Awareness of Black community issues at heart of Unity in the Park

Charles Dunlap
Boonville residents listen Saturday as Bill Betteridge, Democratic candidate for the Missouri House 48th district, speaks at the Unity in the Park event hosted by Dreams Creating Entertainment and Bloom Hair Studio at the Frederick T. Kemper Park Fields.

Rain could not dampen the spirits of a group of around 100 Boonville and Cooper County residents Saturday as they attended Unity in the Park at the Frederick T. Kemper Park Fields in Boonville.

While other communities like Kirksville and Moberly held protests, and Mexico held a vigil and protest, Terrance Perry, wanted to do something different to recognize the death of George Floyd and the momentum of change happening in the U.S. with regard to police use-of-force and other practices.

Perry, owner of Dreams Creating Entertainment and paraprofessional at Laura Speed Elliott Middle School, teamed up with Bloom Hair Studio to hold the event. The focus of the event was on community unity and awareness of issues faced by Boonville’s Black community.

Unity is something that always is on Perry’s mind, he said, but Floyd’s death is what sparked the idea to hold the event.

He plans to hold it each year on the third Saturday in June. He also is preparing for another event the first weekend in August relating to Emancipation Day, which used to be an event held in Boonville, Perry said. Details are to be announced.

“I’ve been talking to some locals around here and we are going to try to put something together by Aug. 4,” he said. “Hopefully we will have a great turnout to that as well.”

Aug. 4 — one month after Independence Day — has traditionally been celebrated by Black Americans as Emancipation Day to symbolize the delay between the promise and delivery of freedom for all.

There was a steady stream of guests to the Unity event, Perry said, which started 2 p.m. Saturday and went until 9 p.m.

“At one point there were 100 people here. That’s a great thing to have because it only has been two weeks,” he said, referencing Floyd’s death.

All of the officers involved with the death of Floyd were charged earlier this month, with Derek Chauvin receiving the greatest charge of second-degree murder. A video showed him with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

“Will everything change overnight? No, but we are going to keep continue to do this,” Perry said about his plans to hold Unity in the Park yearly. “This is just the start of something great.”

Speakers were welcomed throughout the event with those from local churches at the start of the event, Perry said. Those who spoke were Boonville R-I Superintendent Sarah Marriott, Laura Speed Elliott Principal Stephanie Green, Elder Wayne Jones of New Life in Christ Ministries in Boonville, WJs owner Brad Woolridge, Jordan Shikle, Cydney Mayfield and 48th state representative district candidate Bill Betteridge, among others.

Mayfield was there to announce her plans to form a coalition to hopefully install a statue of Eda Hickam at the Cooper County Courthouse. Hickam was a slave for the family of Joseph Hickam of Cooper County that wasn’t freed until 24 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War and possibly was the last slave freed in the United States altogether.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” Mayfield said. “It is a part of the history both within the state of Missouri and across this country that can no longer continue to remain buried.”

Mayfield didn’t know about this piece of Cooper County history until Saturday in a social media post from her friend Nanda Nunnelly.

“I graduated from Otterville. I have lived in Cooper County now again for about eight years and I never heard of this,” she said. “Why is this something that is not widespread.”

She plans form a citizens coalition as a nonprofit that then can bring its request for the statue on courthouse property to the Cooper County Commission.

“As we tear down statues that have long remained, that have fueled the divide in this country, we have an opportunity to truly bring together a united front and a united country by acknowledging our history,” Mayfield said.

Hickam had to sue the family that kept her in bondage for back pay and reparations for those 24 years. She petitioned for $1,400. She ultimately received $700.

“It was a court of appeals case in 1891,” Mayfield said. “In February of 1865 she should have been freed, but she wasn’t freed until 1889.

Mayfield plans to work with a Black historian at the University of Missouri to see if Hickam truly was the last slave freed in the United States.

While Mayfield is a political official as the assistant prosecuting attorney in Saline County and treasurer for the state Democratic Party, this project is not about politics, she said.

“This is an absence of history,” she said. “I literally found out about this today and it moved me so much. We have to make a change. We can’t sit behind a keyboard and make statements and share memes. We have to do something.”

Hickam’s story is told in “Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence,” from University of Missouri Press.