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History The Civil War Against Their Will

Against Their Will: African Slaves and Indentured Servants 

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.