Courageous Conversations: Race Realities in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Recent events regarding race have prompted people in cities across America to take a closer look at race relations, and that's certainly true in Springfield.

"The reality is that you have a very small African-American population here relative to other places. And for that matter, not just African-Americans, but other racial groups," Mark Dixon of the Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center said.

In a city celebrating a renaissance of sorts, where hundred-year-old buildings are new again, some say blight of our past still needs attention.

"Springfield is stagnant," NAACP Springfield President Cheryl Clay said. "They can refurbish all the buildings on the square they want to, but as far as new blood and new growth in our community, we don't have it. Even white people, when they come here say, 'Wow. It is so white."

"It's impossible to talk about Springfield and how it is now, what's led to that, without going back in history."

"In April of 1906 there was a very public lynching in park central square and at that particular point, Springfield was about 30 percent African-American. That was a segregated society but they were doctors, grocery store owners," Dr. Byron Klaus, the president of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, said. "We went from 30 percent to 2 to 3 percent."

"It isn't just black history, it's American history," Arthur Hodge, a local teacher and president of the National Action Network's Springfield chapter said.

History shows, Springfield's African-American population plummeted in the early twentieth century, suffering a diversity drought since. But why did racial terror in Springfield's past affect its ethnic makeup for more than a century while other areas of the country seemed to move on?

"It's not so much racism as it is our economics," Clay said.

"Jobs and economics," former Springfield councilman Denny Whayne said.

"The whole attitudinal thing and reputation," Dixon said. "We want to stay just like we are. So we build these walls. And we put up systems. They be under-the-radar systems, but they're there. We do things to kind of keep things status quo and keep things as they are," Dixon said. "It wasn't another 100 years before you saw people going on to school board, Denny Whayne becoming a councilman."

"I was told I wouldn't win because the city wasn't ready. That encouraged me to prove them wrong. I wore out three pairs of shoes knocking on people's doors," Whayne said.  
No doubt, progress has bridged gaps over the last several decades. The Springfield public school system, many say, is seen as a beacon of faith in the future.

"The opening of the community school at Robbrson, has said we have to take a more wrap-around approach to education," Dixon said. 'With almost one in five children in Springfield public schools now that is not white. You have to strategic you have to be purposeful."

A recently unveiled plan by the superintendent to focus on learning equity provides a possible solution to the perception of a currently imbalanced equation.

"It could be a great school district, but it's got some problems," Hodge said. "I go on the southside and feel like i have fallen from another planet. Northside is totally different. When you go on the southside you may have a class with 18 students. Come on the northside, you may find 25 to 30 in a classroom."

"Large companies aren't going to come here because their workers are a very diverse pool," Clay said. "Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is. We can have all the conversations in the world, but if there are no action plans, it's going to be business as usual."

Locals who've loved to call the Ozarks home for decades, some their whole lives, tell KOLR 10, slow but steady progress proves the Queen City's real potential.

"That's one of the reasons that I stay. I see the potential," Dixon said.

"I wish that other minorities especially black minorities would choose to get involved in city politics," Whayne said. "And they need to vote."
 
"Instead of speaking up and addressing issues, instead we just lay back. Jesus would not do that. Jesus would speak out," Hodge said. "Just love who you are and when you love who are, you can love other people."


The Greater Springfield Race and Faith Collaborative ... a coalition of city employees, activists and religious leaders ... promotes deeper understanding of race relations and equality. 
 

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