OFFICIAL MANUALSeal of the State of Missouri
State of Missouri, 1973-1974
The Role of the Negro in Missouri History


Missouri Negroes to World War I, 1876-1914


Missourians had not been ready to be ''reconstructed" in their racial views during the Reconstruction period and there was no reason to believe they would have a change of heart after it. So bad were conditions the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, meeting in 1914, filed a report containing the charge that "so much of the problem lies in the unthinking, inconsiderate attitude of white people that no specific remedies for present conditions can be proposed, which in themselves, offer any solution."

The doctrine of "separate but equal" facilities gained constitutional sanction in the 1896 United States Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Ferguson. Segregation by de facto methods had become so entrenched in Missouri society by that time Missourians did not feel the need to create ordinances of separation. In fact it was only in the area of education that integration was expressly prohibited.

Denied access to the white school system Negroes tried to up-grade their schools. It was toward that end, that convention was called in 1882, by group of prominent black men in the state including Howard Barnes and Professor Inman Page of Lincoln Institute. More than 150 persons from all over the state answered the call. Little resulted other than increased awareness.

Because black children were not permitted to enter orphanages housing whites, blacks like the Reverend C. Shackelford and W. G. Ward of Pleasant Hill began agitating for facilities to provide those social services to the black community. But to do so seemed almost hopeless.

In the years preceding the turn of the century, most blacks had no land and no money with which to buy land, consequently, most who were engaged in agriculture became tenant farmers.

Things were not much better in metropolitan areas. In Kansas City, as late as 1914, most of the Negroes lived in the tenement houses located on "The Bowery." Most of the buildings there were two and three-story brick structures, arranged in two and three room apartments. They were nearly all poorly constructed and crowded closely together, many of them facing the alleys. One can get some idea of the overcrowded conditions when one considers twenty-two blocks in that area had a population of 1,295. In other communities the housing was worse.

Job-wise, some small advance was being made. In St. Louis, in 1913, Negroes were engaged in over 226 different occupations.

For example, there were some black St. Louis businessmen and professionals. They included Charles C. Clark of Clark and Smith Men's Furnishings Goods Store; H. S. Ferguson of the St. Louis Delicatessen Company, C. K. Robinson, of the Robinson Printing Company, Charles H. Turpin, Constable of the Fourth District Court and others.

Despite the fact the yearly sales in black businesses in St. Louis were in excess of $1,000,000, that figure represented only about eight per cent of the estimated annual earnings of the blacks there.

More than 90 per cent of the black wage earners worked in jobs under the categories of personal service, factory workers and common laborers. Moreover, three-fourths of the black male workers received an average weekly wage under- $15, with about one-half receiving a wage under $12. For these reasons, many blacks joined the exodus from the South to the West in great numbers during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

By 1905, a Missouri newspaper could estimate that blacks constituted but 5 per cent of the total population of the state. Though the white population had increased 16.5 per cent over the past decade, there had been only a 7.4 per cent increase in the black population.

Not only economic but health considerations impelled many blacks to move out of the State.

Proportionately, the mortality of young blacks was higher than that of whites. Medical facilities were much more readily available to whites than blacks. Furthermore, whites received more of the material benefits which made for longer life than did their less fortunate black counterparts.

In 1911, Kansas City did a report on the health of its citizens, which covered a period of seven months. During each of those seven months, deaths exceeded births among the Negroes. Births of Negroes in that period numbered 190 but 390 of various ages died. The net gain among whites was about 15 per cent, while the net loss among blacks was more than 50 per cent.

According to official state statistics in 1913, there were, in these areas, nearly 3,800 farms owned by Negroes, estimated to be worth $27,768,750. While the number of landowners represented only a fraction of the total black population, when one considers the handicaps which blacks had to overcome, those figures alone are impressive.

Little wonder, then, that the concentrations of blacks were still to be found in the rural area along the river counties of Buchanan, Jackson, Lafayette, Saline, Callaway, Chariton, Cooper, Howard, Boone, Pike, and Marion.


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