New African American Heritage Trail marker commemorates former Douglass School Football Field

Two dozen trail markers on Columbia’s African American Heritage Trail highlight more than 30 locations in Columbia, explaining important moments and places in the city’s history, especially during segregation.

The Sharp End Heritage Committee in June dedicated the 24th marker on the trail.

For residents, the new marker takes them back to a childhood before urban renewal took away the Sharp End business district.

“Every one of these markers that I’ve helped to put together has brought back the history, my history and my family history,” said Barbra Horrell, the co-chair of the Sharp End Heritage Committee.

As a high schooler, Horrell was a drum majorette for the band. They marched on Broadway for Homecoming, and she said the businesses along the street would close up to watch them perform. The band marched military-style, with shined shoes.

“Our band director didn’t play,” Horrell said. “And I remember we were in Wichita Falls, Texas one time, and I’m out there stepping off the band and I got cute. And he looked to me and said, ‘Brown. Straighten up.’”

 Former Douglass Bulldog football players and Columbia Chamber of Commerce members gather around to cut a ribbon that commemorates the new marker.

Tyana Jackson


The Douglass School Football Field Marker is the 24th marker on Columbia’s African American Heritage Trail.

John Kelly, a former football player for Douglass School, also had a touch coach: George C. Brooks, who would later become the first Black administrator at MU.

“It is kind of ironic that she asked me to talk about Douglass Football,” Kelly said during his speech at the ceremony. “When you look at the list of the top 10 worst football players at Douglass, I’m on it.”

Kelly remembered suiting up at the school and walking four blocks to the field to practice, rain or shine. Brooks didn’t let the team drink water; he said it would make them weak.

Kelly said because their football uniforms were made of satin, their sweat would gather in the fabric and weigh them down as practice went on, like chainmail.

“And so you would go home at night and you would have these terrible, violent muscle cramps, because you were just dehydrated,” Kelly remembered.

Even still, the nostalgia of the ceremony was important to Kelly. He said he’s noticed the downfalls of digitally storing information without a written record.

“I feel like we’re being forgotten,” Kelly said. “And you don’t have the written record to show what people did, what they were thinking about. And that bothers me. Because once we’re gone and you can’t talk to me, then all that history is gonna disappear.”

After the football games, the team would go back to the school for a dance, where the girls would tell them how well or how poorly they played. In the spring, they’d have a banquet to celebrate the season and receive their awards and letters. For the players, the fun they had both on and off the field remains as a warm memory, even during the trials of segregation.

“We were just happy to play the game, (from) the camaraderie to the older players that you looked up to,” Kelly said. “And we kind of focused on that rather than some of the stuff that, you know, was surrounding the area. We were just playing football.”

Before school started again in the fall, Douglass Bulldog almuni would come back for a scrimmage game with the then-current team. It was a huge community event, as was every other Friday night game.

The ability to build community through a sporting event is what inspires Kelly’s life now. He coaches Douglass Youth Baseball. The Douglass Bulldogs play at the field named after him and his brother.

“That’s where my goosebumps come from, that you’ve got five-year-olds hitting a baseball because we’re teaching them how to do it,” Kelly said.

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