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Virtual tour looks back on historic black Columbia

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | 5:17 p.m. CST; updated 10:01 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 25, 2009
One of the houses located in the original black community in Columbia north of Broadway and east of Providence, then known as Third Street. The picture is part of the Black Community Photographs collections and was taken between 1958 and 1965. The houses were torn down and replaced with businesses as part of an urban renewal project in Columbia in the 1960s.

COLUMBIA — For most people, a typical day involves leaving work or school and stopping in at a restaurant for a quick sit-down meal. But for many black people, this was not an option prior to the 1960s.

Life for blacks in Columbia was drastically different then, and Mary Beth Brown, manuscripts specialist of the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, will be giving a more detailed look at those differences in a "Virtual Walking Tour of Historic Black Columbia" at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Columbia Public Library.

Here's a guide to a few stops in Columbia's historic past, based on Brown's research:

Stop 1

The Minute-Inn, a restaurant located in a trailer at 105 N. Providence Road, would not allow blacks to come inside and eat but would serve them outside through a window.

Members of the Congress of Racial Equality didn’t think it was right that a restaurant located between the houses of two black residents didn’t serve them.

“It was an insult, a slap in the face,” said Wynna Faye Elbert, who participated in one of the sit-ins as part of the youth division of the NAACP.

Elbert, who was 16 at the time, said the sit-in was just one of several during the early 1960s in downtown Columbia that were part of an effort to persuade restaurants to provide equal service to blacks.

Stop 2

Farther down Providence Road, then called Third Street, was an area where the black community was concentrated until the urban renewal of Columbia in the '60s.

The area, known as Cemetery Hill, was lined with houses that were eventually torn down to make way for new businesses. Residents were moved to nearby public housing, and today the area has been replaced by the Walgreens on the corner of Broadway and Providence Road.

Stop 3

Down Providence Road, the story of James T. Scott must be told.

On April 28, 1923, a mob entered Boone County Jail to capture Scott because he was accused of assaulting a white woman. The mob burned the lock off Scott's cell door with a torch, drug him down Third Street and lynched him on Stewart Bridge.

Scott was never given the opportunity to stand trial, and, according to Columbia Daily Tribune accounts at that time, he had witnesses to his whereabouts on the day of the assault.

Brown said the lynching made national news and brought a lot of attention to Columbia.

“The lynching really affected everybody in Columbia,” she said.

Other stops on the tour include Sharp End – a businesses district on Walnut Street that catered to Columbia’s black community – and historic places associated with past prominent citizens such as Annie Fisher, a caterer whose food won a prize at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.


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