The idea for the African American Heritage Trail came out of The Journey Continues, a project of the Sociology and Anthropology Departments at Missouri State University. The project's goal is to chronicle the history and experiences of Springfield's African American community. Oral interviews and videos have been recorded to preserve the history before it's lost.
Springfield business owner Lyle Foster, who also teaches at MSU, is one of those involved in that project and is also working to make the trail a reality.
Markers will be placed at around 15 sites initially, he said, including at Silver Springs Park, the historic church quadrangle and Lincoln Hall sometime this fall.
Other sites to be marked include Lincoln Memorial Cemetery and the Alberta Hotel. That dates to the segregation era when people of color couldn’t stay at most of the predominant establishments in the U.S.
"The Alberta House was a rooming house and functioned as a hotel for people of color to stay. And, actually, sometimes when there were celebrities who, in a very ironic way would perform largely for white audiences, they could not stay in local hotels or motels and so they would stay at the Alberta Hotel," he said.
Sites to be marked along the trail also include the Happy Hollow community, anAfrican-American neighborhood on the north side of Sherman Ave.; Park Central Square and the Jones Alley Business District.
"And it was a vibrant kind of block and a half district where there would be things such as a couple of local businesses--a shoe shine, a barbecue joint, kind of a little, if you will, a little store kind of a little market, and this is where people would do some of their shopping within the African-American community," Foster said.
Some of the sites to be marked initially on the African American Heritage Trail, such as the Alberta Hotel and the Jones Alley Business District, no longer exist.
"That's part of the idea, the emphasis, is to make sure people understand what was the experience of African Americans during our history and where were some of these historic sites? And, of course, as Springfield continues to develop and re-develop, we can at least mark some of these places so that people will know that these places are there," he said.
A fund is being set up at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks so anyone who wants to help pay for the markers can do so.
An artist’s mockup of the first trail marker will be unveiled Saturday, August 4, at 1 p.m. during the Park Day Reunion at Silver Springs Park. That marker will be placed at Silver Springs Park, which is 100 years old this year. The park was the only public park open to black residents during segregation, according to the City of Springfield. It was established in 1918 on land owned by Springfield School superintendent, Jonathan Fairbanks, who had died the year before. The night before Easter in 1906, Fairbanks opened his home to black residents after three black men, Will Allen, Fred Coker and Horace Duncan, were lynched on Park Central Square. A memorial to those men will be incorporated into the trail, which will utilize an existing Ozark Greenways trail.
Foster said they hope the trail "can instill pride in current and future generations of diverse citizens so that people recognize the importance of the contributions of the African American community."