Urbanization of Columbia changes social construct, daily life


Cassidy Viox

In 1946, young Dave Horner and his wife moved to Columbia to start a farm and pursue an education at the University of Missouri- Columbia (MU). Horner had recently finished military service for World War II and was ready to start a life in a new community. Upon receiving his degree, he became a farmer in the Huntsdale area outside of city limits, while his wife studied for her master’s degree in English and became a professor at MU. The Horners’ story is not unusual; many families flocked to Columbia in the mid-1900s to obtain an education and stayed afterward to settle down.
70 years after the Horners’ arrival in Columbia, Horner still lives here and has experienced the city’s progression throughout his adult life. In the early years of Horner’s Mid-Missouri life, the commercial district was only a few blocks, which then turned into the area that Columbians now call ‘downtown.’ He saw racial integration, urbanization and growth as the town went from a small southern community of 22,000 to the bustling city of over 100,000.
Historically, Missouri was a slave state and Columbia was a very agricultural area, thus slavery was popular for many years. This led to severe segregation and caused Horner to live in a time where racism was much more prevalent than it is today.
“The schools were segregated, the commercial district was pretty segregated and the residential district was segregated,” Horner said. “The African American people did not eat in the restaurants. They did not go to the theatre except to sit in certain areas. It was a different ball game entirely.”
He said the biggest change he’s seen in his decades living in Columbia was how the racial equality grew rapidly. He remembers a time when his kids were growing up that shows the distinct segregation of his small community and how those minority families were treated.
“I was familiar with one rural school district where there was only one African American family,” Horner said. “It was not allowed for the children of that family to attend that school. Logically, they should have transported them to a place where there was an African American school, but they decided not to do that so those children just did not go to school. It was illegal, but tolerated.”
Before 1954, all kindergarten through twelfth grade students in the Columbia area attended Fredrick Douglass High School. Chris Campbell, executive director of the Boone County Historical Society, said the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Topeka Supreme Court decision outlawed planned segregation. Slowly, the school board changed the educational dynamics of Columbia starting with declaring Douglass an elementary school and transferring the black students to Hickman High School, Jefferson Junior High School and West Middle School, formerly West Junior High School. In 1967, the school board terminated Douglass as an elementary school, as well, and sent those students to other integrated elementary schools.
“The process was slow and generally not comfortable or easy for black students,” Campbell said. “Today’s Columbia schools are broadly diverse with students who were born in dozens of different countries. It’s hard to imagine a time when they were not as diverse. Prior to 1960, the Columbia schools were attended by an almost exclusively white population.”
Along with dispelling segregation, Columbia also made gargantuan changes geographically. Growing continuously for decades called for more land and a higher population.
“There was a current wisdom that Columbia would never expand west beyond West Boulevard and never go south past Hinkson Creek,” Horner said. “I thought it was rather odd. Haven’t these people ever heard of a bridge?”
If the retired theory of expansion were true, there would be no Columbia Mall, Shakespeare’s South or most importantly, there would be no RBHS. In response to the growing population, urbanization of Columbia changed as agriculture and farming grew less appealing to the city. Naturally, cities grow at the expense of the rural area. Horner said this is neither a good or bad thing, it’s just the way it happens. One problem the growth of the city has caused, though, is the lack of infrastructure for a city the size of Columbia.
“You have to be very careful of storm waters and sewage,” Horner said. “The possibilities for [those] things are getting much worse and contamination is very real. I think Columbia has done a considerably above average job with dealing with it, though.”
It wasn’t until the 1970’s that major improvements were made to basic sanitation. Campbell said prior to 1970, Columbia had no uniform sanitation system, no modern water system, very few public parks, antiquated sewer systems and no storm drainage system. To this day, many believe Columbia’s infrastructure is still in need of major improvements for the growing population.
Because of the growing population, the size and density downtown grew exponentially with commercial businesses and leisurely activities. In the 1960’s, there was no Business Loop or Parkade Center. There was only downtown, and downtown wasn’t much of a downtown anyways.
“Unlike today’s downtown which is populated by many restaurants, clubs and specialty boutiques, the downtown of the 50’s was populated by drug stores with soda fountains, hardware stores, luncheonettes, clothing stores, barber shops, four movie theatres, gas stations and a bowling alley,”  Campbell said.
Columbia isn’t done changing. There are things that improved just in the past year. Reconstruction of roads, a new elementary school and a sudden increase in student housing are just a few of the recent changes. The population has grown by almost 100,000 residents from when Horner moved here until now, and Mayor Brian Treece believes it will grow to 240,000 in the next thirty years. Columbia is forever changing and growing as a whole, making the middle of Missouri at least an exciting place with new opportunities. Even RBHS changed considering its expansion over the years. The growth from a small school in the middle of an empty prairie to an institution with 2,000 students and an urban area surrounding it shows what 40 years can do to a community.
“Today’s RB[HS] students will visit or live in a Columbia of 2050 that will not look like today’s Columbia,” Campbell said. “Hopefully, the schools are still terrific and the charm of some of our older buildings downtown will have been preserved. And hopefully, the Columns, Booches, homecoming parades and the True/False Film Festival will all still be a part of the fabric of the lives of Columbians.”