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First marker for African-American Heritage Trail installed

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Last edited 1:51 p.m., Dec. 13, 2018

Officials unveiled the first in a series of planned markers for the new African-American Heritage Trail in Springfield.

The trail marker was installed earlier this week before officials gathered yesterday at the Silver Springs Park site, located off National Avenue south of Division Street, said Aaron Scott, director of communications and marketing for Community Foundation of the Ozarks. CFO is providing assistance through grant funding, and during a ceremony yesterday at Timmons Temple located at the park, distributed grants for six diversity projects. 

The sign indicates the park was established on land originally owned by former Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Jonathan Fairbanks, who “opened his home as a safe place for black residents who were frightened by an unruly mob that had lynched three black men on the town square” in 1906.

The history project planned in north Springfield is spearheaded by a group that includes Missouri State University and its employees Wes Pratt, Tim Knapp and Lyle Foster, who’s also CEO of Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar LLC, NAACP Springfield President Cheryl Clay and city of Springfield Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement Cora Scott, according to a past city news release. A temporary sign in Silver Springs was placed during a ceremony in August as officials waited for the delivery of the permanent marker.

Foster, who was selected by Springfield Business Journal for its 12 People You Need to Know live interview series in 2019, said the trail will tell everyday stories of life during segregation and desegregation. He pointed to the many African-American business owners in the Jones Alley Business District near Chestnut Expressway and Benton Avenue.

“There’s not really a general awareness of some of what I would call the daily, rich moments of life,” he said in the profile, scheduled to be published in SBJ’s Dec. 17 print edition. “It was important to tell these stories so that they won’t be extinct in the future.”

Foster said at least 16 markers are planned, and they’ll be placed as funding is secured. 

Part of that funding is coming from CFO through its first round of diversity and inclusion grants. CFO yesterday awarded six grants totaling $60,000 for six projects, according to a news release.

The African-American Heritage Trail project received $11,667 for three markers at Memorial Park Cemetery, the Sherman Avenue residential hub area, and the site of the former Graham’s Rib Station and Guest Cabins on East Chestnut Expressway.

The other projects, selected out of 18 applications, are:
    •    Drury University and Grupo Latinoamericano, $14,999 to strengthen awareness of Hispanic cultures in Springfield;
    •    The GLO Center, PROMO, Springfield Black Tie and Commercial Street Community Improvement District, $11,500 to expand an inclusion project calling on Springfield and Greene County businesses to adopt policies and practices supporting the LGBTQ community;
    •    Friends of Timmons Temple, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, NAACP and other partners, $10,000 to fund a new six-month cultural performance series at Timmons, located at Silver Springs;
    •    MSU and Fighting Racism, $7,500 to provide scholarship assistance to nonprofit and public-entity employees attending the Fighting Racism workshop; and
    •    Connect and Fresh Start Furnishings, $4,334 to provide housing for young adults transitioning from foster care.

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shelia wright

we know our home at 1303 e. walnut had the 3rd floor remodeled when Joe Lewis an african american fighter was scheduled for a fight in springfield. There was no hotel or motel for him to stay in. the home was owned by ben harrison, the state athletic commissioner . Many other noted boxers also stayed at the house, but joe was the only black fighter we know of staying there. we would love to have such a plaque for our home and would be willing to pay for the sign. Shelia and andy wright

Thursday, December 13, 2018
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