In this Edition... Missouri's Black History
With February designated as Black History Month, it is an opportune time to look back at influential members of society that made a valuable impact on the development of equal rights in our state. Through leadership, unity, and even music, Missouri has been paving the way to ensure its citizens have an equal opportunity to flourish in society.
Diversity Spotlight: Black History Month
Each year, there is a theme for Black History Month, and this year’s theme is “Black Women in American Culture and History.” Missouri has been fortunate to have had numerous accomplished African American women who have made significant contributions to America’s culture and history, including Josephine Baker, Lucille Bluford, Annie Malone, and Margaret Bush Wilson.
Josephine Baker (born Freda Josephine McDonald) was born in St. Louis on June 3, 1906. Baker was a world famous singer, dancer, actress and civil rights activist. After becoming a hugely successful performer in France, Baker returned to the United States and became involved in the civil rights movement. She refused to perform in segregated concert halls and spoke at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Baker is also remembered for her “Rainbow Tribe,” her twelve adopted children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as for her participation in the French Resistance during World War II.
Annie Turnbo Malone, though born in Illinois, moved her hair products company to St. Louis in 1902. By the end of World War I, she was one of the most successful black women in the country. Malone founded Poro College, the first school dedicated to the study and teaching of black cosmetology in the United States in an attempt to offer black women an opportunity to advance. Malone is also remembered for founding the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center, which is the oldest facility in St. Louis dedicated to care for disadvantaged youth.
Margaret Bush Wilson was born in St. Louis on January 30, 1919. After graduating from Lincoln University Law School in 1943, she was hired by the United States Department of Agriculture and soon moved back to St. Louis. Wilson started with her husband the law firm Wilson and Wilson, where she specialized in real estate law. In 1946, the Shelleys, an African-American couple, purchased a home in a Missouri neighborhood. Sometime later, the Kraemers, a white couple, moved into the same neighborhood and went to court to enforce the neighborhood’s racially restrictive covenant. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that such racially restrictive covenants were not enforceable. Wilson was counsel for the Real Estate Brokers Association of St. Louis, which was formed partly because the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange excluded blacks; the new association’s immediate goal was to obtain funds to appeal the Missouri Supreme Court’s contrary ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Wilson also served nine terms as Chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors as well as serving on numerous boards for national companies and non-profit organizations.
You can learn more about these nationally influential women by visiting the State Historical Society of Missouri’s website. You can also delve further into African-American history and achievements at Biography's Black History siteand at African American History Month's website.
View a full list of how Missouri plans to celebrate black history month.
Missouri's Pioneering Did not End with Lewis and Clark
Missouri continued its legacy of being on the forefront of change by establishing a commission on human rights eight years before the Federal Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. One of Missouri’s proudest accomplishments throughout the 20th century is remaining ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting human rights.
Missouri was also the first state to appoint an African-American woman as a commissioner. Lucile Bluford, the first woman and African American woman commissioner for MCHR, was appointed in 1959 – also predating the passage of the Civil Rights Act by five years. Progressive movements such as these contributed to Missouri’s leadership in the development of other laws and efforts protecting workers and children on the job. In fact, the Missouri Department of Labor was created in 1879, 34 years before the U.S. Department of Labor was created.
Part of our success is directly related to education. The Department offers training on an array of topics to ensure both employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities that have been established in this great state. To see a complete list of training presentations the Department offers, visit the Speaker’s Bureau webpage.
A Union Immortalized Through Song
For some, playing music is a form of artistic expression. For others, it is a means to earn money. For African American members of Musicians Union Local 627 of Kansas City, it was both. This union originated in 1917 and functioned as a social platform for expression against unfair practices by booking agents and band leaders. Many of those who belonged to the musical scene played music to make a living, and in order for them to have the same opportunities as other musicians, they had to join together to fight for their rights.
The collaboration further developed rights for African-American musicians, and added something to the music, which resulted in the birth of swing jazz. Kansas City was also the ‘stomping ground’ for many well-known jazz musicians and bands that transformed American jazz such as Count Basie, Jay McShann, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Andy Kirk. In tribute to the organization, jazz artists, Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner, collaborated to immortalize the union and foundation in the song, “627 Stomp.”
In 1928, the organization purchased a building, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, to create a headquarters and a meeting place for jam sessions. This building is located in the heart of the 18th and Vine District of Kansas City, and stands as a National Historical Landmark today. It serves as a rehearsal space for members, classroom for students, and venue for private parties. Musicians have kept up the long-standing tradition of jamming into the night on Friday and Saturday nights.
Musicians Union Local 627 and the Mutual Musicians Foundation are links to Missouri’s rich musical heritage, and a testament to the accomplishments and advancement of the African-American community in Missouri.