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.