FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The organizers of Springfield’s African American Heritage Trail project will unveil the Springfield-Greene County African-American Heritage Trail’s third marker at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 8.
The ceremony will take place near Gibson Chapel Presbyterian Church, 536 E. Tampa, and will commemorate the southern area of a “church square” that includes two historically African-American churches.
The southern area of the square includes Gibson Chapel, located on corner of Tampa and Washington Ave., was formed as the First Negro Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1865 by a freed slave named Reverend Peter Lair (later spelled Lear) with aid from a white minister. The frame building was constructed on the south side of the Jordan River (Jordan Creek) at the foot of Washington Avenue.
In 1891, a new brick church was built on the corner of Washington Avenue and Pine (now 536 E. Tampa Street). The church was renamed Gibson Chapel after the death of Reverend H. A. Gibson, who worked tirelessly to get the new structure erected. After the lynching of three innocent black men on the public square on Easter weekend, 1906, many families sought shelter in the chapel’s basement while male church members guarded the building. The building was heavily damaged by fires in 1915 and 1935, but was rebuilt both times. After World War II, five members of the choir formed the singing group the Philharmonics. The group went on to regional and national fame.
Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church was constructed in 1865 after an arsonist burned the log cabin church along Jordan Creek. Fleming McCullah donated the land for the church that also housed the Freedmen’s Bureau School and later the public school for black children. Edgar Pitts was the pastor of the chapel three times after the Civil War and when he died in 1889, the church was renamed Pitts Chapel. In 1911, the congregation built a new church structure on the corner of Benton and Pine (now Tampa).
The organizers of the Springfield-Greene County African-American Heritage trail are a committee of citizens dedicated to the research and dissemination of the history of the African-American people of Springfield and Greene County. The committee identifies sites and provides markers honoring locations deeply significant to the story of people of color.
The mission of the trail is to continue to research and publish previously undocumented history and to involve the Springfield community in the identification and celebration of the contributions made by people of color to the community. In pursuit of that goal, the trail’s initial sites will follow along Jordan Creek Greenway and The Link with historical markers in partnership with sponsors, such as: Bass Pro Shops, City of Springfield, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Missouri State University, Ozark Greenways and Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
The trail will follow an existing greenway that runs near several of the important sites, such as the Sherman Avenue Corridor, the former Lincoln High School, (Springfield’s black high school before integration, now known as Ozarks Technical Community College’s Lincoln Hall), Jones Alley Business District and the Historic Church Quadrangle (Washington Avenue Baptist Church, Benton Avenue AME Church, Gibson Chapel Presbyterian Church, and Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church.) There will also be signs directing people to other significant markers from the greenway and stamped identifiers in sidewalks leading to markers when sidewalks are replaced.
The expense of building the trail is considerable. Currently, several markers are funded by Bass Pro Shops, City of Springfield and Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Contributions to the Heritage Trail are gratefully accepted and used to further develop the Trail. For more information, visit AfricanAmericanHeritageTrailSGF.org. To Donate, mail a check to Community Foundation of the Ozarks Springfield-Greene County African-American Heritage Trail Fund, P.O. Box 8960, Springfield, MO 65801, or visit CFOzarks.org.
"One of the goals of the whole project is to promote healing and appreciation for the African-American community’s past and present," said Mayor McClure, in his 2018 State of the City address. "... We are making great strides forward in diversity and inclusion but we have a long ways to go."
For more information, please contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement at 417-380-3352 or Lyle Foster at 417-763-2146.