When the Civil War ended, Missouri freedmen found themselves in an extremely precarious position. Economically they could no longer depend upon their masters for subsistence. Especially hard upon all freedmen, and upon Missouri blacks in particular, was the failure of the Freedmen's Bank in 1879. Organized in 1865, by the Freedmen's Bureau to economically aid the freedmen, its failure struck heavily upon the hopes of Missouri blacks.
Used to farming, domestic service or other menial pursuits, many freedmen continued working for former masters, others wandered to the towns, looking for jobs, while still others wandered aimlessly about. This led some whites as the Jefferson City Peoples Tribune, stated, to mistakenly regard Negroes as leeches basking in the sun, expecting to be supported by white people.
The census of 1870, showed more than two-thirds of the blacks were farm laborers. Women took in washing and ironing or worked as domestics, sometimes living on the premises.
Occasionally black businesses sprang up, one of the most important being the first "Lady's Ready to Wear" shop in Kansas City. The proprietor was Mrs. Alphia Smith Minor.
Politically, Missouri Negroes had no power. Although they could vote, lack of education or prejudice kept them from holding office or jury service. Despite much political activity for Negroes on the part of whites, Negroes held no political offices, even under the radical Drake Constitution.
Although Negroes were political pawns in the hands of White politicians, Presidents Garfield and McKinley appointed Blanche K. Bruce of Missouri as Registrar of the Treasury in 1881 and 1891 respectively. In 1871, John Milton Turner became the first Missourian to serve in a foreign post as Minister and Consul-General to Liberia.
Socially the status of Missouri freedmen was conditioned by their limited economic strength. Denied entrance into white institutions, they began to develop their own, the most important of which was the black church.
The Negro church became the center of the black community. It was more than a place of worship, it was where blacks could go without suffering the humiliation of being asked to move to the rear of the church. It provided the social cohesion which slavery had done so much to destroy. Members had a large voice in the activities of the church and the minister was a highly respected person. It was the black church which groomed leaders for the black community.
It provided many of the social services which the white community denied them, sponsored festivals, protest meetings and conventions.
Although both the Spaniards and Portuguese had ordained black priests since the 16th century, the first American black priest to be ordained in the United States was a Missourian, Augustus Tolton.
He was born in Ralls County, Missouri, April 1, 1854. Yearning to become a priest, he sought to enter seminaries in Illinois. Prejudice and discrimination forced him to prepare for the priesthood at the College of Propaganda in Rome in 1880.
Six years later he was ordained and assigned to St. Joseph's Church for Negroes in Quincy, Illinois. He also served as priest at St. Monica's Church for blacks in Chicago. There he remained until his death, July 10, 1897. After death, discrimination and segregation still pursued him. It was his fate to be buried in an unmarked grave, deep enough so that a white priest was interred over his remains.
There was little more interaction between the races in the schools than there was in the churches.
The Missouri Legislature passed a set of school laws which took effect March 15, 1866. Among the provisions was one which stated that separate schools should be provided for Negro children where they numbered more than 20 in a district.
But whites tended to vote against public school taxes primarily because part of the money was to be used for the financing of Negro education. On May 7, 1869, in an address before the State Teacher's Association meeting in St. Louis, Richard B. Foster of Jefferson City, charged there had been schools provided for only about 10 per cent of the black school age children. Those schools, Foster said, were inferior to white schools in equipment and facilities.
The case of the development of the black school in Jefferson City is representative of the State. Blacks there had to resign themselves to sending their children to a school building which had already been declared unfit for occupancy by white children. Even then, there was no money for a teacher. Richard B. Foster, however, donated his services as an instructor without charge and black students began attending classes in the old schoolhouse on what was known as Hobo Hill.
Conditions at the first "Colored School," however, were very bad and inadequacy of the physical plant alone contributed to great absenteeism. The cry then went up that Negroes were not interested in education and that their irregular attendance at school was sufficient proof. That hardly seems to have been the case, however, as pointed out by a member of the Board of Education in 1874. "In the colored school," he said, "there was no thermometer to indicate temperature, no stove or fuel; many windows were broken and the room was uncomfortably cold. The children were indifferently and thinly dressed and measles spread among the pupils."
Lincoln Institute, later Lincoln University, experienced many of the same problems the "Colored School" endured. In fact, the first enrollees at the Institute, only 2, attended school in the same shanty on Hobo Hill the black school students attended. There were simply no other locations available.
In his search for quarters, Richard B. Foster, the man who had been charged with the responsibility of establishing the Institute, had been turned back by all the churches in the city. Foster a teacher was refused by the Negro churches because he was white. He was refused by all the white congregations because all of his students would be black.
But Lincoln school continued to grow, despite the fact it never really gained the financial support of the Jefferson City community.
The school was in financial trouble throughout the Reconstruction period. It was necessary on many occasions for such men as John Lane, Moses Dickson and J. Milton Turner to act as agents on behalf of the Institute for the purpose of soliciting contributions. The primary supporters of the school in those years were the Freedman's Bureau, the Western Sanitary Commission, various churches and individuals, both Negroes and liberal whites.
Toward the end of the 1870's, when Lincoln Institute began producing competent graduates the school began to receive at least limited verbal support from the local community. It stands today as an ever growing tribute to the black Civil War soldiers of the 62nd and 65th U. S. Colored Infantry who founded it out of their meager funds to educate their posterity.