'Return to Sunset Day' seeks to restore pride

Sunday, September 2, 2001

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Some came from Chicago and Atlanta. Some only walked across the street to Roberta Rowe Park for "Return to Sunset Day."

More than 100 people attended Saturday's reunion meant to help restore a sense of pride to the troubled Sunset Addition community, which in recent years has gotten attention mostly as a magnet for drug dealing and violence.

Music, good food, reminiscing and renewing friendships were what people cared about most this sunny day.

"I haven't heard one police siren," said Kenya Marshall, a coordinator of the Sikeston Weed and Seed, an anti-drug and anti-crime program.

"That's a beautiful sound not to hear."

The consensus was that peace and health can be restored in Sunset Addition if people -- especially religious leaders -- work together and not against each other.

"We need a community coalition," said Harry Howard, who organized the event he hopes will become annual.

Remember the days

He brought photographs of Sunset events and former residents from past decades there so that people could remember how living in Sunset used to be and reflect on what needs to be done to restore the community's health.

"Remember the days you played ball down under the hill, had relays, slid down the hillside on cardboard boxes, and rolled down the hillside inside of big tires," the program read. It listed the grocery stores, barber shops, cafes and clubs once located there. There were pictures of the crowning of Miss Ebony at the Lincoln School gym and newspaper stories about Sunset natives who have succeeded.

Near the end of the program was a photograph of the cover of the 1998 book "The Lynching of Cleo Wright," which chronicled Missouri's last lynching death. It occurred in Sikeston in 1942.

Howard wants the Sunset Addition to be known for other things. His sister, Aileen, was the first graduate of all-black Lincoln School to return to teach at the school. His father, Ed, was Sikeston's first black policeman. Howard himself recently returned to live in Sikeston after an absence of some 30 years. Holder of a master's degree in music from the University of Colorado, he is the minister of music at the Smith Chapel.

Decline began in 1968

The closing of Lincoln School in 1968 began the decline in the Sunset community, Howard says. The school should be resurrected as a recreation center, he and others at the gathering said.

One of the biggest sources of problems in the community is the lack of activities for young people, they say.

Syletta Williams wants to see a program that exposes youths to the fine arts. "We need to let them know there's more than just alcohol and drugs," she said.

Louis Marshall, a native who works for the Ford Motor Co. in Belleville, Mich., hopes to help raise money for scholarships.

Many people are up to good in the Sunset Addition. Jessie Redd works with the Business Research Institute, a nonprofit corporation which has renovated a 20-unit complex for senior citizens and has obtained 35 houses to be renovated and made available to people who have been unable to qualify for bank loans.

Tyrone Price, now a deacon at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, was one of those who got into trouble as a youth. His life turned around the day someone put a loaded gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The gun didn't fire.

"I knew it was time for a change," he said.

All these people working individually and together can take the Sunset Addition back from those who are lawless, they say.

"The community has to take the community back," said Marshall.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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