The 92nd and newest facility in Missouri’s state parks system is the Sappington African American Cemetery state historic site in west-central Missouri’s Saline County, near Arrow Rock.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City) speaks at the June 5, 2021 dedication of the Sappington African American Cemetery state historic site, near Arrow Rock (photo courtesy of Congressman Cleaver’s office)

The cemetery is located in the district of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City). Cleaver notes about 350 burials have been detected at the Sappington site, including many slaves. The identities of many people buried there are unknown.

“It reminds us of an ugly period of time in Missouri and in our nation, a time when human beings would take ownership over other human beings,” Cleaver says.

Arrow Rock, which is southeast of Marshall, is a village that now has about 40 residents.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which operates the state parks system, says that by 1880, African-Americans comprised more than half of Arrow Rock’s population. DNR’s website says slaves built many structures in Arrow Rock and also cultivated tobacco and hemp in the region.

Dr. John Sappington set aside land for the cemetery in 1856 and any burials before 1865 were unmarked, according to DNR.

Cleaver spoke at this month’s site dedication in Arrow Rock, along with DNR officials, State Sen. Barbara Anne Washington (D-Kansas City) and State Rep. Tim Taylor (R-Speed).

Congressman Cleaver, who’s a former Congressional Black Caucus chair, says that Missouri sometimes gets an ugly reputation about race issues. He tells Missourinet that the newly-dedicated cemetery has national significance.

“And I was very pleased that the state of Missouri put money into cleaning that area up and preserving it and now I would say that it is on par with any memorial anywhere in the state of Missouri and maybe anywhere in the country,” says Cleaver.

DNR says Sappington joins other significant African American sites in Missouri, including the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site in St. Louis, the George Washington Carver National Monument in southwest Missouri’s Diamond and the Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site in western Missouri’s Butler.

Congressman Cleaver says many of those who attended this month’s Arrow Rock dedication are members of his Kansas City congregation.

“I didn’t realize it but there were a number of them who now live in Kansas City and who are members of the St. James United Methodist Church (in Kansas City) that I have pastored for 37 years and did not realize until I walked in and thought: there are the Saboors,” Cleaver says.

Cleaver is referring to Parker family descendent Wanda Saboor, who also spoke at the dedication. So did Senator Washington, whose grandparents are buried at the site near Arrow Rock.

DNR’s state parks website includes photos of the cemetery. The website reads, in part: “This cemetery stands as a reminder of the African American culture and contribution to this area. Interpretive panels at the site provide information on the sacrifice and resiliency of individuals who made an impact on the history of this little town, and in the state of Missouri. Their contributions will not be forgotten.”

Click here to listen to the full seven-minute interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City), which was recorded on June 11, 2021:

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