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.

Show-Me Missouri Life … with author John W. Brown Show-Me Missouri Life

John W. Brown is an author, television anchor, traveler, and storyteller, with a great passion for Missouri's people, places, and historical events. (He prefers not to be called a historian, but we kind of think that's exactly what he is). In John's words: "People always ask me, you know, why are you so passionate about this state? And to me as I've looked into it from all over, from all across this state, Over all these years, we still have this inferiority complex that, you know, these amazing things only happen on the coast. That's not true. And you cannot read the books that I've written about the people and the famous places and the famous events and not realize there's something special about Missouri. We were formed at a special time in this country's founding. We were so formative in the way the country grew after that, especially going to the west. And I just want people to realize that it doesn't matter what exit you take off I-70 I-44, 55, you name the highway. You jump off into one of those small towns and there's somebody who did something amazing from every one of those towns and I've kept track of them. And so I still, whenever I drive across the state, I still talk to my family about, Hey, at this exit right here, the final piece of route 66 happened. At this exit right here, the great John Brown, from Dixon, Missouri, basketball legend he's from here. And so it doesn't matter where I go. There's amazing stories. And so we need to realize something great has happened here. We have a great pass, but I still also think we have a great future in Missouri." Listen now!
  1. Show-Me Missouri Life … with author John W. Brown
  2. The living legacy of Missouri's dramatic 1939 sharecroppers' strike
  3. Preserving the disappearing history of Missouri's 'Little Tuskegee'
  4. Digging Deep: Macon County Mining Memories
  5. The View from Beacon Hill

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.


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 by Missouri Life, 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.

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

Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘The Concept of One God Enthralled Me.’

Growing up in St. Joseph, Ramadhan Washington spent a lot of time at a local Church of God In Christ. Incarcerated as a young man in the Buchanan County, Missouri jail, he met fellow prisoners imported from Kansas City who were practicing Muslims. Over fifty years after his conversion to Islam, Washington is an elder of the Islamic Center of St. Joseph. On a recent balmy summer afternoon, Washington detailed his conversion from the front porch steps of the home he shares with his wife.

Field Notes

Field Notes: Creating a More Perfect Union

For 20 years, the Troost 39 Thrift Store has provided low-cost clothes, dishes, books and the occasional guillotine to shoppers. When the building was up for sale three years ago, Chuck and Toni Wurth bought it. Today, the couple maintains the space as thrift store with a mission.

Field Notes is an occasional series from the Recollection Agency. Contact us to learn more about the process of preserving your memories and creating shareable content.

Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘If they want me to give them two, I give them four.’

In each installment of my Field Notes from the Recollection Agency, I talk to someone with an interesting backstory. Here, Scott Lunceford* talks about government cheese, how re-enacting 1855 can be a family activity and why it pays to bring your harmonica to church.

Listen to other Field Notes and learn more about the Recollection Agency at and on social media.

*Scott says we “are always family”, but our official status is that of ex-step-cousins. -Trevor