated to the purpose of bringing the two races closer together, linking the Negro race in a better union, concentrate our forces, morally, socially, politically, intellectually, and otherwise, we will accomplish a great good, especially among the more ignorant whites as well as the blacks, if they will only read our paper.

W.L. Yancey.”

The rest of the paper was what we would consider today to be AP wire reports, save for one page which mentioned local events, and had a few paid ads for Joplin businesses such as Mack the Tailor, Jones Confectionary, and the Golden Eagle Clothing House. Notably, the ad for Jones Confectionary stated, “Dealer in Candies, all kinds of Fruit, Nuts, and Soft Drinks. It is the only place where colored people can be accommodated to an Ice Cream Parlor. 519 Main Street.” [Emphasis added]

African-Americans in Joplin could find out when services were being held at the M.E. church, the A.M.E. church, and St. John’s Baptist church. Those interested in fraternal organizations could find meeting information for the Masonic Myrtle Lodge No. 149, the Guiding Star Court, and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 11.

Most importantly, though, due to segregation, blacks were often at a loss with regard to knowing which businesses they could and could not patronize. The Advance pointed out which businesses catered to African-American clientele, and although we cannot be sure, would surmise that most of the businesses they recommended were owned by fellow African-Americans.

James Mason, driver of general job wagon no. 57, was recommended for one’s moving and delivery needs and one could visit any of three barber shops for a shave: the I.X.L. Shaving Parlor [516 Main Street], the Imperial Shaving Parlor [320 Main Street], and G.W. Potter’s [106 Main Street]. Laundresses Miss Mary Edwards [First Street], Mrs. Graton [620 Joplin Street] Miss Eva Door specialized in laundried collars, cuffs, and shirts. Should you want a new dress, Mrs. Brisco McLerore could be found at 120 Pearl Street. For boarding, Mrs. Lou Barnett offered lodging on Seventh Street “between Kentucky on Penn. Ave.”

The man behind the paper was African-American W.L. Yancey. In addition to being the editor and owner of the Advance, he was also an attorney. In his first “salutatory” message to readers, Yancey asked his fellow African-Americans to support the paper, lest it fail. He knew that whites would not subscribe to his paper; instead, they would read the “white” papers in Joplin. He also knew that advertising was crucial to the newspaper’s success. But advertising in a black newspaper, particularly for white businesses in a city with a small black community, was not advantageous or attractive. Even neighboring Springfield, with a sizable black population, could not sustain its own African-American newspaper.

Curiously, the 1895 Kansas State census lists William L. Yancey and his wife Clara as living in Pittsburg, Kansas. The census itself was taken in March, 1895, just two months before the Advance was first published. It also explains why there is a small smattering of Pittsburg, Kansas, news on the front page. Yancey may have been trying to bridge the gap between the black communities in Joplin and Pittsburg with his paper. He listed his occupation as “newspaperman” while wife Clara was a “housekeeper.” They lived in the midst of white families.

The 1900 Federal census tells us that William L. Yancey lived in Joplin [south of Broadway on Central Avenue] at that time. His occupation was listed as attorney and his wife, Clara, had “printer” as her occupation. Were they still publishing the Advance? Or did Clara just work as a printer? Because only one single issue of the Advance survived, we cannot be sure how long the paper lasted. If you check the city directory, however, Yancey is not listed which shows that one must always check every source available. Still, we are left with questions: Where did Yancey attend law school? There were African-American lawyers in Springfield who attended Howard University. Did Yancey go to Howard? Why did he move to Joplin?

Yancey did not remain in Joplin. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of opportunity, he moved on, and eventually divorced Clara. She later died in 1963 in Michigan.

Sometimes searching the census can be a challenge, as with Yancey and the 1910 census. He may or may not appear in the 1910 Federal census for Yakima, Washington. If it is him, the census taker wrote down the wrong middle initial and identified him as a “white” “lawyer.” Yancey was listed in previous censuses as either black or mulatto. Is it possible he tried to pass for white? Or is he just hiding out in the census and this is a different William Yancey? Census takers could and would make mistakes.

At any rate, we do know that by 1920, he appears to have remarried, and settled in Yakima, Washington. Fifty-one years old, both Yancey and his wife were working as “janitors” in a “business building.” In 1930, he is missing from the census, but his wife Hannah is listed as divorced.  Yancey may have passed away, or may have simply eluded the census taker where he lived.

His story is illustrative of the challenges African-Americans faced in American society in the time between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. Yancey, once an attorney and newspaper editor, spent his later years working as a janitor. Were it not for the Kansas State Historical Society preserving the single surviving issue of his paper, we would have never known his story, nor the fact that once upon a time Joplin had its own African-American newspaper.

If you ever come across an old Missouri newspaper, you may want to call the State Historical Society in Columbia and ask if they have it. If not, by allowing them to microfilm the paper, you could help preserve Missouri’s history. Who knows – maybe someone has a copy of the Joplin American featuring one of Thomas Hart Benton’s cartoons waiting to be found!

A Playground Not For All

Joplin swimming pool circa 1913

African Americans were generally not welcomed at swimming pools like this one at the Joplin Country Club.

In 1910, the total black population of Joplin was approximately 800 individuals out of a total population of approximately 32,000.  Thus, the African American community represented only about 2.5% of the city’s population.  Despite being such an insignificant portion of the population, the de facto laws of segregation were in strong effect in 1913.  The effect of the segregation struck one prominent Joplin businessman when he took his son to the local playground.  He recounted, “The other night I went to the playground with my son.  It made my heart ache to see the wistful faces of the negro children outside the fence, and know that they could not enter.”

It was not merely the denial of the playground to the black children that upset the businessman, but also that, “Unlike white children the negro kiddies cannot have the swimming privilege of the amusement parks of the district.”  Additionally, the businessman noted, “they are not allowed to attend many moving picture theaters, and are confined to a balcony in those places they are allowed to enter.  The streets and alleys are the only places they are welcome.  When they grow up they are unwelcome almost everyplace they visit.  It is not right.”

As a result of the segregation, the businessman pledged $250 to the establishment of a playground where black children, as well the general poor, could visit and play.  It would not be the first donation by a businessman to benefit the black community of Joplin, previously Thomas Connor had paid for the construction of four African American churches some years earlier.  Such sentiments were a start toward a better approach to a society of different races, but unfortunately along the reasoning of “separate but equal,” not equality for all.  The solution in 1913 Joplin was not to open the playground to children of all races, but to simply build another playground.

Source: Joplin News-Herald, 1910 United States Census

The Joplin Night Owls

Previously, Historic Joplin has mentioned one African-American baseball team in Joplin’s past, the Joplin Shadies of the 1890’s. This was not the only organized black baseball team, and perhaps it was the successor to a team that played for about half a century.

The Joplin Night Owls of 1910 were considered a championship team of Southwest Missouri. The year before the team had won twenty-six of twenty-eight games, losing only two. Not supported as the Joplin Miners, the Night Owls were forced to practice at the cemetery grounds of South Joplin. Though, an article that year reported an expectation that at some point the team would be able to practice in the “old” Miners Park. The same article announced the manager as Lindley. One of the first games of the season was to be in St. Louis against the Grays, likely the Murdock Grays, who later became the Homestead Grays (a noted Negro League team).

Sources: Joplin News Herald and Negro League Baseball Players Association.

A Snapshot of Race Relations in Joplin

African Americans played an important role in Joplin’s history.  Although segregation prevailed in the local mining industry, African Americans worked backbreaking labor intensive jobs as hod carriers, day laborers, carpenters, washerwomen, and other less desirable occupations.

Joplin newspapers often echoed the narrow minded racial beliefs of the time by perpetuating common stereotypes of African Americans as criminal, subhuman individuals.  In comparison to some local papers, such as the Stotts City Sunbeam and the Springfield Leader (which was founded by fire-breathing former Confederate Daniel Curran Kennedy), the Joplin papers were fairly tame.  While African Americans were most often portrayed in a negative light by the papers, sometimes a positive story would appear.

It’s often easy to look back over the last century, even two centuries, of American history and fall prey to dangerous generalizations.  This story illustrates that while racism certainly did exist in Joplin, it was not pervasive.

In the early fall of 1906, a crippled black man drove his blind mule along the streets of Joplin.  He was a well known figure as he drove a wagon that carried advertising signs to drum up business for local merchants.  The old man was, “old, feeble, and helpless, and few would take advantage of the poor old man’s infirmities to make him the object of a stinging jest.”

As the man and his mule approached Sixth Street and Moffet Avenue, a group of three white boys in a delivery wagon spied them.  One of the boys shouted, “Whoa there, mule.  Ha ha ha, look at the blind mule.  Look at the nigger.” The other two began laughing which a Globe reporter said, “sound as near like the braying of an ass as anything else.”

The elderly black man sat quietly but onlookers could see that “his feelings were deeply hurt.”

One of the boys called out, “Why don’t you get an automobile?” The other two began to yell when a white miner named Fred Winchel came upon the scene.  Winchel, incensed at the abuse the boys were heaping on the old man, jumped into the delivery wagon and grabbed one of the delivery boys.  He jerked the boy out of his seat and out onto the street.

Winchel growled, “Do you want to fight?” The boy, frightened by the miner, stammered, “N-n-n-no.” Winchel, still angry, snarled, “Then take that you cowardly whelp!” before he slapped the boy viciously on the ear.  The boy’s two companions tried to drive away but Winchel ordered them to stop.  The two boys complied.

Once again Winchel jumped into the wagon and drug the remaining two boys out.  He asked, “Do you want to fight?” The boys, like their companion, replied that they did not.  Winchel boxed their ears and sent them on their way.  He was overheard to say, “I ought to be kicked for not cleanin’ every one of them.”

Source: Joplin Globe