African American History

From education and exploration to baseball and poetry, African Americans have made great contributions to our state and nation throughout Missouri history.

Some black Missourians were teachers, like James Milton Turner and John Berry Meachum. Others were mountain men and explorers, like James Beckwourth. One man, William Wells Brown, escaped slavery in St. Louis and became America’s first black novelist.

George Washington Carver, born a slave in Missouri, became a great scientist. He is known for his experiments with peanuts and sweet potatoes. Some Missouri slaves purchased their freedom. Elizabeth Keckly did this. Later she worked as a seamstress for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln. Hiram Young purchased his freedom and started a business making yokes and wagons for settlers traveling westward. By 1860, he had one of the largest businesses in Jackson County.

During the 20th century, African Americans from Missouri made many cultural contributions. James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin; he later became a great American poet. Jazz musician William “Count” Basie, moved to Kansas City in the late 1920s and developed the Kansas City style of jazz. Satchel Paige, born in Alabama, became famous as a baseball player with the Kansas City Monarchs.

The Missouri State Archives, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, holds many original historical records that help us understand the lives of black Missourians during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Additional Resources