New markers to highlight The Sharp End's past in the present

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COLUMBIA - After years of raising funds, advocates of Columbia's black community now have enough money to finish a trail of markers commemorating the history of The Sharp End.

A hanging globe over Walnut Street features the silhouette of a man in a fedora, a symbol of what was a community within a community.

“That marker you saw in front of the post office, that’s a fedora; a black man in a fedora; and do you know why that is? Because the brothas always wore fedoras. Black men always wore fedoras.”

In the 50s and 60s, The Sharp End was known as a community within a community, where black people were successful and relatively free from the racism of the time. Now, business offices and parking garages stand where thriving black-owned businesses once were.

Five of seventeen markers have already been placed around Columbia. The first was dedicated outside James Whitt’s office in May 2015.

Whitt works on Walnut Street at REDI, an economic development center. He is working to add to minority and women-owned businesses in town. He is also on The Sharp End Committee.

“It was the center of the black cultural life during that time,” Whitt said. “It went away and when it went away, it left a nasty taste in the minds and hearts of black people within our community.”

Whitt said he doesn’t think city leaders at the time valued the contributions The Sharp End made to the community. He suggested mending the bitter feelings before moving forward and developing new minority businesses. That’s how the markers came about.

Horrell said the the history of the markers "are a continuation of the black community.

“It is a reminder of the black community and it is something our kids can stick their chest out and say hey this is my heritage,” she said.

Horrell has spent her entire life in Columbia and said she remembers the town's struggle with segregation. She said she has substantial experience with discrimination, but kept her thoughts to herself.

“I say hmm a lot lately,” Horrell said. “People have left and come back and go ‘well this has really changed’ and I go, ‘some things have changed. Everything has not.'"

Columbia resident Mollie McGeehon said she moved to New York after college because she wanted to experience more diversity. Since then, she has moved back and started a family. She said she enjoyed going to University of Missouri lectures that educated the public on African American heritage and the university should bring them back.

“I think there’s so much black history that no one knows anything about, and yet so much has been built by the African American community and there’s no credit for it.”

McGheehon said she has seen the markers before but didn’t realize their significance to the community.

“I think it should be celebrated, but probably a lot of people don’t notice it, so if there’s some way we can highlight it, you know, have a tour, a fun celebration,” she said.

Whitt said, after all 17 locations are marked, there will be a walking tour and a celebration in spring 2019. He said, now that the markers are a permanent part of history, they will be here forever.

“The minority contributions to Columbia throughout history is a very important part of understanding who you are as a community and growing as a community and if that’s missing, it's always an issue of ‘what happened with this part of our history and where is it’ and now we’re telling those stories,” Whitt said.