"This Place of Promise" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Gary Kremer, a 5th-generation Missourian, completed his latest book “This Place of Promise” in celebration of Missouri’s 200th anniversary of statehood. This informative and entertaining homage to his state “family” is written with both devotion and criticism. Like any honest family history, it includes stories of both successes and setbacks.
Acknowledging that everyone looks at history through the lens of their upbringing, Kremer discloses that he grew up in Osage county, in a Catholic family and Catholic community. He notes the tragic deaths that occurred in several generations of his family and the influence those tragedies have had on his religious beliefs. The societal turmoil during the 60s and 70s led this devout Catholic to consider the priesthood. Yet, just a few years later he was divorced, and disillusioned by his church. He then became a member of a different religious tradition.
Kremer eventually returned to the Roman Catholic Church and at the same time began to study the history of marginalized people at Lincoln University. There he researched and uncovered new insights about African American history, Native American history, and the histories of other minorities in Missouri.
The author conveys all this autobiographical information to say, “This is who I am and this is what I bring to my research on Missouri history.” He writes: “We are products of our time and place. Mine was determined by where I was born, when I was born, who my parents were, my race, my religion, my gender, my socioeconomic standing.” This affirmation of his selfhood is followed by a challenge to readers: “What I'm encouraging everyone to do is reflect with me on why they are the way they are. And the answer to that question is our shared history.”
I found this a disarming and welcome challenge, the chance to set aside the prejudices and barriers each reader brings to the study of history, and dialog with Kremer as both author and reader share their understanding of Missouri’s complex history. This unique, open, dialogical approach welcomed me into this book and I thoroughly enjoyed a conversational trip with the author through 200 years of Missouri history.
The trek with Kremer begins at the early settlements whose locations were dictated largely by geography and available land. The grisly cruelties imposed upon enslaved people are frankly addressed. The adversities of frontier life, the uniquely split status of Missouri during the Civil War, the stories of the way immigrants were mistreated, and the tales of the seemingly endless 1930s depression are told with emotion and report the author’s serious research.
More recent issues within the memory of some readers make the journey even more poignant such as the effects of World War II, the Civil Rights movement in Missouri, and the demographic change from an agrarian to an urban society.
This bicentennial review also helps the reader understand Missouri today. The ongoing conflicts over the proper role of government, the perpetual discord between urban and rural constituencies, and the delays and denials of long-sought civil rights to so many citizen groups are all given perspective by studying the origin of these arguments. This volume is also a celebration of Missouri’s beautiful and diverse topography, its multicultural population, and its accomplished artists, such as Walt Disney or Maya Angelou, as well as other outstanding features.
Kremer closes his book with an inventory of the challenges Missourians face in the 21st Century: gun violence, child welfare, poverty, education, and economic hardships. He admits to being worried about the deinstitutionalization of society: the decline of church membership, the attack on public education, the weakening of family solidarity, and the deterioration of other anchors of society. Yet Kremer leaves the reader with words of hope that Missouri is still a place of promise—yet to be fulfilled.
About the Author: Kremer has served as Executive Director of the State Historical Society of Missouri since 2004. He is the author of several books including “George Washington Carver: In His Own Words”; “Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence”; and “The African American Experience in Missouri”. He is editor-in-chief of the Missouri Historical Review. The publisher of this 310-page history is the University of Missouri Press. It includes many photographs, charts, and a thorough index.
Kremer will make a book talk at Washington Public Library on Thursday, July 20th at 6:30 p.m. This event will be sponsored by the Friends of Washington Public Library and Neighborhood Reads.