Springfield’s history museum is showcasing a collection from Lincoln School — an all-Black school during times of local segregation — in a new exhibit meant to honor the city’s first Black educators. And several former students provided first-hand accounts to help tell the story.
One, Betty Ransom, a 1952 Lincoln High alum and choir member, faux-dramatically cleared her throat near the end of a phone interview about her time at Lincoln. And then, in alto, she launched into the old fight song:
Hail to dear old Lincoln High
The school we love so well
Let us all with voices cry
And let each loyal student yell (Rah! Rah! Rah!)
She punctuated those ‘Rahs’ and powered through the whole fight song.
Lyrics aren’t the only thing Ransom remembers vividly from her time at Lincoln, which was built in 1930 and closed several years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregated schools in 1955. In February, the memories of Ransom and other Lincoln alumni will help bolster a sizable collection of items from the school that will be on display next month when the History Museum on the Square debuts its latest exhibit, “Community Cornerstones: Springfield’s Black Educators.”
The exhibit opens to the public on Feb. 1. A day before that, Ransom and fellow members of the Timmons Hall History Keepers will get a sneak preview of it on Jan. 31.
“Oh man, it’s going to feel good,” Ransom said. “I’m going to have to hold back tears. Because memories, you know?”
Existing museum collection brought to life with help from collected stories of Lincoln alums
Before she belted the fight song, Ransom recalled how her cheer team made personalized chants for the cute boys, how the janitor kept sweeping even if students’ shins were in the path of his broom and how a favorite saying of her favorite teacher, Adah Fulbright, guided her ever since she first heard it in fifth grade.
“I can remember Miss Fulbright saying, ‘Fools’ names are like their faces — always seen in public places,’” said Ransom, who became a choir member, a cheerleader, a majorette and a tap dancer — but not much of a partier — at Lincoln.
Ransom is one of a handful of members of the Timmons Hall History Keepers, a group formed just before the pandemic by Christine Peoples, a Springfield-Greene County Parks employee who oversees the former church that served Springfield’s African-American community for decades. The building, slated for demolition in the 2010s, was preserved and moved to Silver Springs Park in 2019.
Peoples said the group gathers periodically for luncheons at what is now known as Lincoln Hall on the Ozarks Technical Community College campus. There, group members in their 80s and 90s have shared stories about growing up in Springfield during the segregation era, and the family they formed while at Lincoln.
“If they hadn’t got Christine, we wouldn’t have all the history and everything that’s going on now because I tell you, that woman is a workhorse,” Ransom said. “And she gets down to business. And I praise her every day. And I thank God every day for bringing her.”
Exhibit to run through early May
Quotes from Ransom and other History Keepers will feature in an exhibit that also includes numerous items preserved in the history museum’s collection. Pieces range from a marching band drum to the school’s library card catalog, said Sean FitzGibbons, executive director of the History Museum on the Square. FitzGibbons said the items and photographs from the museum collection were used as prompts in conversation with members of the History Keepers to trigger memories from their time in school. The oral histories, FitzGibbons said, helped bring life to the collection.
“It was very important for us to partner with all these groups to make sure that we were telling true stories, honoring the educators and the people who really dedicated their lives to their students,” he said.
In some cases, the stories are all that remain. Ransom said she looked everywhere for the majorette baton she twirled during her Lincoln days, but it seems to have disappeared, she said. At a Lincoln reunion in Silver Springs Park a few summers ago, she learned they don’t make them like they used to.
“The (Central High School Majorettes) were down there, and they had their little batons, and they were the skinniest little things,” Ransom said. “They looked like straws! And I asked one of them, I said, ‘Let me see your baton.’ And I could’ve taken that thing and threw it clear across town it was so light. I don’t know how you all do this! Oh, goodness.”
Ransom said most of the materials she and Lincoln students and faculty had access to were hand-me-downs from white schools — used gym equipment, old library books. But Ransom, who got straight A’s through high school, said she wants people who visit the Springfield Black Educators exhibit to go home knowing that the teachers at Lincoln were marvels, “because even though it was segregated, we received a good education there,” she said.
“I mean, we were (not just) students to them,” she said. “It was almost like we were their children.”
This exhibit opens on Wednesday, Feb. 1 and runs until May 7.