The year 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of statehood for Missouri — Aug. 10, to be exact.
Almost seven years ago, the 97th Missouri General Assembly put the State Historical Society of Missouri in charge of planning statewide commemorations of the bicentennial. Since that time, we have visited Missourians in each county in the state, listening to how their communities would like to celebrate this milestone in Missouri’s history.
Now, this momentous year is almost upon us.
The year, 2020, leading up to our 200th year, has certainly been a memorable one, as our world fights a deadly pandemic. One hundred years ago, Missouri celebrated its centennial, which came a few short years after another lethal virus, the 1918 flu pandemic, infected about 500 million people. The world was also recovering from a war that took the lives of 40 million soldiers and civilians.
Resiliency is a word that quickly comes to mind as we look back in history while trying to chart a course for tomorrow. And, we find this inner strength by looking no further than the place we call home.
In his book “Following the Equator,” published in 1897, one of Missouri’s most famous sons, the inestimable Mark Twain, wrote: “All that goes to make the me in me began in a Missouri village …”
I feel the same way. Missouri is a place that I have always called home, as have four generations of my family who preceded me here. It is a place that has alternately confounded and comforted me, which has both excited and exasperated me. Most of all, it is a place that has endlessly intrigued me.
One of the things that intrigues me most about Missouri is its diversity.
To understand this point, one need look no farther than the multiple landscapes our state offers: the delta of southeastern Missouri, the Ozarks hills of the southwest, the prairie lands of the state’s western border, and the rich farmland of the rolling hills north of the Missouri River. These regions are as different as the people who occupy them, as different as the people they have produced.
St. Louis and Kansas City may both be major midwestern urban centers, but they are as different as night and day. We, Missourians, embody and exemplify the complexity and diversity of this great nation; our diversity is an attribute meant to be celebrated.
There is much to celebrate and commemorate in calling to mind our rich collective history over the span of two centuries. The bicentennial offers an opportunity for exploring and promoting the rich history and multiple cultures of Missouri’s local communities, counties and regions, while simultaneously preparing a dynamic economic, social and cultural future for the people of this state.
It is our intent that the bicentennial commemoration become a path to a “usable past,” one which guides our citizens’ decision-making in the present and into the future.
There is a basic question that we hope Missourians will address over the course of the upcoming bicentennial year: What does it mean to be a Missourian, and how has that meaning changed over time?
The simple answer to that question, of course, is, “It depends.”
It depends on where you lived, and when, and how you made your living. It depends on whether you were male or female, and what your race, ethnicity, religion and level of education was. It depends on whether you lived on a farm, in a mining camp or a village, or in a city.
That is why our state’s bicentennial commemoration is a truly statewide, grassroots series of events that involve Missourians from all 114 counties and the independent city of St. Louis. We must somehow capture all of these different “Missourees” and “Missourahs” as we move to celebrate.
So far, more than 100 local, regional and statewide projects are underway to commemorate our 200th birthday. We continue to encourage and invite individuals, communities and organizations to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Missouri is our home, a place that has shaped who we are, a place that has, in return, given us the means to shape its future, and our own.
The year 2021 will be an important time to be a Missourian, and if we see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, which we hope with the distribution of vaccines, it will give Missourians a chance to come together in celebration.
This article by Gary R. Kremer is published by permission of the Missouri Independent.