Every February since 1976, America has come together to celebrate Black History Month and the contributions of African Americans to our nation and its history. It was originally just a one-week celebration during the second week of February to celebrate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who spoke about his first-hand experience as a former slave, and Abraham Lincoln, who changed our nation forever by ending slavery with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, it became clear that more than a week was necessary to celebrate this rich history, and every president since 1976 has signed a declaration designating February “Black History Month.”
Missouri has been home to some incredible African Americans who have made lasting impacts on this country. One of the most famous Missourians was Dred Scott of the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, a case students across America learn about in their history books. Dred Scott was a slave who was taken from the then slave state of Missouri into the free state of Illinois and as a result, believed — rightly so — he was a free man. Despite taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, he was unfortunately before his time, and they ruled against him in his request for freedom. While the Court did not rule in Dred Scott’s favor, this was a landmark court case and one of the most important moments in abolitionist history.
As a baseball lover, I’m very proud Missouri was home to the Kansas City Monarchs, the longest-running franchise in National Negro League history. Formed in 1920 at an exceedingly contentious time for race relations in America, this team overcame the obstacles and adversity and became one of the National Negro Leagues’ most winning teams with just one losing season and two trips to the leagues’ World Series. The Monarchs franchise was also home to some of the most famous Americans to ever play the game like Satchel Paige and Jesse Williams. If you’re ever headed west, I would highly recommend a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. To get there, you might cross the Missouri River on the Buck O’Neil Bridge, named after an absolute legend of baseball. After his incredible career with the Kansas City Monarchs, Buck O’Neil defied the odds to become the first African American coach in Major League Baseball. Because of his impact on the game and society as a whole, in 2008, the National Baseball Hall of Fame created the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, which is only awarded once every three years to people who have achieved extraordinary impacts on baseball and American society. While I admittedly would prefer to visit Busch Stadium to watch my Cardinals, I’ve made a few trips to Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City over the years. I will always remember watching young children and grown men visit Buck’s seat behind the third baseline to get their gloves signed or shake hands with the hero of so many.
The achievements of Black history in Missouri can be seen today in the many Black-owned businesses across our state. Like all small businesses across Missouri, they have suffered a tough year losing business due to shutdowns and some unfortunately having to close their doors for good. As our state continues to recover, please try to shop and dine local to help support our state’s small businesses whenever you can. The last year has been especially difficult one for our nation. Not only did we face a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but we saw strained race relations in many cities across the country. This Black History Month is a great time to embrace our differences and celebrate the African Americans who have contributed and continue to contribute so much to our state and this country.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., shares his perspective each week on national issues, including ones that affect Missouri. He represents the state’s 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 635-7232.
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