Khadijah Forrest, The Black Bear – Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Ernie Fields, and so many more legendary talented African-Americans were once all in Springfield enjoying food at the black-owned business Graham’s Rib Station in the 1930s.
Famous for Mrs. Graham’s special barbecue sauce, Graham’s Rib Station was owned and operated by James and Zelma Graham serving African-Americans during the era of segregation.
African-American entertainers and other travelers were lucky enough to have a place to stay overnight by renting out a cabin at Graham’s Tourist Court off Washington and East Chestnut Expressway.
At the time, Graham’s Tourist Court was the only place that would rent rooms to African-Americans in Springfield. One of the cabins are still in existence near Chestnut Expressway.
The largest grocery store in Springfield in 1900 was the Hardrick Brothers Grocery Store which was owned by two African-American families. Another black-owned grocery store around 1900 resided on the north side of Springfield and was called Tindall Market.
In 1871, the first African-American public school was built at the corner of Central and Washington Streets. The school was known as the Colored School until its name was changed to the Old Lincoln School after an exchanging of property with Drury College.
Over the years, Springfield leaders have made efforts to encourage and increase the rate of diversity in the city, but what some people have failed to realized, African-Americans have always been a part of Springfield history.
Joan Hampton-Porter, the History Museum on the Square curator, said, “African-Americans have always been here and it is an overlooked community.”
Currently in downtown Springfield, people can view the “We’ve Always Been Here” exhibit at the Historic Fox Theater on the Square.
This exhibit tells the stories of the African-American community in Greene County.
“We want to make sure people realize the richness, the diversity that built this community,” Hampton-Porter said.
Many people believe that the majority of African-Americans left Springfield in 1906 after the Good Friday lynchings on the square.
According to Hampton-Porter, there are a lot of families in Springfield that never left.
Father Moses Berry, descendant of Daniel Boone and the owner of the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum which closed in 2013, tells the story of the square lynchings in a video presented at the exhibit.
On April 14, 1906, three Black men were lynched on the square after accusations of raping a white woman. The men were dragged from jail and their bodies were hung and burned. Soon after the woman that claimed she was raped confessed that she was not raped by the three men.
“It was a horrible tragedy but there is so much more to the African-American history here than the lynching,” Hampton-Porter explained. “They forget about all the amazing things African-Americans have done here.”
To learn more about how African-Americans contributed to Springfield history, the “We’ve Always Been Here” exhibit is open now through the extended date May 9. Exhibit hours are listed at http://historymuseumonthesquare.org.