African American Experience Research Guide

The story of the African American experience in Missouri is told through the personal papers of individuals and families as well as the records of black organizations and churches. Civil War pensions shed light on the aftermath of the war, while photographs, letters, scrapbooks, writings, and newspapers provide insight into the daily life of African Americans living in the state. The State Historical Society of Missouri is pleased to make available these rich resources that document their lives as Missourians.

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Emancipation Day in the Ozarks Interactive Map

The resources on this page have been adapted from a chapter of the book Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri by Gary Kremer.

A Brief History

Since the first French settlers came to the region we know now as Missouri in the 1700s, African Americans have played a substantial role in the state's history. Initially brought here as slaves to work in the mines of southeast Missouri, they also served as farm laborers, servants, seamstresses, nursemaids, cooks, and common laborers. A small number of free blacks also lived in Missouri during the antebellum period, concentrated primarily in St. Louis. During the latter years of the Civil War, thousands of African Americans joined the Union war effort as a way of gaining their own personal freedom, but also as a way of ending slavery in the state and nation.

With freedom came new struggles. As a border state settled largely by emigrants from the South, Missouri remained very racially divided in the Post-Civil War era, well into the twentieth century. Civil rights leaders such as James Milton Turner fought for educational opportunity as well as full rights of citizenship for freedmen, while black residents of communities such as Pennytown, Morocco, and Eldridge sought to escape oppression and seek economic opportunity through the solidarity of numbers.  African Americans created their own schools, churches and fraternal and sisterhood organizations as a way of taking control of their lives and their futures.

Missouri's two major cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, attracted large numbers of Great Migration migrants during the era of World War I through World War II.  Black suburbs such as Kinloch in St. Louis and Leeds in Kansas City emerged as important transitional communities that helped rural African Americans adjust to urban life. Thanks to educational opportunities offered by all-black Lincoln Institute (later Lincoln University), African Americans began entering a variety of professions as scientists, businesspeople, educators, musicians, entertainers, writers, and athletes. They also founded their own newspapers such as the Kansas City Call, the St. Louis American, the Weekly Conservator (Sedalia), and the Professional World (Columbia). Lawsuits brought by students such as Lloyd Gaines and Lucile Bluford paved the way for African Americans to attend the University of Missouri, while the St. Louis-based Shelley v. Kraemer case (1948) challenged racial segregation in neighborhoods throughout the state and nation.

During the Civil Rights Era, African Americans intensified their fight for the same rights held by whites. Civil Rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, and, later, the Congress on Racial Equality led the way as African Americans and their supporters sought to integrate schools, restaurants, hotels, restrooms, and other public spaces.

Articles from Missouri Historical Review and Missouri Times


Many of the State Historical Society’s holdings are included in the shared library catalog of the four University of Missouri campuses. The best terms to search for sources about African American history are "African American," "Black," and "Black history."

Digital Collections

The African American Experience in Missouri digital collection includes digitized manuscripts by or about African Americans, including personal papers, records of black organizations and churches, collections with significant information on African Americans, civil rights, and daily life.

View the African American Experience Digital Collection

The Missouri Slavery Documents digital collection includes bills of sale, manumission papers, letters, ledgers, wills, and legal documents. Items like bills of sale usually include names, dates, locations, and ages of enslaved individuals, providing invaluable information for historians and genealogists alike.

View the Missouri Slavery Documents Digital Collection

Historic Missourian Biographies

The State Historical Society’s Historic Missourians website provides biographies of African Americans in Missouri. Each biography includes images, primary resources, and other references for further study.


The State Historical Society of Missouri manuscript collections include material by or about African Americans, including personal papers, records of black organizations and churches, collections with significant information on African Americans, civil rights, slavery, and daily life.

View All African American Manuscript Collections


SHSMO's newspaper collection contains about thirty African American publications. The St. Louis Advance perhaps established as early as 1881, is one of the earliest known black newspapers published in Missouri. Most of the state's African-American newspapers have been published in Kansas City and St. Louis, but Caruthersville, Charleston, Hannibal, Jefferson City, Joplin, Sedalia and Sikeston have also served as the home of African American newspapers.

In these newspapers, researchers can find national and local news of interest to the African American community and prominently featured ads for black businesses. The Kansas City Call, established in 1919, is one of several black newspapers currently being published. At a time when many local papers printed few items of interest to the black community or omitted such coverage altogether, The Call tried to fill the gap. News about small black Missouri communities often found a place in the pages of The Call. Today its coverage is more local, highlighting Kansas City and the surrounding area.

Religious African American newspapers among SHSMO's holdings include The Western Messenger, later known as the Baptist Record, first published in Jefferson City, then in St. Louis and finally in Kansas City. The Western Christian Recorder established in 1891 as the official organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was published in Kansas City. Sedalia was the home of The Searchlight, published for the members of the United Brothers of Friendship and Sisters of Mysterious Ten Lodge.

African-American Newspapers in SHSMO Holdings

CountyCityTitleAlso Available OnDate Range
BooneColumbiaBlackoutMicrofilmNov 20, 1969
BooneColumbiaProfessional WorldMicrofilm1901-1903; 1909 (incomplete)
ColeJefferson CityThe Lincoln ClarionMicrofilm1935-1975
ColeJefferson CityWestern MessengerMicrofilm1914-1916
GreeneSpringfieldThe American NegroHard Copy OnlyOct 25, 1890
JacksonKansas CityAmericanMicrofilm1928-1933
JacksonKansas CityBaptist RecordMicrofilm1921 (incomplete)
JacksonKansas CityCallMicrofilm1922-Present
JacksonKansas CityGlobeMicrofilm1994-Present (some earlier)
JacksonKansas CityInter-State HeraldMicrofilm1903-1904 (incomplete)
JacksonKansas CityLiberatorMicrofilm1903
JacksonKansas CityMissouri State PostMicrofilm1987-1988; 1990-1992 (incomplete)
JacksonKansas CityRising SonMicrofilm1903-1907
JacksonKansas CitySonMicrofilmDec 7, 1912
JacksonKansas CitySunMicrofilm1914-1924
JacksonKansas CityWestern Christian RecorderMicrofilm1911-1915
JacksonKansas CityWestern MessengerMicrofilm1918-1920 (incomplete)
JasperJopinUpliftHard Copy OnlyMay 24, 1928
JasperJopinThe Joplin-Springfield UpliftHard Copy OnlyApr 11, 1930
MarionHannibalHome Protective RecordMicrofilm1914 (some single issues)
MississippiCharlestonSpokesmanMicrofilmAug 1934 (incomplete)
PemiscotCaruthersvilleThe AnchorMicrofilmJul-Aug 1921 (incomplete)
PettisSedaliaWeekly ConservatorMicrofilm1905-1908 (incomplete)
PettisSedaliaU.B.F. and S.M.T. SearchlightHard Copy OnlyOct 8, 1910
PettisSedaliaThe SearchlightHard Copy OnlyFeb 28, 1914
PettisSedaliaTimesMicrofilm1901-1903; 1905 (incomplete)
ScottSikestonSoutheast Missouri WorldMicrofilmNov 25, 1939
ScottSikestonSouthern SunHard Copy Only1954 (some single issues)
 St. LouisAmericanMicrofilm1949-Present
 St. LouisThe American EagleHard Copy OnlyDec 17, 1905; Aug 11, 1906
 St. LouisArgusMicrofilm1915-1997 (incomplete)
 St. LouisSt. Louis Evening WhirlHard Copy Only2013-Present (some earlier)
 St. LouisSt. Louis AdvanceHard Copy OnlyJun 13, 1908
 St. LouisSentinelMicrofilm1968-2002
 St. LouisWestern MessengerMicrofilm1916-1917 (incomplete)

On Demand Programs

African-American Experience in Missouri Lecture Series

Designed to offer the community opportunities to reach a new understanding of present-day Missouri, the African American Experience in Missouri Lecture Series is curated by Keona K. Ervin, history professor at the University of Missouri–Columbia, and SHSMO executive director Gary Kremer, both Center for Missouri Studies fellows known for research on African American history. Featuring top scholars, this series of nearly two dozen videos explores of the lives of African Americans in Missouri's past.

View All African American Experiences in Missouri Lectures

More On Demand Videos

Celebrating Ten African American Artists in Missouri

Dr. Joan Stack, curator of art collections at the State Historical Society of Missouri, gives a talk and shares artwork of Black artists in Missouri. Dr. Stack focuses on ten artists of the 20th and 21st centuries with an emphasis on artists whose artwork is in the collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Historic Images of Black Families: Representation, Identity, and Diversity - A Virtual Tour

Join SHSMO art curator Joan Stack, PhD, on a virtual tour of the Ellis Library 2021 exhibition, Historic Images of Black Families, exploring each piece’s significance and learning how to access resources for Black history research at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Missouri Historical Review Author Series: Kelly Schmidt on Slavery and the Catholic Church

John Brenner, managing editor of Missouri Historical Review hosts author and historian Kelly Schmidt for a discussion of her research on people enslaved by the early Catholic Church in Missouri and the communities they formed to help each other through their hardships, challenge the terms of their bondage, and ultimately seek their freedom. A postdoctoral research associate for the Washington University and Slavery Project, Schmidt is the author of the April 2022 Missouri Historical Review article “Slavery and the Shaping of Catholic Missouri, 1810–1850.”

My Missouri Lecture - A Conversation with David Steward, Founder and Chairman, World Wide Technology

David Steward was the featured speaker in the State Historical Society of Missouri’s annual My Missouri Lecture on Oct. 28, 2023 at the Center for Missouri Studies in Columbia, Mo. Steward is the founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, the largest Black-owned company in the United States. The civic and business leader will be in conversation with Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society, about how Steward’s upbringing in Clinton, Mo. and his Missouri experiences contributed to his success in building a technology company in St. Louis.

Our Missouri Podcast Episodes

Our Missouri is a podcast about the people, places, culture, and history of the 114 counties and independent city of St. Louis that comprise the great state of Missouri. Engaging with subject matter experts in each episode, host Sean Rost explores topics related to the state's complex history and culture, from publications about Missouri’s history to current projects undertaken by organizations to preserve and promote local institutions. 

Oral Histories

  • Politics in Missouri Oral History Project, Records, 1996-, (C3929)

    Contains scores of interviews that date to the mid-1990s. In many instances, these interviews deal with topics of racial history, including struggles over civil rights legislation. Many of these interviews have been transcribed and can be accessed online.

    Among the interviews in this collection is one with State Representative Elbert Walton Jr. from St. Louis. The collection also includes interviews with brothers Roy Cooper Jr. and Alex Cooper, two members of one of the most prominent and well-known African American families of the southeastern Missouri delta.

  • Kansas City Monarchs Oral History Collection, 1978-1981, (K0047)

    This collection contains oral history interviews and related correspondence with eighteen individuals who played with or were associated with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League.

  • Kansas City Jazz Oral History Collection, 1977-1980, (K0012)

    Contains audio recordings and transcriptions of interviews with jazz musicians who played in Kansas City during the "Golden Age of Jazz," roughly the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s.

  • Missouri Desegregation and Civil Rights Oral History Project, Records, 2013, (C4116)

    The collection consists of interviews with people who attended Douglass and/or Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. The collection consists of digitally recorded interviews, audio logs, and photographs. The collection is ongoing and open to interviews concerning any school and/or civil rights topic in Missouri.


The State Historical Society of Missouri digital collections include many photographs documenting African American history. 

View All African American Digital Photographs