Established in 2000, the Clay County African American Legacy Inc. (CCAAL) is committed to building cultural competency in Clay County by educating and informing the community of the cultural diversity that exists in the Northland.
To get just a small glimpse of the contributions of the CCAAL and African Americans to Liberty and Clay County, just take a stroll to a few notable landmarks in and around historic downtown Liberty.
Begin your walk at the corner of Franklin and Water streets at the northeast corner of the old County Courthouse, where you’ll find the Liberty Freedom Fountain.
This drinking fountain and surrounding brick pavers were installed by the CCAAL in 2001 to honor and celebrate African American pioneers and their contributions to Clay County. The CCAAL is currently raising funds to repair the memorial.
From the memorial fountain, walk half a block west on Franklin and head into the old Clay County Courthouse, which now houses administrative offices for Clay County government. Four vibrant murals on the third floor by local artist David McClain depict the history of Clay County.
The first courthouse mural, which was completed in 1993, depicts the history of Clay County. The second mural shows the prisoner of war camp that was located near what is now the Fountain Bluff Sports Complex in Liberty. The third mural depicts Major John Dougherty’s Multnomah Plantation at dusk with a party in progress. The fourth mural, which the CCAAL commissioned in 2002, features African American pioneers businesses, schools and churches from the 1820s to the early 2000s.
For your final stop on this short walking tour, head north on Water Street to 502 N. Water St., where you’ll find the Garrison School tucked among century old homes.
Established in 1877 to educate black youth in Liberty, the Garrison School is listed on both the National and Local Register of Historic Places in Clay County. The original school stood until a fire destroyed it in 1910. A new school for black students was opened in 1911. Despite relying on obsolete text books that were handed down from the white schools, the Garrison School earned a reputation as the best school for African American students in the state of Missouri. The school provided its students up to a 10
th grade education. Until the “separate but equal” laws were deemed unconstitutional in 1954 and Liberty schools began integrating its black students, many Garrison graduates had to ride buses to the black Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Mo.
The CCAAL purchased the school building in 2003 as its base of operations and as a center for cultural and educational events. The organization has transformed several of the 19th century school’s classrooms into spaces dedicated to special collections and art galleries that celebrate the African America culture. The CCAAL offers monthly activities and events including art shows and cultural and education programs, such as the 27th National African American Read-In, annual Juneteenth Fundraiser and celebration, and an exhibit of Juan Houston’s jazz art collection.
Before you leave, be sure to take a walk around the building to take in two new murals that were unveiled in October. On the Water Street side, the mural Stony The Road We Trod was painted by Rodney "Lucky" Easterwood. Easterwood was trained in Boston but has actively painted here in his native Kansas City area for over 30 years. His works are featured in several U.S. cities. They encourage community and cultural pride, highlight historical events and illustrate the beauty of everyday life.
Stony The Road We Trod
features the history of education for African Americans in Liberty with images of the Laura Armstrong school which was the first school for African Americans in 1865, located on Mill Street; former Garrison teachers Ms. Marion Pearley, Ms. Angie Kerford; former principals James Gay and Clarence Gantt; Ms. Clara Bell Colley’s 1954 third grade class; and an image of Linda Brown and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, which focuses on the famous landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka that ended segregation in schools across the country.
The Main Street mural, Sing A Song Of The Hope The Present Has Brought Us
, was painted by Dan Vanderhoof, an artist from the Central Valley of California. Vanderhoof moved to Kansas City a few years ago to study at the Illustration Academy. His work is characterized by bold color and classic sense of design. The mural tells the story from segregation to integration and depicts children of all races reading, researching, playing, and walking to school.
Tours of the galleries and collections are available during monthly events and by special appointments. To make an appointment contact Cecelia Robinson via email or call 816.781.7918.
Contributed by: A.J. Byrd, President of the Clay County African American Legacy, Inc.