CoMo200 Task Force, other local organizations help community celebrate Columbia bicentennial

Columbia residents visited a variety of events celebrating the city’s history, art and more.

To celebrate Columbia’s 200th birthday, the Mayor’s Task Force on Bicentennial Celebration organized several events to commemorate the milestone and educate residents on Columbia’s history.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Bicentennial Celebration, also known as the CoMo 200 Task Force, began organizing the events back in 2018. They started with plans for long-term projects, like the ongoing expansion of Flat Branch Park, located near the original Columbia settlement, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 1.

Megan McConachie, a city staff liaison for the CoMo 200 Task Force, said the park expansion will bring the park closer to Providence Road to increase its accessibility. The Columbia Parks and Recreation team working on the project will also restore the creek closer to its natural state.

The Task Force’s website says the bicentennial celebrations will also include “the creation of a Gateway Plaza for the downtown district, an innovative oral history series, citywide school-based history and art projects, public art installations, and much, much more.”

McConachie discussed several of these celebrations that took place during the weekend of July 2-4, saying the task force is “seeing this as the apex of the CoMo 200 celebration … to create a seamless sort of weekend.”

She also said the task force wanted to use the bicentennial celebration events “to look at our present and celebrate that we’ve made it this far, and also think about what our future looks like.”

Chris Campbell, the executive director of the Boone County Historical Society who also serves on the CoMo 200 Task Force, echoed this statement. He said he believes it is important to celebrate the bicentennial because “knowing who you were and where you came from as a community is the most valuable tool to have in knowing who you are now and where you’re going.”

The weekend activities the task force assembled included several concerts, such as the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series on July 1, a performance from the Missouri Symphony Orchestra on July 3 and many performances from local bands throughout the weekend.

The Second Missionary Baptist Church hosted John William “Blind” Boone’s 155th Birthday Celebration with nationally recognized musicians at the Blind Boone Home.

Blind Boone was the son of a contraband slave and a Civil War soldier, and he suffered a brain infection as a baby, leading to the removal of his eyes. He was a talented musician, and he eventually became a renowned composer and concert pianist. Boone’s music played a role in creating jazz and ragtime music and Missouri’s African American history.

McConachie said the task force also organized other events for those who may not be music lovers, including the Parley P. Pratt Freedom Run, Historic Preservation Commission tours and African American Heritage Trail tours.

Like the history tours, the KBIA project Missouri on Mic also encouraged residents to learn and share stories of living in Missouri, including Columbia.

Missouri School of Journalism students ran the project, which visited Columbia the weekend of July 2-4 to record more oral stories for Missouri on Mic. It will later be archived at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Missouri on Mic uses audio storytelling to share the stories of Missouri residents over time, many of whom are from Columbia. Beth Pike, strategic communications associate with the Missouri Bicentennial, said the state historical sites and bicentennial funds “combined forces” to begin recording stories from across the state with a traveling audio booth.

Pike said the project began last year and highlights diverse stories from people all across Missouri, as the state also celebrates its bicentennial this year.

“I think by listening to each other… maybe we’ll learn something about ourselves,” Pike said. “So often, we hear our own voice, but hearing our neighbors, people who are in our community, just by listening, I think it’s going to tell us a lot.”

Campbell discussed similar exhibits at the Boone County History and Culture Center to commemorate the bicentennial.

The Center’s history exhibit, titled “Columbia 1821-2021 The Birth and Evolution of College Town USA,” features a U.S. flag from 1865, a 1910 surrey, a 1960s telephone switchboard from a local telephone company and an 84-foot-long timeline spanning Columbia’s history.

The second exhibit, titled “Intertwined,” includes work from local artists to celebrate the close-knit relationships between Columbia artists through the decades.

“It’s a celebration of an eclectic gathering of artworks through the generosity of many local private collectors who have loaned out some of their very favorite pieces,” Campbell said.

He also explained the History and Culture Center’s desire to create a “people’s history” with the timeline in the history exhibit, beyond just names and dates. It recognizes indigineous peoples in the area 3,200 years ago and features LGBTQ history and African American history in Columbia.

The timeline acknowledges darker aspects of Columbia’s history, such as references to two lynchings of Black Columbia residents. It also features more lighthearted facts about the city, including visits from American presidents and famous residents like Brad Pitt.

At its founding, Columbia encompassed a small area near Broadway and Fifth Street with just a handful of settlers who abandoned Smithton, their original settlement, because they lacked a water supply. As of 2019, Columbia had a population of around 123,195 and continues to expand, as it is now home to three colleges. The city also has strong education, manufacturing, insurance and medical sectors.

McConachie hopes residents take advantage of these activities to celebrate Columbia’s history and progress before they’re gone.

“We want people to come out and have a party celebrating everything that Columbia is and everything that Columbia could be,” McConachie said.

Missouri on Mic will appear at Ragtag Cinema later in the year, then archived at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

“Columbia 1821-2021” will be on display at the Boone County Historical Society until Jan. 31, 2022, and “Intertwined” will be on display until Sept. 4.

Campbell believes the bicentennial will be an event residents remember for the rest of their lives and will guide them through life in Columbia.

“It makes a difference in terms of perspective to know what our strengths are, and what are the elements of our past that are things not to be proud of, so that it’s easier to recognize and navigate the challenges that we have today, as well as appreciate the rewards of living in Columbia today,” Campbell said.

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