Thursday, September 21, 2017

Missouri: The Travel Warning

The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1940, by Victor H. Green. Credit: Wikipedia

Not long before I left El Paso to wend my way to a year in Ferguson, Missouri, the NAACP issued its first ever travel warning to people of color for an entire state.

That state was Missouri.

In the light of events - the local systemic culture of racism, more accurately said - in Ferguson and the University of Missouri-Columbia, this seems sadly inevitable.

(In 2015, I updated Part 5 of my Take a Budget Road Trip Guide to include a section on Road-Tripping While Brown.)

Missouri also figured in: 

A number of years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I was going to Sikeston, Missouri, for an overnight business trip. Her flash reaction to my comment was, "That's where they lynched a black man."

My mother was born in 1929. The Sikeston lynching occurred in 1942, when she was 13 years old.

For more than 60 years since, Sikeston and that lynching have been mated in my mother's brain like a name carved onto a tree with a knife.

In his 1999 New York Times review of The Lynching of Cleo Wright, Sikeston native, Terry Teachout, wrote: 
"... the only time Sikeston made news was after an event nobody likes to talk about: one Sunday morning in the winter of 1942, a man named Cleo Wright was dragged through the streets by an angry mob, doused with gasoline and burned to death. 

....  Of course I knew a man was lynched in Sikeston. It was no secret: my father watched from his window as Wright's near-naked body bounced over the cobblestones of Center Street."

Note: There is an active KKK contingent in Sikeston, Missouri. 

Missouri's official depiction of slavery in the history exhibit in the state capitol is a weasel-y discounting and distancing from the state's dark history of slavery.

Less than 10 years ago, a relative of mine camped with a caving group in a state park not far from Springfield, Missouri. One evening, while the group sat around a campfire, a figure emerged from the surrounding woods, walking toward the fire. He was dressed in the unmistakable, chilling garb of the KKK. He was apparently lost and had mistaken this campfire for that of his racist brethren.

No comments: