Breaking:Callaway County warns of potential COVID-19 spread at cornhole tournament
Today's Edition Elections Local Missouri National World Opinion Obits Sports GoMidMo Events Classifieds Newsletters Contests Special Sections Jobs
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Editor's note: This is the second in the three-part series.

On a hot night in September 1933, a young man with a master's degree in history from an Ivy League school and five years of experience in high-level research stepped off a passenger train down the hill from the Governor's Mansion. The first thing he did was hail a cab. But this was not the Ivy Leave anymore. The cab driver refused to give him a ride. He went to the next cab. This time, the driver did the young man a favor. As he later explained, he "let me have it straight. 'We don't haul n----rs,' he said. 'Get that n----r cab over there.'"

Upon arriving at Lincoln University, he went out to get something to eat. The first place he stopped refused to serve him. So did the second. This time, telling him, "I'm sorry, but we don't serve colored here." Facing a night of hunger, he improvised and asked if he could buy some ice cream if he took it with him. That worked. His first meal in Jefferson City was a pint of vanilla ice cream with a wooden spoon. He went back to Lincoln and decided he would leave and never return. The young man who arrived in September 1933 was Professor Lorenzo Greene. Rather than leave, he stuck around — teaching thousands of students at Lincoln University from 1933-72 and writing about the history of race in our state.

Six months earlier in 1933, on Holy Thursday, Gov. Guy Park and the United Daughters of the Confederacy joined a large crowd of local and statewide "dignitaries" to place a marker at the corner of Moreau Drive and Hough Park Road. The UDC claimed it "marked" the spot where Gen. Sterling Price decided not to attack Jefferson City. That was false. They claimed Price chose not to attack because he loved the city. That was false, too.

The UDC's purpose was to create a myth about the Confederate South: that its society and soldiers were genteel, chivalrous and noble. As part of the expressly stated mission, the UDC enthusiastically and unanimously supported and endorsed the Ku Klux Klan. The UDC labeled the Klan a "star of hope" with "its avowed purpose to preserve and uphold the white civilization of the South." UDC leaders encouraged that "every" UDC clubhouse "should have a memorial tablet to the Ku Klux Klan."

Jefferson City was not immune. There was crossover family membership between the Klan and the UDC, and the Klan was active here. It held not-so-secret regular meetings on High Street in a building that is, ironically, next door to where the Missouri State NAACP now has its headquarters.

The Klan also held mass meetings in Brazito farm fields that they called "Protestant Rallies" to support local candidates for office. In the 1920s, a Klan-supported candidate was elected Cole County Sheriff and proceeded to permit Klan members to accompany his deputies on night raids targeting Catholic stills. The statewide Klan even openly held meetings in the chamber of the Missouri House of Representatives. They were brazen enough to spread their flyers throughout St. Peter's Catholic Church next door.

Of course, it was not just anti-Catholic. It was also virulently racist. In 1928, the Klan burned a series of crosses down the entire length of Lafayette Street on the eve of an election to intimidate black voters. It was that Klan influence (and tolerance of it) that helped Jefferson City to be a segregated city that was closer to what you'd expect in the Deep South that any present-day resident would like to believe.

It was in this racially segregated, hateful environment the UDC placed the marker that is now at the center of our City's attention. There are no pictures of the ceremony that have survived. Although the governor was there and many others, you can bet that there were no Black residents there. Nor were there likely any Catholics.

The UDC's purpose in placing the marker were not just limited to the "Lost Cause" propaganda. In August, I went to the Missouri State Archives here in Jefferson City, where the papers for our local Winnie Davis Chapter of the UDC are stored. There, among the member rolls and meeting notes, I found newspaper clippings of days gone by. (The member rolls prove cross-over membership between the UDC and known local Klansmen). There were clippings about Robert E. Lee and raising money for Stone Mountain, Georgia. And there also were saved newspaper clippings about the resurgence of the KKK here in Missouri — preserved for prosperity.

The UDC's marker is not about history now, and it was not about history then. It was placed as Lost Cause propaganda and a permanent symbol of Southern white supremacy. It sent a clear message to Catholics and Black people in our community in 1933 about who was in power.

Four score and seven years later, Jefferson City can and must do better. While imperfect, we have moved far past those dark days when race was an impossible divide. We should all want to live in a community willing to own up to the past and move forward with truth and a greater commitment to the great purposes of the American Revolution and the Civil War — that all are created equal, and in the words of President Lincoln, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth."

Jay Barnes is a Jefferson City attorney, former state representative, and an occasional contributing writer for the News Tribune.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT