Faye Dant is a 5th generation Missourian, born and raised in Hannibal. Faye is a child of the 50’s and 60’s. She is also my cousin; our mothers are sisters. Born in 1949, she is the middle child and only girl of five kids. Faye holds a B.S. degree in sociology/psychology from Oakland University in Michigan, and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.
She credits that her informative years were developed in a neighborhood called Douglasville, where our families lived. The community once had many Black owned and operated businesses.
Douglasville is widely considered to be one of America’s oldest and largest communities settled by former enslaved people. The founder, Joe Douglas, saved his meager earnings to purchase the marshy land. He sold parcels of the land to around 80 African American families.
Douglas moved to Hannibal in the 1800’s as a child. He was of African and Osage ancestry and alleged to have been found as an infant in an Osage Camp, after the community had been decimated by smallpox. He died in 1923 at the age of 102.
Faye attended Douglass School, an all-Black school, until 1959, when Hannibal public schools were fully integrated. After integration, only one Black teacher from Douglass School was hired by the Hannibal Public School District, and it would take another 13-years before another Black teacher was hired.
She and her husband Joel worked and raised three children in the Chicago area. They returned to the area in 2011 when Joel was hired as Athletic Director, of his alma mater, Culver Stockton College, in Canton, Mo, thirty miles from Hannibal.
Faye says that her passions are history and social justice. She remembers participating in her first protest at the age of 12. Combining these two passions, in 2013 she founded Northeast Missouri’s only Black History Museum, “Jim’s Journey: the Huck Finn Freedom Center.” It is the only museum to pay homage to Daniel Quarles, who was the inspiration for Mark Twain’s character Jim, the enslaved companion of Huckleberry Finn.
She said she was compelled to open the museum, because she knew we had a story to tell, and no one else was telling it. The presence of Black people in Hannibal’s history was non-existent.
As Faye worked to shine a light on the history of Black Hannibal residents, she discovered some of Joel’s family legacy. He is a relative of America’s first Black priest, Father John Augustus Tolton. Father Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 in Ralls County, MO. In 1862 he and his family escaped slavery by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. Father Tolton studied in Rome and was ordained into the priesthood in 1886 at the age of 31. He returned to the United States and held his first Mass at St. Boniface Church in Quincy, Illinois.
In Faye’s research she also uncovered the untold story of Blanche Kelso Bruce, the founder of Douglass School in 1854. Douglass School was Missouri’s first school for Black children. Blanche went on to represent the state of Mississippi as a Republican in the US Senate, from 1875-1881.
Faye said it was hard to get financing to start the venture, but she was able to obtain a $2500 grant from the Missouri Humanities Council. The museum operates out of the oldest operating building In Hannibal. It was built by former enslaved people in 1837 and was once used as for ammunition storage by the Union Army during the Civil War.
She published an article in the local newspaper asking people to donate old memorabilia i.e., old newspapers, obituaries, clothes, and photos. The museum has a bugle from WWII, and her prize possession is a 1927 Colored Directory. The directory was published by a family named Wright, who also published a Black newspaper and the Douglass School yearbook.
The museum holds more than 600 artifacts related to the experiences of African Americans in northeast Missouri during the 1800’s and 1900’s.
Another passion that Faye has had for the past 20-years is creating photomontages. She shared that she was creating her photomontage art pieces before Hallmark started its Mahogany card collection.
Family and friends have experienced Faye’s artwork as postcards, church fans, and memory boxes. Earlier this year Faye was invited by the Hannibal Art Council to display a piece of her artwork.
This past Thanksgiving, I spent time with Faye and other members of our family. I also had the opportunity to see her 15-piece art exhibit on display by the Quincy Art Center in Quincy, IL. Two of my favorite pieces are “Sisters” which is of the six Green girls, Faye’s mother, my mother, and our aunts; the other is of the Black female teachers, who taught at Douglass School. Michelle Obama is also in this piece called “Colored Gal.”
I asked Faye, when did she know that she was an artist, or did other people tell her she was. She said that she didn’t actually think of herself as an artist, but as someone who wanted her kids and grandkids to see images that looked like them. She often uses images of local residents in her pieces as another means of overcoming the sense of invisibility.
One of Faye’s favorite quotes is by Paul Robeson, the renowned actor, artist, and activist. Robeson said, “Artist are the gatekeepers of truth, we are civilizations radical voice.”
I am so impressed with the work that my cousin, G. Faye Dant continues to do in our hometown of Hannibal. Her tireless effort to make sure the African American experience in Hannibal is never overlooked or forgotten again is nothing short of amazing.
If you ever visit the small town of Hannibal, please make sure you stop by Jim’s Journey and meet the amazing G. Faye Dant.