in our midst brings Black History Month to
February 4, 2004
On her way out of town, Kenya
Kimbrough gave me a gift.
It was a couple of days before January
ended and one of Kimbrough’s favorite months
of the year - February - was about to
arrive. She likes February not for the
bitter cold and freezing rain but because it
is Black History Month, and nothing lights
Kimbrough on fire like talking about black
I know this because she sends me volumes
on the subject every time she sees something
in the Tribune that bothers her. Kimbrough
is, by her own admission, a little radical,
though she believes that many blacks of the
younger generations share her views. She
home-schools her daughter because she
doesn’t think the public schools will teach
her enough of black history and culture. She
belongs to the National Black United Front
because she believes it does a much better
job speaking for blacks and their issues
than the more established National
Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, which doesn’t care about anything
but its own survival, Kimbrough says.
My friend, who’s moving to Kansas City,
chides me sometimes for "tearing down"
University of Missouri President Elson Floyd
- not because the reporting is inaccurate,
but because her daughter has few male, black
role models, and he is one. Leave her
daughter’s hero alone, Kimbrough tells me.
It’s with this kind of unswerving passion
that she lives her life. It’s why she took
me to Jewell Cemetery last Friday afternoon.
The cemetery is an unpolished and not very
well-known jewel of local history, though
Kimbrough values it for reasons different
than most folks who visit it. The irony of
our Friday visit is that I had driven by the
cemetery just the day before, though I had
no idea it was there. Jewell Cemetery is a
state park, and it’s located just west of
Providence Road, north of Green Meadows
Road. It’s surrounded by development, most
notably the new Stoney Creek Lodge just
north of the cemetery.
The Jewell Cemetery is on the former
estate of George Jewell, though the more
famous relatives buried there are William
Jewell and Charles Hardin. William Jewell
is, of course, founder of the Baptist
college in Liberty, but also a former
Columbia mayor, physician, educator and
state legislator. On his large and
impressive tombstone is printed a fine
epitath: "His work is done, he did it well
Hardin was Missouri’s 22nd governor, and
it’s because of him that the Jewell Cemetery
is a state park. In 1967, the General
Assembly passed a law calling for the state
to establish all former governors’
gravesites as part of the state park system.
The Jewell Cemetery is an impressive place,
with grave markers dating to 1822, and a
stone wall and iron gates that stand in
contrast to the bustle and boom of south
Kimbrough’s interest in the cemetery
isn’t the sturdy stone wall or the ornate
grave stones of former leading citizens. She
marches right past the century old masonry
and takes me to the back of the cemetery.
There, behind the massive memorials, are
about 20 small stones in two rows.
The stones have no markings on them and
they are but a few inches above the ground.
The limestone rectangles are believed to be
the markers of gravesites for slaves of the
Jewell family. To Kimbrough, this is reason
alone to make the Jewell Cemetery a more
favored state park than just the anonymous
stop at the side of the road it seems to be.
She’s taken her daughter there. She’s led
tours with other black children, showing
them their history, bringing attention to
the stark contrast in stones between the
cemetery’s namesake and the ones marking
black men and women who worked for him.
The reality is, the markers would
probably never have been saved at all if
they hadn’t been connected to the Jewell and
Hardin names. Many cemeteries of mostly
black Mid-Missourians were wiped out over
the years as highway maps were drawn without
reference to them, mostly because the land
became overgrown with weeds, the stones were
too small, the history not thought of as
important enough to preserve.
But here in Columbia, the history is
there in black and white.
To Kimbrough, the stones serve as a
reminder of the many differences we still
have in a society in which blacks still
struggle for the equality they’ve been
fighting for throughout most of our
country’s history. As William Jewell gets
the credit for building Columbia’s streets,
descendants of the poor blacks who did the
work are still stuck in the First Ward,
unable to cross the street to prosperity,
Kimbrough says - this is our city’s history.
While some will focus this month on
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "dream," Kimbrough
chooses to focus on the reality that she
says is the real basis for King’s famous
speech. That reality, she says, is still the
standard today, with black and white not
being treated the same, with true equality
still being but a distant goal.
Kimbrough’s reality is that she’s
fighting for a better future for her
daughter. She went back to school and earned
her college degree last spring. Now she’s
headed to the big city with her eyes on law
school. She’s celebrating what she expects
to be a string of successes.
To Kimbrough, though, Black History Month
isn’t about celebration.
It’s about Jewell Cemetery and little
stones lost in the shadows.