Celebrating Black History Month

Councilman Denny Whayne

We’re kicking off Black History Month at the City by looking back on a memorable day in December 2018 when we honored former Councilman Denny Whayne by renaming the fourth-floor conference room in the Busch Municipal Building after him.

Whayne was the first African American elected to City Council since the Council/Manager form of government was adopted in 1953. He served as the Zone 1 representative for two consecutive four-year terms. First elected in 2001, Whayne served until 2009.

Whayne, who grew up in Springfield, joined the NAACP at 11, later riding the Freedom Train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to participate in a march, where he shook JFK’s hand. He continued his civil rights work in Tulsa, where racial tensions were high in the late 1960s. He moved back to Springfield in 1972 and served as president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP from 1980 until 1988. He worked for the City’s Finance department from 1975 until 1985.
While Whayne was a trailblazer, there were three African American councilmen who came before him in the 1800s: Julius Rector, Jim Stone and Alfred Adams. Historical records note that at least two of them were formerly enslaved.

Rector, the principal of Springfield's first school for Black students, was the first person of color to be elected to City Council. Next was Stone, a grocery store owner, who served in city leadership in the 1870s and was re-elected at least once. Adams, who was elected three times, died in 1901 and still has relatives in Springfield. He was the last African American to serve in Springfield city government before Whayne was elected more than 100 years later.
Source: Springfield News-Leader. 


Pictured: Whayne, center, and friends when City Council passed the resolution renaming the conference room in his honor.

Rethinking Black History Month Presentation

Tune in to the City’s and Park Board’s Facebook pages or to AfricanAmericanHeritageTrailSGF.org 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5 to hear Dr. LaGarrett King’s presentation “Rethinking Black History Month,” a workshop aimed at helping communities learn a new framework for and be more intentional about teaching Black history in schools, libraries and other spaces.


Dr. LaGarrett King

The Journey Continues: African Americans in the Ozarks

Have you heard of The Journey Continues: African Americans in the Ozarks, a project by Missouri State University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology? The project captures the experiences of people who lived through periods of great change in Springfield's African American community and shares these experiences through short videos, audio recordings and writing. https://soc-ant.missouristate.edu/journeycontinues/people.htm to listen to the fascinating interviews they’ve done so far with four Springfield citizens who came of age during and just after segregation. They are still collecting stories!


Lewis Tutt, Springfield's first African American police officer

Lewis Tutt was born a slave on a farm in Marion County, Ark. in 1844 (despite the date on the headstone). He was the son of a white slave owner, Hansford "Hamp" Tutt, and a slave, believed to have been named Millie. The family treated Tutt kindly and after becoming skilled in agriculture, Lewis Tutt eventually took charge over the Tutt farm.

Tutt was also the half-brother of Davis Tutt, the man who was shot and killed by Wild Bill Hickok in 1865 on the square in downtown Springfield.

During the Civil War, Tutt moved to Springfield where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Tutt was well-liked and considered a man of good standing in the community. In response to requests from members of Springfield’s minority community, Lewis Tutt was appointed Springfield’s first Black police officer in 1874, where he served a one-year term. Despite having no formal education, Tutt went on to become a successful businessman, who community members described as “clear-headed.”  He ran a grocery store and then invested in real estate, owning houses, lots and a store on Boonville Street. He also owned and lived in his own home on Boonville Street.

On Aug. 17, 1865, Lewis married Emma McCullah. They had one child together. Tutt and his wife were active members in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and contributed to the building of the church and toward the building of the Perkins Grand Opera House.

Tutt died in 1900 and is buried in the Maple Park Cemetery beside his brother. Sources: Goodspeed Brothers, History of Greene County, Missouri and Family Tree of Paulene Coen

Lewis Tutt 


The Philharmonics

Formed at Gibson Chapel (Tampa Street and Washington Avenue), which is a stop on the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail, Springfield’s Philharmonics quintet, comprised of Chick Rice, James Logan, Elbridge Moss, Homer Boyd and George Culp, toured the U.S. performing rhythm and blues, gospel, soul, and jazz hits in the 1950s. The group is perhaps best known for regularly appearing on the Ozark Jubilee and at the Grand Ole Opry. 

The Philharmonics are featured in the History Museum on the Square’s Crossroads of Country Music exhibit and its Trolley Time Machine. Those who worked at or frequently visited Mercy Hospital in the early 2000s may remember Boyd (second from right) as a shuttle driver who was always in a good mood and had a kind word for everyone he encountered.


Alberta's Hotel

In the 1940s and ’50s, entrepreneur Alberta Ellis operated several businesses in Springfield, including Alberta’s Snack Shack, a farm and a hotel for African American travelers, which was a three-story house that had previously served as a hospital for the Black community. The former site of the hotel is the parking lot between Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Springfield Municipal Court building, and is part of Springfield-Greene County’s African American Heritage Trail. The hotel contained a large dining room, a rumpus room, beauty salon, barber shop and snack bar. The hotel, staffed by family members, was located three blocks north of historic Route 66. Alberta’s Hotel was listed in "The Negro Motorist Green Book," which listed locations where African American travelers could safely eat or sleep along Route 66. Alberta’s Hotel welcomed a variety of guests, from well-known musical groups to military troops. beginning in 1954.


albertasHotel Photos courtesy of: Alberta’s Hotel Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Missouri State University

Graham's Rib Station

In 1932, Zelma and James Graham opened Graham's Rib Station at the corner of Washington Avenue and Chestnut Street. It operated seven days a week until it closed in 1967. In the 1940s, the Grahams had six stone cottages built near the restaurant, which became Graham’s Modern Tourist Court.

Both Zelma and James became community leaders, as they served on administrative boards of The United Way, the Council of Churches of the Ozarks, and other civic organizations.

For 35 years, the thriving business served as a social hub for Springfield’s African American community. Every weekend, cars would be lined up along Washington and Chestnut.

The Grahams' daughter, Elaine, helped run the business, and she attributed its success to three primary factors: high-quality food, great service and location. James was an excellent cook, and he visited local packing houses, selecting only the best meats. Employees got to know customers and would personally call them by name. The restaurant, barbecue sauce and catering business served the public at large. It was close to O’Reilly Army Hospital where families of patients would stay and where staff would eat, and it was near the Shrine Mosque. Many famous entertainers ate and stayed at Graham’s, including Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Lionel Hampton, Louis Bellson and Harry Belafonte.
The Graham’s site will be dedicated as part of Springfield-Greene County’s African American Heritage Trail in 2021.

 Graham’s original neon sign and menu may be viewed at History Museum on the Square’s Birthplace of Route 66 Gallery.

Graham's Ribs Neon Sign
Photo courtesy of History Museum on the Square's Facebook page.


Silver Springs Park

Silver Springs Park was the first site dedicated on the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail during its centennial in 2018. Springfield’s only public park open to Black residents during segregation, Silver Springs was established in 1918 on land owned by Springfield school superintendent Jonathan Fairbanks, who had died the previous year. Silver Springs is home to the Park Day Reunion, which dates back to 1952 when Gerald Brooks, a parks supervisor and a teacher at Lincoln School, and Robert Wendell Duncan, also a parks supervisor, started a day of games and sports events for young African Americans at Silver Springs. Park Days includes a parade, beauty pageant, concerts and a picnic, and provided the backdrop for the 1998 film “Park Day,” by director Sterling Macer, Jr., who grew up here.


Photo courtesy of Park Day Reunion Club Facebook page.

Lincoln School

In 1930, the Rosenwald Foundation issued a grant to pay for a new school for Springfield’s Black students and a two-story redbrick school was dedicated as Lincoln School on May 21, 1931. When it opened, teachers led students in a parade down Central Street to their new school. Once there, students sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The new school had 15 rooms, including a gymnasium, mechanical arts shop, domestic science room and a library.

 While Lincoln was described in the local newspaper as “one of the best-equipped Negro schools in the state,” its students had access to far fewer resources than their counterparts at white-only schools. However, teachers, administrators and parents were resourceful and successfully sponsored scout troops; a community library and child care center; as well as held dances, plays, concerts, talent contests and fashion shows. When Springfield’s public schools integrated in 1954, Lincoln School became Eastwood Junior High school. It is now Lincoln Hall on the Ozarks Technical Community College campus.


Brown v. Board of Education and its Connection to Springfield

Do you know about Springfield’s connection to the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of the U.S. education system? Linda Brown was nine in 1951 when her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her at Sumner Elementary School, then an all-white school in Topeka. When the school blocked her enrollment, her father sued the Topeka Board of Education. Four similar cases were combined with Brown's complaint and presented to the Supreme Court as Oliver L. Brown et al v. Board of Education of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas, et al. The court ruled in May 1954 that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

In the late 1950s, the Brown family moved to Springfield when Oliver became pastor at Benton Avenue A.M.E. Church. Linda enrolled at Central High School in 1959, graduating in 1961. Rev. Brown died of a heart attack at the age of 42 shortly thereafter, and the family moved back to Topeka. In 2014, Linda, her mother Leola Brown Montgomery and her sister Cheryl Brown Henderson spoke about their experiences at a talk sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the Library Foundation that took place at Linda’s alma mater, Central High School. Linda died in 2018 in Topeka at the age of 76. Cheryl Brown Henderson, an educator, continues her family’s legacy through the Brown Foundation.

Linda Brown

Photo credit: Carl Wasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty Images

1906 Lynchings of Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and Will Allen in Park Central Square

We end our Black History Month series by looking back on a dark and shameful day in Springfield’s history. We must never forget the events of Easter weekend 1906, and always honor the lives of the three men who were lost that day.

On Good Friday, April 13, 1906, Springfield and Greene County had a thriving population of African American professionals, business owners and community leaders. Tragically, by the early hours of Easter Sunday, the city had been overwhelmed by hate and violence because of a false allegation that two Black men, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker, had assaulted a white woman.

A lynch mob formed, and the two men were taken to the county jail for their protection. A third young African American man, William Allen, was already in the jail. The mob broke into the jail and took Duncan and Coker to the square, where they were hanged from the Gottfried Tower, an iron structure topped with a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Not satisfied with lynching Coker and Duncan, the mob returned to the jail and brought Allen to be lynched. By Easter Sunday morning, all that remained was a pile of ashes and the men’s burned bodies. A crowd of thousands had watched this horror.

Fearing further violence, many African Americans left the city, some never to return. After the lynching, a grand jury met and indicted 18 men who were involved in the incident. One man was brought to trial, but no one was ever convicted of these murders.

In partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, the City and partners dedicated a plaque in October 2019 commemorating the lynchings and remembering the lives of these men. The site was the second site dedicated on the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail. The opposite side of the plaque contains information provided by EJI about lynching in America between 1877 and 1950 and how it was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate Black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation. 

Park Central Square Lynching Memorial Plaque