Bryan Jack is associate professor of historical studies at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. He is the the editor of Southern History on Screen: Race and Rights, 1976–2016 and The Saint Louis African American Community and the Exodusters. His articles have appeared in The Griot and the Councilor, and in international publications from the British Association of American Studies and American Studies of Turkey. Jack earned his PhD from Saint Louis University, a master’s degree from the University of Alabama, and a bachelor’s degree from Baker University. He lives in the city of St. Louis.
Crossing the Red Sea: St. Louis and the Exodus of 1879
In 1879, thousands of African Americans fled the post-Reconstruction South in search of political, economic, and social opportunity in Kansas. Called “Exodusters” after the Biblical story of escape from oppression, many arrived in St. Louis destitute, and city officials refused to help. To the stranded Exodusters, St. Louis became a barrier as formidable as the Red Sea. However, through a commitment to civil rights and a remarkable display of community organization, African Americans in St. Louis came together to sustain the Exodusters’ material needs as well as provide funds to continue their journey. The Exoduster movement, and the relief efforts that supported it, provide a unique opportunity to further our understanding of St. Louis as a city, of Missouri as a state, and of African American life in an era of dramatic change.
The Gateway to the South: Understanding Missouri as a Southern State
Sitting near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, St. Louis proudly wears the title as the “Gateway to the West,” a status displayed in the Gateway Arch, the city’s iconic landmark. Another landmark, The Old Courthouse (the Dred Scott case) speaks to St. Louis’s and Missouri’s history of slavery. Thus, we are reminded that a north-south axis along the Mississippi River, not just the relationship between east and west, also shaped Missouri’s history and identity. While Missouri is commonly recognized as Midwestern, its historical identity is more complicated. The area of “Little Dixie” along the Missouri River, the border conflict with Kansas during the Civil War, a history of codified racial segregation, and even Mizzou's inclusion in the Southeastern Conference all speak to Missouri’s identity as “the northernmost southern state.” Using examples from history and popular culture, Bryan Jack explores Missouri’s Southern identity. The goal of the presentation is not to convince anyone that Missouri is “Southern,” but to help people understand how Missouri’s geography and culture occupies a unique place in American culture.