All that’s left of Pennytown is a small church. Rotting skeletons of houses represent the remains of Pinhook. Much of Kinloch — which lies in the shadow of a major airport — is overgrown with weeds and covered with trash.
Once home to thousands, these three small black communities in different parts of Missouri are of a sort that was once common throughout the region. But these testaments to the state’s African-American history have all met a similar fate: They’re nearly empty, if not completely wiped from the map. Their residents and descendants are scattered, struggling to maintain their history and in some cases struggling to reclaim their homes.
“People don’t really think about African-Americans in the country,” said Todd Lawrence, a descendant of Pennytown residents. “They don’t think about African-Americans as farmers. They don’t think about African-Americans raising animals. And that’s certainly what [those communities] were. Those were places where black people lived in rural settings and thrived. We’re losing that sense, certainly in the Midwest, that there is this culture of rural blackness.”
Freed slaves founded Pennytown in 1871, and sharecroppers in the 1920s settled Pinhook. Kinloch is the oldest incorporated African-American community in Missouri.
“These are places where black people came to escape Jim Crow,” Lawrence said. “Those towns became a kind of paradise for black people, because it allowed them to create a space free from external oppression, to a certain extent.
“We can’t let the knowledge of these places pass into nothing.”
Source: Al Jazeera | Ryan Schuessler