On voting day, the fate of the J.W. “Blind” Boone home at 10 N. Fourth St. could be decided. Newspaper articles have outlined Columbia City Council and mayoral candidates’ opinions and ideas about whether or how funds could be used to complete the restoration of the home. Public opinion comments for and against restoration have showed up in various public venues such as the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Trib Talk, with some comments edging on racism.
And yet, it is good to ask why the public might want to save and renovate the house. In many ways, it is ordinary. In some ways, it is odd, a house in a now commercial area, next to a church, the Second Baptist Church.
There are many reasons to save the home and here are three:
1. The house offers a story of courage and hope.
People are ephemeral. We live, we die, we can be forgotten. This could have been the case with J.W. “Blind” Boone, but the loss would have been a great loss in terms of role models, hope and courage. Yes, Boone was African-American. He was also American. He was the offspring of a U.S. Union soldier and an at-the-time war contraband, a slave. Despite his birth in 1864, subsequent illness that lead to the removal of his eyes and blindness, Boone went on to become a classical musician, composer and performer, traversing the nation for more than 40 years. As a new book on Boone, “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone,” notes, while many performers had to shuffle and play the clown during this time to be on stage, Boone went on stage throughout a segregated country, playing to crowds of all colors, wearing a tuxedo. Financially he was an astonishing success, the book notes, earning $3,600 to $14,375 a night in 2010 dollars for his performances.
2. The house highlights a story of entrepreneurship.
Yes, Boone was talented, but his talents were in danger of drifting into the seedy part of society until he came under the guidance and partnership of John Lange Jr. Lange’s story is also told in “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone.” Briefly, Lange was the son of a former slave (who belonged to James Shannon, second president of the University of Missouri) and free French Creole. Lange Sr., was a successful businessman and his son went on to also succeed in business and operated Boone’s touring company as a business, complete with a manager, booking agents and advance men.
3. The house stands as a testimony to our racial past.
Why are there no other homes near the Boone home? The housing for African-Americans in the past was deplorable. A quote in the book about Boone quotes a 1911 newspaper article as saying the houses of African-Americans are often like sheds than houses. The area surrounding the Boone home was once Sharp’s End, the place where African-Americans lived, yet where few public services were offered. The same 1911 article notes that the area had no sidewalks and the streets were mud and stone. By the way, Boone lived in the house from 1889 until 1927 — and during 1923, when only five blocks from the house, James Scott was lynched in 1923, after he was accused of raping a white girl.
Of course, there are more than three reasons to save the house, but these offer food for thought.
What are your thoughts on the reasons to save the Blind Boone home?