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"The Journey Continues" Shares Experiences of African-Americans in Springfield

Theirs was a small, close-knit community in post-World War II. “Springfield-style” segregation was frustrating and limiting, but it also contributed to a vibrant African-American community: the Jones Alley business district bustling with vibrant, black-owned businesses; more than 20 different social clubs; a church-centered life. Every weekend there was a different event to go to; a lot to look forward to.  

It was a time in Springfield’s black history that still surprises Lyle Foster and Tim Knapp, sociology professors at Missouri State University who examine the experiences of African-Americans in their research project “The Journey Continues.”  The report led to the formation of the Springfield-Greene County Heritage Trail.

Foster and Knapp will share some of the richness of the period at a presentation from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13, in the Library Station Frisco Room, 2535 N. Kansas Expressway.

“The Journey Continues” pulls from interviews, letters, photos and other sources to provide a new understanding of the American-American history in Springfield, Foster says.

“There was a very vibrant, social community,” Foster says. Despite segregation, “people felt they had a lot to do and a lot to look forward to.” 

He and Knapp call it The Bronze Years. They were difficult times for African-Americans across the nation, Foster says, “but there were some bright spots in spite of it all. That’s what kind of struck us.”

Among those bright spots, teens played pool, ping pong games and music on the juke box at the Youth Center on Benton Avenue. Music groups like the Hardin Brothers, saxophonist “Be Bop Brown” and The Philharmonics played local and national venues. Churches, social and civic groups and clubs were hubs for social activities.

Clubs held regular dances that ranged from informal “apron and overall” parties to formal affairs, such as the Silverstones Club’s annual dance where men wore tuxedos and women wore long, formal dresses.

At the Key Club, “they had dances galore and movies. It was really uptown.” One Persona recalled that with so many clubs and activities, “we always had somewhere to go.”

For more details about the Jan. 13 event, call 865-1340.

Kathleen O'Dell is community relations director for the Springfield-Greene County Library District. She can be reached at kathleeno@thelibrary.org.

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