Browse Exhibits (5 total)

Slavery in the Ozarks

The Missouri Ozarks hold an interesting place in the regional American landscape. Definitely not Northern, but not entirely Southern, Ozarks culture, in the popular mindset, is most often connected with proud, yet poverty stricken hillbillies.

This image doesn't allign itself with a slave-holding population, and broadly speaking, slavery isn't thought of as a major element in Ozarks' history. Slavery did exist in the Ozarks, however, and anywhere were people were enslaved holds an important history of oppression and also strength in the midst of impossible circumstances.

Lynchings and Exodus

A reason why the Ozarks exists in the popular American mindset as a white region has to do with a long and, most likely, willfully forgotten history of policital violence against African Americans in the years following emancipation.

The first decade of the 20th century saw the simmering resentments held against African Americans errupt into a string of race-riots and lynchings across the major cities of the Ozarks. The fear and trauma caused by these events led to a mass exodus of African Americans from the region, with some estimates placing the figure as high as 40,000 people.

Those Who Stayed Behind

The lynchings and racial violence that happened across the Ozarks during the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century led the vast majority of Blacks to leave their homes and start anew.

While most African Americans left the Ozarks, a small percentage remained behind, for reasons only known to them. These people and their families formed strong communities and supported themselves, starting Black-owned businesses, churches and everything else needed to establish themselves as proud local citizens.

The personal histories and stories of many of these people have been lost to time, but the popular fanscination with photographic portraiture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has left future generations with images of African American's who remained in the Ozarks in the face of adversity.

Handcrafted in the Ozarks

African Americans who stayed in the Ozarks often made their livings doing odd jobs or working as craftsmen. Fine wooden furniture produced by local artisans both graced the homes of local families and served to provide financial support.

Furniture was not the only good crafted by Ozarks African Americans in the era before factory manufactured goods were widespread. Exactingly stitched textiles were sewn for the trousseaus of young brides and would become functional family heirlooms, valued and used for generations.

Ozarks Home Life

Life at home for African American's in the Ozarks was similar to life for anyone else at the turn of the 20th century. The lives of rural African American's after slavery and before the Civil Rights movement are often erased or broadly painted as all being the same as sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta.

The artifacts in this exhibit show the well-rounded homelives of a people who bought toys for their children, worked the land, drove in new cars and decorated their houses, just the same as their white neighbors.