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Mo’ Curious: Saving the Hidden Stories of a Vanishing Rural Lifestyle

In this episode, we listen to the oral histories of Margot McMillen. We hear from a river boat captain, a train engineer and an independent woman. These and several dozen other Missourians were the subjects of Margot’s late 1970s oral history recordings.

At that time, Margot was a young mother of two, a graduate student in English and a budding author. She was also was a listener.

When the Union Electric utility started buying land from farmers in Southern Callaway County for a nuclear power plant, Margot jumped into action. With her recording kit and an abundance of curiosity, she set out to preserve stories of a rural lifestyle that was rapidly disappearing. The stories illuminate what a different world we live in 45 years after they were preserved.

Here’s some of the oral history work of Missouri author and radio host Margot McMillen.

Hear more episodes of the Mo’ Curious podcast at MoCurious.com and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Mo’ Curious: The Living Legacy of Missouri’s Dramatic 1939 Sharecroppers’ Strike (part II)

There aren’t many folks alive today who remember what went down in the Bootheel in the winter of 1939. There are remaining, however, longtime residents who know about the sharecroppers’ strike, what it meant then and what it means now.

Click here to listen to part 2 of a two-part episode about Missouri’s 1939 sharecroppers’ strike.

Mo’ Curious is a podcast about the past, present and future of our 24th state.

Special thanks to Matt Schacht and Vidwest Studios for their support.

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Mo’ Curious: The living legacy of Missouri’s dramatic 1939 sharecroppers’ strike (part 1)

Back in 1939, the world was a different place. For one thing, there were a lot more people involved in farming. In Missouri’s Bootheel region, this meant bodies were needed to grow cotton. Under the sharecropper model, those Missourians who grew cotton had no guarantees of a wage. They could be evicted anytime from the land on which they lived and worked.

In this episode of Mo’ Curious, we learn about the 1939 sharecroppers strike in Mississippi County, Missouri. It was on January 1 of that Depression year that Bootheel tenant farmers, or sharecroppers, participated in a protest. They camped on the roadside to draw attention to the deplorable economic and housing conditions that kept them impoverished and dependent.

Click here to hear part one of a two-part episode about the impacts of the 1939 sharecroppers’ strike on Missouri’s bootheel region.

For two months, fifteen hundred Missourians lived their lives on the side of Highway 60 between Sikeston and Charleston.

In order to bring a better understanding of the strike to area youth, we asked Charleston High School students to conduct oral history interviews. These interviews aimed to explain the strike and its legacy on the surrounding communities. Here is some of those exchanges.

Mo’ Curious by Missouri Life is a podcast about the past, present, and future of the 24th state. Hear other episodes at MoCurious.com.

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Mo’ Curious: Preserving the Disappearing Memory of Missouri’s Little Tuskegee

Madelyn Paine remembers getting weighed at the Dalton elevator. Diane Pippens feels her light skin helped her pass for white or Mexican when she integrated her town’s high school. William Payne recalls the town’s annual reunion where he met his future wife.

It was at Dalton, Missouri’s annual reunion in 2021 that I did my first interview for this episode of the Mo’ Curious Podcast. Throughout that summer and ending on Labor Day of the same year, my collaborator Jennifer Thornburg and I conducted six oral histories with alumni from the former Dalton Vocational School in Chariton County.

Here’s one story of the students who attended Chariton County, Missouri’s segregated Dalton Vocational School.

Dalton, now listed as a village by the U.S. Census Bureau, had an official population of seventeen in 2020. Nathanial Bruce started the school for blacks in Dalton in 1907. Between 1907 and 1956, Bartlett Agricultural and Mechanical School (later Dalton Vocational School) graduated young men with skills in farming and machinery. Young women learned how to type and cook in preparation for future work in offices and as house-keepers.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that separate-but-equal facilities like schools were unconstitutional. This led to the closure of the school perched on the hillside in Dalton. After the 1956 school year, active Dalton students attended now-integrated schools in their hometowns.

Now seemed like a great time to gather memories of Dalton Vocational School from the shrinking pool of aging alumni. This podcast tells the story of Dalton Vocational School—Missouri’s “Little Tuskegee”—in the former students’ own words.

Videos of these oral histories are planned for a future online and in-person display of Black education at Salisbury, Missouri’s Chariton County Historical Society Museum.

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Mo’ Curious: ‘There is a better way’

Whereas much of modern, industrial, late stage capitalism is based around competition for scarce material resources, there are a few among us who choose to work together to achieve a standard of living that’s good enough. In an intentional community, or commune, people organize themselves around cooperative activities.

In the first part of this two-part episode, we explored what 19th and 20th century Missouri utopias were like. In this episode, we head to Northeast Missouri’s Scotland County to meet some contemporary communards and hear what draws them to the land in search of a more intentional and low-impact life.

Part one of this two part series on Missouri utopias can be heard here.

Thanks for listening. Let me know what you think and share ideas for future episodes.

Contact me at Trevor@RecollectionAgency.com.

Kyle Yoder lovin’ on his cat at Dancing Rabbit near Rutledge, Missouri.

The Mo’ Curious podcast is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.

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Mo’ Curious: ‘That American Ideal’

Almost as long as there has been a Missouri, there have been idealists in our midst. In 1844, “Doctor” Wilhelm Keil and his followers established the German Communal Society of Bethel in Northeast Missouri. They were followed by an Icarian outpost in 1858 near St. Louis.

In this episode of Mo’ Curious, you’ll learn about these settlements, what inspired them and how the lineage of radical rural cooperation continues into the 21st century.

This is the first part of a two-part episode on utopias and communes in Missouri. Here is part II.

This episode of Mo’ Curious is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.

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Mo’ Curious: Missouri Rocks!

Missouri is a state with a deep history. Curious to know more about our state’s geologic past, Mo’ Curious host Trevor Harris talked to a pair of geologists and a cave mapper about the layers below Missourians feet.

This episode of Mo’ Curious is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.

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Mo’ Curious: The View from Beacon Hill

In 2019, my wife and I moved to Kansas City for her new job. We wanted to live in a real neighborhood with real people. We needed to dwell near enough downtown for her to walk and bike to work. The house we rented was in Beacon Hill. From our earliest days on Tracy Avenue, I immediately saw two neighborhoods existing in one urban space.

As the middle class fled Kansas City’s urban core after 1970, Beacon Hill’s fortunes changed. Many families and retailers decamped for greener suburban pastures. Numerous families stayed put in Beacon Hill. In recent years these long-timers had increasingly been joined by the likes of my wife and I: younger and mostly white professionals. Renters like us tended to drive up prices in the local rental housing market. Growing numbers of newcomers to Beacon Hill had bought available lots, then built and occupied new homes. These homes commanded prices previously unheard of in the 64108 zip code.

At my first neighborhood meeting, I met the leadership of the Beacon Hill/McFeders Community Council. These women had spent decades in Beacon Hill and raised families there. They were eager to share their neighborhood memoirs. In 2020 and 2021, seven long-time neighborhood residents discussed how their part of Kansas City had changed during their years there.

Drawing on oral histories conducted at the Black Archives of Mid-America in 2020 and 2021 this episode of Mo’ Curious podcast draws on the cultural memory of Kansas City’s Beacon Hill, one of Missouri’s urban neighborhood in transition.

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Mo’ Curious: Bean’s Origins

During a career that lasted over five decades, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins travelled the world. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1904, the talented young man attended music school in Kansas. He left Missouri for good in 1921 to seek his fortune and fame.

Coleman Hawkins

Bean, as he was nicknamed, lived much of his adult life in Europe and New York. He died in New York in 1969.

This episode of Mo’ Curious explains the St. Joseph of Hawkins’ youth. Drawing on the oral histories of a community leader, an activist and a pair of scholars, this episode explores how racism locally and opportunity elsewhere led Hawkins away from his native Missouri.

Mo’ Curious is an occasional podcast about the history of our 24th state. Thanks for listening. Be sure to tell your friends and your grandma about Mo’ Curious. (They may even think you are cool for knowing about this here Missouri history podcast.)

Photo credits: PastDaily.com / UMKC Dave E. Dexter Jr. Collection

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Mo’ Curious: Start Your Engines

In this episode you meet three people – a trucker, a businessman and an activist – who discuss the very different ways their lives have been shaped by Interstate 70 in Missouri.

This episode of Mo’ Curious is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.