Each of the places along this historic tour takes one through the important locations of African American history as this group progressed from enslaved people into 'freedom' in Saline County, Missouri. As you will see, when slavery officially ended and many African Americans gained individual autonomy, they were still living in a white-dominant society under Jim Crow and social norms. The tour begins with the plantation homes and the building of the town of Arrow Rock, where enslaved Blacks spent a majority of their time prior to the Civil War. Unfortunately, a lot of the history of those who were enslaved at places like Prairie Park or Oak Grove has been lost or was simply not recorded. A lot of the holes have been filled in through those accounts that have been recorded, though they might not be from those individual specifically. Nevertheless, it still paints a picture of the life those individuals likely led under bondage.
The town of Arrow Rock provides a unique, rural setting that has been preserved relatively well. Important locations on the west side of town, where free Blacks began to reside following the Civil War, included a school, church, and lodge. On the outskirts of Arrow Rock is the cemetery where African American residents have been placed since the 1860s. While these locations are not as glamorous and are not as well-documented as others, there have been considerable efforts by many to ensure this legacy lives on. The once all-Black hamlet of Pennytown is also included, as it showcased some of the specific efforts by Black Americans in building their own lives in freedom.
Migration into what is today Saline County began in the early 1800s as warfare with Native Americans began to decrease. William Clark described the spot where Arrow Rock would eventually be as a "handsome spot for a town." Saline County was a central point within the agricultural explosion that happened in Missouri producing major cash crops like hemp and tobacco. Most who migrated into "Little Dixie" came from states in the Upper South. With them came the culture and practice of enslavement. African American slaves were brought over with settlers from the beginning. Missouri was admitted into the Union as a slaveholding state in 1820, solidifying plantation lifestyle along the Missouri River. Slaves constituted over a third of the population in Saline County by 1850. Little Dixie planters had much smaller operations with fewer slaves than those in the Deep South. Many grew multiple crops and livestock in addition to some of the cash crops.
Following the Civil War, many freed Blacks continued to work for white farmers or in other labor jobs. Black communities within the area functioned often separately from white society, but they fought to better themselves through education and communal support. As mechanization of agriculture increased, many Saline County African Americans sought opportunities elsewhere. Following the Great Depression, the population dwindled significantly. While the history of African Americans is not complete, through the efforts of many historians and local citizens, we have a window through which we can see the lives of those who lived both enslaved and as freed men and women in Saline County.