The organizers of the Springfield-Greene County African-American Heritage Trail unveiled an artist’s rendering of the trail’s first marker at the annual Park Day Reunion, Saturday, Aug. 3 at Silver Springs Park, which celebrated its centennial that day.
The organizers, which include business owner Lyle Foster, Missouri State University Chief Diversity Officer Wes Pratt, MSU faculty member Tim Knapp, NAACP Springfield President Cheryl Clay and City of Springfield Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement Cora Scott, plan to designate as many as 20 sites on the trail with distinctive, historical markers and have partnered with the City of Springfield, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, Ozark Greenways, Missouri State and Drury universities to make the project a reality. Due to the expense of the markers, both public and private funding will likely be used for the project.
The trail will follow an existing greenway that runs near several of the important sites, such as the Sherman Avenue Corridor, the former Lincoln High School, (Springfield’s black high school before integration, now known as Ozarks Technical Community College’s Lincoln Hall) Jones Alley Business District and the Historic Church Quadrangle (Washington Avenue Baptist Church, Benton Avenue AME Church, Gibson Chapel Presbyterian Church and Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church.)
There will also be signs directing people to other significant markers from the greenway.
Silver Springs, Springfield’s only public park open to black residents during segregation, was established in 1918 on land owned by Springfield school superintendent Jonathan Fairbanks, who had died the previous year. The night before Easter 1906, Fairbanks opened his home to black residents frightened by the lynching of three black men – Will Allen, Fred Coker and Horace Duncan – on Park Central Square. A memorial honoring the three men will be incorporated into the heritage trail.
The Park Day Reunion dates back to 1952 when Gerald Brooks, a parks supervisor and a teacher at Springfield’s former Lincoln School, and Robert Wendell Duncan, also a park supervisor, started a day of games and sports events for young African-American residents at Silver Springs.
Park Days includes a parade, beauty pageant, concerts and a picnic, and provided the backdrop for the 1998 film “Park Day,” by director Sterling Macer, Jr., who grew up here.
“One of the goals of the whole project is to promote healing and appreciation for the African American community’s past and present,” said Mayor McClure, in his 2018 State of the City address. “… We are making great strides forward in diversity and inclusion but we have a long ways to go.”