Written histories of Missouri (and arguably, all states) often overlook the contributions of African Americans, but a new book by St. Louis-based authors John and Sylvia Wright attempts to fill in the gaps.
Extraordinary Black Missourians: Pioneers, Leaders, Performers, Athletes and Other Notables Who’ve Made History includes stories about well-known Missourians like Tina Turner, Dred Scott, and Langston Hughes, but also includes untold stories of little-known African Americans.
Here are a few stories from the book, as told by the Wrights.
To listen to the full interview with the Wrights, click the listen button on the audio at the top of this article.
Chester A. Franklin
Chester Franklin was from Denver, Colo., originally, but he moved to Kansas City so he could have a better market to sell a black newspaper, which became the Kansas City Call. He and his wife went door to door selling subscriptions, and the paper became a go-to source of information for the African American community in Kansas City.
Armstrong simultaneously held three boxing titles at a time when there were only eight. He was a railroad worker, and one night read a story about a man making a lot of money in boxing matches.
According to the Wrights, he thought, "this has got to be better than throwing those railroad ties."
So, he threw his hammer down and said, "I'm going to be a champ."
Jim Beckwourth was a scout for those going West during the age of expansion. Born into slavery in Virginia, his family moved to St. Louis in the early 1800's. During his time in the West, Beckwourth lived and interacted with Native American tribes, eventually becoming a member of the Crow nation. He also discovered a pass in the Sierra Mountains, which today is called Beckwourth Pass, found in California.
Also in the book:
- The world's fastest human, from Webster Groves, Mo
- A 49er from St. Louis who bought his family's freedom and started the first school for African Americans and Native Americans in California
- Two internationally-known opera singers from St. Louis