Gary Kremer enrolled at Lincoln University in Jefferson City in 1966.
His plan was to become a social worker.
“I had hated history,” Kremer said recently. “History had been taught to me as names, dates and places you had to memorize. I didn’t understand why I had to know what these dead people did.”
But at Lincoln he signed on for a course called “Negro History,” taught by Lorenzo J. Greene. In the almost 50 years since, Kremer has become one of the leading experts in Missouri black history.
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His book “Race & Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri” contains articles representing several decades of his scholarship.
Some of the pieces concern Kansas City. One includes the recollections of three sisters who detailed for Kremer their experiences in segregated Kansas City during the 1920s and 1930s. Another summarizes the career of William J. Thompkins, a black Kansas City physician who worked with the Pendergast political machine to generate minority support for the Democratic Party across Jackson County and Missouri.
Kremer has devoted to African-American history the same focus and fidelity that Greene had exhibited since he arrived at Lincoln University in 1933.
Of Greene and his students, much was expected. Greene told Kremer how, one night during the late 1920s, he had taken a date to the movies and had the bad luck to run into his mentor, Carter G. Woodson, on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk. Woodson was the Harvard-trained historian who in 1926 had campaigned for one week in February to be set aside for black history, now observed as Black History Month.
Woodson had been angry, telling Greene that scholars had no time for “frivolity.”
Later, when Woodson was asked why he never married, he said, “I have a mistress. She is history, and she is jealous.”
Kremer, today executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, is not African-American. That still surprises the occasional historical or church group that asks Kremer to address them.
That reminds Kremer of another Greene story.
“He would hardly ever give a lecture without asking the rhetorical question, ‘What is the goal of the historian?’
“Then he would pause for effect and say, ‘The goal of the historian is to find the truth, and the truth is colorblind.’”
To learn more about “Race & Meaning,” go to Press.UMSystem.edu.