Last weekend in the Faith section of The Kansas City Star (which surely by now you’ve read and memorized), I did a story about a new book series that describes America’s religious makeup. It divides the country into various regions, most of which make sense.
But Missouri wound up being in what editors called “The Southern Crossroads,” while Kansas was put in the “Midwest.” The series general editor, Mark Silk, told me dividing up those two states was one of the toughest calls he had to make.
Nonetheless, there’s interesting material in all the books in what is called the “Religion by Region Series,” published in cooperation with the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
Today, I want to share with you a little more about Missouri than I was able to in last week’s piece. Maybe later I’ll get around to Kansas. (I’m a University of Missouri graduate and it takes a little effort to write about Kansas. J) Anyway, here’s some of what the “Southern Crossroads” volume says about the Show-Me State:
“The first humans to live in what we now call Missouri were Native Americans, people who generally maintained a cosmology in which invisible spirits ruled the natural world, with a belief system that included fetishes to promote good or control evil, and medicine men or prophets who interpreted or channeled the sacred world for their co-religionists.
“Blacks arrived in Missouri first as slaves, and then, during the period of exodus from the old Confederacy following the Civil War, as free people. Because the state was on the fringes of the slaveocracy, slavery was never as extensive or deeply entrenched as in other areas of the Crossroads.
“As in other Crossroads states, slavery divided denominations in Missouri, and following the Civil War many African-American Christians, who were largely Methodist and Baptist, formed separate congregations with black preachers. At the end of the War, members of the Sixty-second United States colored Infantry, composed primarily of Missourians, moved to establish an educational institution in Missouri, which they named Lincoln Institute.
“They wanted this school to benefit freed African-Americans and to combine study and labor. Funds given by the Sixty-second and the Sixty-fifth Colored Infantries were set aside for this cause, and the school was established in 1866 in Jefferson. Lincoln Institute became a state institution in 1879 and a land-grant institution in 1890.”
Today Lincoln Institute calls itself Lincoln University of Missouri. It’s Jefferson City, and you can learn more about it at http://www.lincolnu.edu/. In fact, it was reported last week that Lincoln has just hired its first female president, Carolyn Mahoney. Lincoln's history is one more bit of evidence that we are surrounded by structures, institutions and ideas with religious connections and/or roots.
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