Building added to National Register has ties to Sikeston

Friday, August 15, 2008

SIKESTON, Mo. -- This state's first Registered Historic Place located in an African-American community has history that began here.

A community building in Homestown, located just south of Wardell in Pemiscot County, was added to the National Register of Historical Places on Aug. 8, according to Darrell Martin, research associate for Center for Community Leadership and Development at the Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

"It has a very rich history," he said.

The building's history begins with a significant incident that was centered at the intersection of U.S. Highways 60 and 61 just south of Sikeston, Martin said.

Following a New Deal program which gave farmers subsidies to take land out of production to reduce supply and bring farm product prices up, in 1939 around 1,100 area sharecroppers were evicted from their homes.

Led by Owen Whitfield, an African-American minister, sharecroppers gathered at the intersection in protest of their evictions.

"That really changed America," Martin said. "There were blacks and whites that took place in that strike along Highway 60/61."

There have also been recent efforts to have historical markers erected and establish an official day of remembrance to commemorate the event as a precursor to the modern civil rights movement.

Following this strike, the Delmo Housing Corporation was contracted by the government to build homes for the sharecroppers, according to Martin.

The Farm Security Administration's Delmo Labor Homes Project resulted in 10 communities of 30 to 80 Delmo homes each being established in 1940 and 1941. "They're all located down in Southeast Missouri," Martin said.

The villages were racially segregated with North Wyatt (Wilson City), North Lilbourn, Gobler and South Wardell, which became known as Homestown, being for African-Americans.

"Homestown was the first community to build homes for sharecroppers," Martin said. "It was built in the shape of a baseball diamond. It sits right in the middle of a field. The sharecroppers were able to go straight to the fields from their homes to work."

While the building added to the Register was originally built as a community center, it served the village's residents in many ways over the years, according to Martin.

"That building was used as a washhouse, it was used as an office, a dance hall, a store and a library," he said.

While Lincoln University did a lot of the work to get the building on the Register, "Theresa Hursey is the person who spearheaded the project," Martin said. "She contacted Lincoln University to help prepare the documentation and get the project rolling."

A resident of Homestown, "she was born and raised there," he said.

Martin said having the building added to the National Register of Historical Places is an important milestone for the community.

"Now that this is added to the National Historic Registry, this will add value to the community and people will know about the community," Martin said. "People will be aware of what Homestown is all about, the history of Homestown, how Homestown became what it is today. This is going to make Homestown a more recognized community."

The current population for Homestown, according to the last census, is 181.

With the building on the Register, Homestown residents may now apply for funding to restore the building "and give the community more hope," Martin said. "I think this is the most important thing that has happened to the community in the last 30 or 40 years or longer."

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