NewsBlack History Month 2024


New T-shirt highlights historical Black figures from Independence

Sales benefit Black student unions at area high schools
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Posted at 9:08 AM, Feb 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-23 10:30:21-05

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A new T-shirt for sale in Independence, Missouri, displays the names of historical Black figures. The Independence Square Association launched sales of the shirt this Black History Month, but the shirts will be available for purchase all year long.

The shirt displays the last names of Emily Fisher, Hiram Young, James Boldridge, Hiram Revels and Samuel Shepard horizontally. Vertically, letters from each name spell 'Indep,' short for Independence.

Alversia Brown Pettigrew is connected to many of the names on the shirt. The lifelong Independence resident grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood called “The Neck.” Urban renewal programs wiped away the neighborhood in the 60s and 70s.

It later became McCoy Park, which is located south of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Brown Pettigrew published a book called "Memories of a Neck Child."

“It was just the village,” Brown Pettigrew said. “Everyone talks about, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' and I was in that village.”

James Boldridge is Brown Pettigrew’s great-grandfather. Boldridge gained fame in the area for breeding and training horses on land where the police department currently resides.

Brown Pettigrew’s mother married a descendant of Samuel Shepard. Shepard built the first courthouse in Jackson County out of logs as an enslaved man “hired out” by his owner in the 1820s.

For her entire life, Brown Pettigrew attended St. Paul AME Church. Hiram Revels was the first pastor of the church in the 1860s. He later became the first Black man to serve in U.S. Congress.

When Brown Pettigrew began school in 1949, she attended Young School, named after Hiram Young. She said teachers at the all-Black school never taught students about the school’s namesake or how Young bought his freedom, created a wagon and yoke business, and became one of the richest men in the county.

Brown Pettigrew has revisited the hallways of her school numerous times, although it looks completely different now as the Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity renovated the school and reopened it in 2022 as the Hiram Young Homeownership Center.

“When I walk into it, it’s amazing,” she said. “They’ll think I’m crazy, but I can still smell smells and hear sounds that just take me right back to my childhood."

Emily Fisher ran a successful hotel in Independence when the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails passed through the city. She became well known for selling a salve known to heal wounds, especially on horses.

Brown Pettigrew learned this history later in her life and likes the idea of a T-shirt putting the spotlight on history for younger generations.

“You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going,” she said. “I lived through segregation and integration in the city of Independence.”

The shirts cost $25 and are available on the Independence Square Association’s website. Each shirt has a QR code that takes users to a website with a virtual tour of historical Black sites in the city.

Money raised through shirt sales will go to the Black student unions at Van Horn, Truman and William Chrisman high schools.