A 1930s church in a Springfield park is the first stop on the city’s new African American Heritage Trail. The project was created by Missouri State University Sociology Professor Lyle Foster, who set out on a mission to educate himself.
“I don’t necessarily think of myself as a historian, more as a person who’s about community education,” Foster said. “I’ve always been fascinated, as someone who moved to the Springfield community, in understanding and appreciating the history, in particular of African Americans, in our city.”
Foster realized the Queen city is filled with stories future generations should hear about a tight-knit African American population and the places that community would frequent.
“One story will probably be where we’re kind of standing right now,” said Foster. “That is the story of Jones alley which was a really vibrant business district for the African American community that doesn’t really exist anymore. There were houses here. Those houses were squeezed between two historic churches and their congregations,” he said.
Signs will be placed near many of the more important locations on the African American Heritage Trail, including old segregation-era restaurants, churches, and motels still standing in north Springfield.
“I think this helps to bring healing,” said Foster. “It helps to bring awareness and some kind of understanding for those who don’t know.”
In September, the Springfield City Council allocated $14,356 to purchase four signs for the African American Heritage Trail. The money was provided through a 1/4-cent capital improvements sales tax in the city.
Foster said once those signs are up, people should be able to walk from one to the next–learning as they go about a part of Springfield history they might otherwise never hear about.
“We hope the school groups, college groups, community organizations will make this kind of a family fun activity, to not only learn but also to have some healthy recreation at the same time,” Foster said.
Foster described the stops along the African American Heritage Trail.
“Silver Springs Park, which was the original park for the African American community,” Foster said. “Lincoln School, which is on the OTC campus. That school was, of course, the public high school and elementary school for children of color in Springfield up until the court order ended segregation in our nation.”
“We are also looking at marking off historic churches,” said Foster. “There are four historic churches. Alberta’s Hotel. We’ll be looking at Graham’s BBQ. We’ll be looking at some other sites in other parts of the city as well as in Greene County itself.”
(Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV contributed this report)