Most people in the sparsely-populated interior Ozarks,
with its thin rocky soil and narrow river valleys, were free and white,
because the country was not rich enough in any resources to allow the
residents to be able to support a slave economy.
Some of the immigrants, however, had gotten to this country
by selling their labor for a period of years to a person willing to
pay their passage from Europe. Many of the Scotch-Irish fleeing famine
in their own country booked passage on a ship to America by becoming
indentured servants, and many of those people, and their descendants,
came to the Ozarks when freed. An indentured servant became free at
the end of their term of service. African-American slaves could only
become free if formally granted their freedom by their white owners,
in a rarely-invoked process called "manumission."
After the Civil War, many former slaves settled in Ozarks
communities. There were well-rooted settlements in West Plains, Hartville
and Springfield. In Springfield, particularly, a large African-American
population flourished, with a middle class population of professionals
that included doctors, attorneys an a wide variety of black-owned businesses.
Race riots in the 1920s were fanned by the growing strength
of the white extremist group, the Ku Klux Klan, in the middle south,
where most of the Civil War had been fought. Episodes of mob violence
drove most of these populations away from the Ozarks, leaving only small
populations of African Americans in isolated communities. Lynchings
of blacks in Springfield in the 1920s caused virtually all of that city's
African American community to flee to other cities outside the Ozarks,
where they could live in relative safety.
Growing economic opportunities in the Ozarks has led to
an increase in ethnic and cultural diversity since the 1970s, and the
Ozarks has in turn become more welcoming of strangers from many lands
who come here by invitation and both come and leave by choice.