Missouri's Little Dixie African American History Tour

Sappington African American Cemetery

The Sappington African American Cemetery is located on Route AA, southwest of the town of Arrow Rock in Saline County, Missouri. In 1856, Dr. John B. Sappington of Arrow Rock provided this small lot to bury enslaved people who had died. As was custom during the time period, whites and Blacks did not affiliate socially in life or death. Sappington and his descendants had large plantations and used a lot of slave labor to cultivate the popular cash crops of hemp and tobacco. By 1880, over half of the town of Arrow Rock was Black, and this cemetery was utilized for their burials.

Sappington also provided a 2 acre plot of land just northwest of the African American cemetery for his family and other white residents of Arrow Rock to be buried. The comparisons between the two cemeteries is stark. Many grave markers in the African American Cemetery are handwritten or small, conservative headstones. In the white Sappington Cemetery, one can find the elaborate graves of two Missouri governors and countless members of the Sappington family.

The cemetery contains the remains of over 350 African Americans from Arrow Rock. All burials before 1865 were either unmarked or their markers have been worn away or destroyed. The identity of the majority of these souls remain unknown. Following the Civil War, the Black community of Arrow Rock continued to utilize the cemetery, with the most recent burial happening in 2012. The African American population grew, and in many cases were the backbone of the town of Arrow Rock. This cemetery stands as a memorial to those lives lived and the contributions they made to Saline County. Several significant African Americans are buried there, including Josephine Robinson Lawrence, the historian of the town of Pennytown, James Milton Turner, part of the Freedman's Bureau and diplomat to Liberia, and William Henry Joseph Cutter Brown, a national cakewalk champion. On June 5, 2021, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources officially dedicated the site into the Missouri Parks system as an official state historic site.