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State Historical Society’s Beth Pike Reflects on Missouri’s Bicentennial | People Features

Beth Pike hasn’t slept much in the last year. The State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO) communications specialist, who grew up in Washington and now lives in Columbia, said she spent 2021 – and much of 2020 – “living and breathing” the bicentennial from Missouri.

She and a team of three other full-time employees, including Michael Sweeney, Danielle Griego and Morgan Dennehy, planned and executed 300 events across the state and coordinated 130,000 volunteer hours from hundreds of people to mark the 200th anniversary of the August 10. , 1821 – the day Missouri joined the United States as the 24th state.

“Looking back on it, I’m like, ‘How the hell did we do that? In 365 days, we did 300 events,'” Pike recently told the Missourian. “A lot of us haven’t gotten much sleep But we did.

Events included everything from traveling history exhibits and lecture series to a statewide time capsule and a massive quilt with a square representing each of the 114 counties, as well as the city of St. Louis.

Students were invited to enter essay and design contests, and artists were hired to create murals and other community projects across the state.

On August 10, the official statehood day, thousands gathered in Jefferson City for a parade and naturalization ceremony for new citizens in the state capitol rotunda.

The budget allocated by the state legislature exceeded $1 million, and thousands more were contributed by businesses and organizations.

The challenge facing the Bicentennial team, which the Missouri legislature appointed to lead in 2013, was daunting: how to bring together the state’s 69,715 square miles and highlight the diversity that spans it.

The Bicentenary team wanted each territory to appropriate its history and its events. Pike said Sweeney, who served as Bicentennial coordinator from 2017 to 2020, drove his car around the state for about 140,000 miles.

“It was so popular,” Pike said. “We went to every county and said, ‘How do you want to commemorate this? What would you support? And people really got into it. »

Locally organized events included a Route 66 festival in Lebanon and one in Carthage, a boat parade at Lake of the Ozarks, a German Fruhlingsfest event in Warrenton, a wine walk in Chillicothe, a cherry blossom festival in Marshfield, a memorial day Confederate Party in Holt County, an Oktoberfest in Ozark and many more.

Gary Kremer, executive director of SHSMO, said that although COVID-19 ended up not inhibiting much of the celebrations in 2021, the whole organization worried throughout 2020 about the impact that the pandemic could have. The group had only spent about six months in the newly constructed Missouri Study Center when, in March 2020, they had to close the building. Shortly thereafter, severe state budget cuts forced SHSMO to lay off about a third of its staff, Kremer said. “We are here at the dawn of the bicentenary and we have this handicap,” Kremer said. “It was a big challenge for everyone.”

Pike and Kremer said the team pivoted to offering more virtual events around early 2021, later moving to in-person events once vaccines became available.

The number of participants and guests at the 300 bicentenary events is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. And, although the bicentennial year concludes with a concert and arts event held at the Center for Missouri Studies at Columbia on December 14, the number of people interacting with the bicentennial will continue, as several exhibits and resources remain available.

A free online encyclopedia covering Missouri history and culture, created for the bicentennial, will continue to be available at Another tool that will remain online for students and researchers is the state timeline, chronicling the region’s history from the Oneota people, who built the famous city of Cahokia around 1250 CE, until the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 5,000 Missourians in 2020. Both projects were created with the help of history students from across the state.

A partnership between the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the St. Louis Public Library saw the creation of an online dictionary to profile Missouri artists who were active from 1821 to 1951. The project won a $158,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and has 227 artists to date. It is available online at

Pike said the Bicentennial team seeks to celebrate current artists who “use the state as a palette.” Several artists and members of the public have collaborated on installations, exhibits and murals, such as a mosaic art installation in Blue Springs.

“(The people of Missouri) have done some really wonderful things in science, in music, in the arts, and so to be able to be proud of that and learn more about who we are was really important,” Pike said.

Pike also worked with students from the Missouri School of Journalism through Columbia’s NPR affiliate, KBIA, to create “Missouri on Mic,” a series of interviews bringing together the memories of Missouri residents.

“The bicentenary gave (SHSMO) significantly increased visibility,” Kremer said. “I’m not sure we could have done a lot of what we did without Beth. She is invaluable.

Pike said it was important early on to focus not only on the bicentennial celebration aspect, but also on teaching about the full scope of the state’s history and violence against certain groups. of people.

As explored in a traveling exhibit called “The Struggle for Statehood,” which appeared in numerous museums last year, Missouri’s journey to the 24th state was eventful, considered by many historians to be one of key events that contributed to the polarization of the United States in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

“We really wanted the Bicentenary to be a commemoration. We were very aware that this is not a party for all Missourians. … If I was black or if I was a Missouri native, that’s probably not something I would really want to celebrate,” Pike said. “But at the same time, we’ve all come to this point and had a lot of success stories that have come out of this state.”

The Missouri Territory applied for statehood in 1818. At the time, the number of U.S. states was split evenly between those that allowed enslavement and those that prohibited it. Many residents of the Missouri Territory, as well as southern states, wanted the new state to allow slavery. Not wanting the institution to grow, the people of the Free States opposed the creation of a new state that would allow people to be enslaved.

With the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the United States admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. In 1857, the Supreme Court declared the compromise unconstitutional in its decision in the Dred Scott case, which began in a courtroom in downtown St. Louis.

Dred Scott was a slave living in Missouri who, after being taken to the Free Territory of Wisconsin and the State of Illinois, sued for his freedom. The courts initially sided with Scott, but the Supreme Court overturned it, saying Congress had no power to rule on slavery in the territories.

The “Struggle for Statehood” exhibit argues that Missouri statehood has had a unique role in American history, as it “shook the United States like no other new state before and made the question of ‘inevitable slavery for the nation’.

According to Pike, education was one of the most important parts of the bicentennial theme, which was to commemorate “past, present and future”. For her, this will be one of the most lasting impacts of the year’s events.

“We tried to look at the past and relate it to the present and look to the future,” Pike said. “What’s the point of this whole bicentennial thing if we don’t come up with a way to figure out how we want to be a better state and have a better future for everyone in the state?”