Missouri's Little Dixie African American History Tour

Arrow Rock J. Huston Tavern and Main Street

As William Clark put it back in 1804, the location where Arrow Rock would eventually be founded would be a "handsome spot for a town." In 1829, sitting on the bluff of the Missouri River, the town of Arrow Rock was born. Migration to the area of Arrow Rock, in what would be known as "Little Dixie" in Saline County, Missouri, largely came from the Upper South states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee in the 1820s and onward. With them came the culture and institution of slavery. Arrow Rock grew rapidly as the cash crop hemp exploded in the area. The work of building new homes, buildings, and storm gutters was all completed by slaves. The original stone storm gutters are still well-preserved today. Prominent commercial buildings, like the J. Huston Tavern, were built by slaves using bricks that they made in the town.

As the Civil War approached, tensions were running high amongst Arrow Rock residents, which was largely made up of Confederate sympathizers. In 1859, three Black men were lynched after being accused of crimes in Marshall. During the 1860 presidential election, not a single man in Arrow Rock voted for Abraham Lincoln. As in other parts of the country, though emancipation occurred in 1865, this freedom never fully came into fruition. In Arrow Rock, some freed slaves stayed to work on farms and others moved into town to pursue other job options. About one quarter left the area following the end of the war. Many who moved into town built small homes using reused materials.

The Black community largely resided in the west side of town along Morgan Street, separated from the white community. The African School, the Arrow Rock Free Will Baptist Church, and the Brown Lodge all provided public spaces for the Black community to develop and support one another. The Black community supported the leisure time that was enjoyed by middle and upper class whites in Arrow Rock, as most of the stores and restaurants were worked by freed Blacks.

Arrow Rock remained a town where racism ran deep. It could be seen within the newspapers, where racial slurs continued to be used and the Black community was only mentioned in the context of crimes committed. By the 1960s, the population in Arrow Rock was shrinking, as was its Black population. Arrow Rock stands as a reminder of the contributions of the pioneers in Missouri but also of the Black community, both enslaved and freed, who built the foundation of this historic town. Historian T. C. Rainey profoundly stated that, "These men and women helped to fence and clear the fields, open the roadways, and make Saline a pleasant place to live in. Although they now lie in nameless graves, we owe respect to their memory. They were also pioneers."