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L. Riggs, J.D., Case Statement

NHC 2016 Working Group
Challenging the Exclusive Past: Relevancy, Inclusion, and Diversity
Louis Riggs, J.D., Founder 2500 Miles of Art and Culture, Inc. Case Statement

As a seventh‐generation Missourian, whose ancestors on my mother’s side arrived in Missouri before it was a state, I am proud of my state and my community, which we have called home for more than 200 years.

As a seventh‐generation whose ancestors on my mother’s side were reputed to have owned slaves, including one ancestor who refused to shave for the rest of his life if Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, made good on the promise and ended up with the longest beard in America before dying in 1910, I am ashamed to admit that the family I am proud of has a history that I am ashamed of.

As the Chair of the Missouri Humanities Council Board of Directors, I often wonder what our state, national and international histories would look like if we had not marched through it with more than one hand tied behind our backs by denying more than half of our population— women and members of minority groups, most notably African‐Americans and Native Americans—full rights under the law and the same opportunities for advancement and education as were afforded males who owned property, including other human beings.

As the founder of 2500 Miles of Art and Culture, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation that was created in 2016 and is dedicated to developing a series of creative weeks across the State of Missouri that will combine our heritage, arts and culture to tell the unique stories of each county in the state, I will have the opportunity to raise the level of awareness of all of those who went before us, including the Native Americans who lived here centuries before Western settlement and who made much of the trek known as the Trail of Tears through southern Missouri, the African‐Americans who contributed so much to our culture and who received so little in return, and the women who were there every step of the way, but who, like the others who are not celebrated in our history books or commemorated on courthouse squares or public places.

The contributions that have been made by so many and chronicled by so few must be brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness in ways that honor their memories while giving them their due.

The participation of this organization will be ‘grass roots,’ collaborative, volunteer‐led and focused, collecting stories from every county and presenting them to not only every county, but the entire state through the creation of a series of cultural corridors, regional interpretive centers, and eventual designation as linear national parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites and creative and literary centers.  As this process moves forward, the emphasis on finding the stories that concern ALL those who came before us will be a cornerstone of our efforts to interpret each area of the state.

The mission of this organization is clear:  serve as a resource partner to systematically coordinate the collection, preservation and presentation of the art, heritage and culture of all Missourians.

In order to accomplish this, we will first build the capacity to collect stories by involving local, regional and national scholars and area volunteers who have interests and experiences in each field.  As a 501(c)(3), we will partner with other agencies across the state and country who can provide scholars as well as funding for on‐site interpretation.  As a 501(c)(3) dedicated to education, we will also partner with area schools, libraries and other community centers to form lifelong learning clusters engaged in Local Legacy projects dedicated to collecting, sharing and preserving the stories that make each place in our state truly unique, from the story of the first African‐American to testify in open court in Missouri (in Palmyra, Marion County, where his testimony was used to convict abolitionists of attempting to help him escape across the river into freedom in Illinos) to the story of Father Augustine Tolton, the first African‐American priest in America, who was born a slave and baptized a slave (sponsored by his owner’s wife) in rural Ralls County, Missouri, who was  successfully taken to freedom in Illinois as a child, but had to be formally educated in Rome because no institution of higher learning would admit him in Illinois.  Father Tolton is in the process of being canonized and once he has been proclaimed a saint, the rural church where he was baptized will become the center of pilgrimages from across the world.

These stories are everywhere, waiting to be excavated, shared and preserved with millions who have no idea about the events that shaped their lives in their own back yards.

This process will be long and arduous due to a lack of readily available resources.  However, as a 501(c)(3), we will be able to sponsor and help to fund workshops and other informational forums that will feature those who have successfully recovered their histories, such as the African‐American who united the three branches of the family of Uncle Dan’l Quarles, the Monroe County slave who taught Mark Twain how to tell a story, introduced him to the oral tradition which he was able to convey in print, and served as the inspiration for Jim in Twain’s greatest novel, “Huckleberry Finn.”  We will also be able to sponsor and help to fund workshops that will feature those who have successfully recovered the history of our women, our Native Americans, and every other group that has added to our culture without fanfare.

I look forward to being to implement best practices in research, inclusion, storytelling, and community engagement as we introduce my state to our people in a way that has not been done before—one community at a time, one county a time, one region at a time, across the entire state of Missouri.