Early this summer the NAACP put out a bulletin that blacks should avoid visiting Missouri, as they would feel unwelcome.

They had certainly not checked with Neosho about that.

Our black citizens have always contributed to our community and are welcome as longstanding families and citizens.

I am so glad our schools integrated and without any trouble in 1954. In that year we got to know Carolyn Hutchinson, who entered an Empire District Electric contest representing our home economics classes at NHS and she won a stove for the school.

That year we also got Andy Barker, who became captain of the football team with Coach Calvin Lane and we were honored to become Big 8 or 9 champions.

Following Andy was J.C. Wright, who did us proud in track and football. His two sons became professional athletes.

Later, Andy Barker married Mary Jean, from Springfield, and they also sent NHS four remarkable students who continue to be productive citizens. Mary Jean has been instrumental in Neosho’s historical documentation. She got Second Baptist Church onto the National Register.

We also have the Clark family, who established the large park on Main Avenue. The Wright family has a business on the square.

Of course, you know we have the first schoolhouse George Washington Carver attended and the national park in his honor located north of Neosho and west of Diamond, where he was born. One of Neosho’s state-of-the-art schools is named George Washington Carver Elementary.

The last two directors of our national fish hatchery, Dave Hendrix and Rod May, are leading  promoters of the Neosho community. I would say that if one were to define the feelings we have toward the black citizens of Neosho, those would be feelings of respect and gratitude.

As a teenager of that integration era, I am very glad of that because when I went to school in Glasgow, Scotland, to work in New York City and Washington, D.C., I was totally at ease around all people who were not white.

As the world has become a closer global community, I feel a part of it. My children work in a global community world and I am glad they are welcomed and welcoming in all kinds of friendly places with friendly faces.

Finally, I will tell you that one of my favorite happenings at LIFE magazine in 1962 was when I advanced and was named a reporter.

The replacement for my job, whom I trained to be the next girl on the “clip desk,” was none other than Lena Horne’s daughter, Gail. She later went to Hollywood and married director Sidney Lumet, but is now Gail Lumet Buckley.

A sentence from her book — “THE HORNES, AN AMERICAN FAMILY” — on page 246 reads, “I started at LIFE on the clip desk. As far as I was concerned, it was the most important job on the magazine.” And she was taught that by a girl from Neosho, Mo.

The whole reason for this column this week is to encourage you to drop by the Newton County Historical Society’s pavilion during the Oct. 7 fall festival and visit the Barker Historic Cemetery Improvement Group.

They are raising money for headstones at the historic Barker Cemetery for those whose resting place was only marked with rocks or less. They have a brochure of the research which has been done of the families buried there.

Rod May and Mary Jean Barker will be there to welcome you… and take your contributions to this re-establishment of black history in Neosho.

(Judy Haas Smith lives in Neosho.)


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