Inspiring stories between Germans and African Americans in Missouri

By Cecilia Nadal

Born into slavery in Diamond, Missouri, baby George’s parents were Mary and Giles. Their owner was Moses Carver, a German immigrant. At a week old, George and family were kidnapped by bushwhackers. Moses Carver hired a posse to find George and his family. Moses and Susan Carver were kind-hearted people who, after the abolition of slavery in America, raised George as their own child.  Susan Carver taught George to read and write and encouraged George to pursue his education further. The road to becoming an internationally renowned Agricultural Scientist was long and difficult. The genuine interest of the Carver’s provided an important launching pad for the great George Washington Carver. George would graduate from college, become a college professor and work with the great industrialist Henry Ford. 

How long have we known about George Washington Carver without knowing about his German immigrant owners who treated him as a family member. Such stories warm our heart and help us to understand the power of kindness and compassion. While scholars will aptly point out that the Carver family owned slaves in a State that supported slavery-this does not dismiss the crucial role the Carver’s would have in baby George’s life nor eliminate the shame associated with slavery!

Armentha Russell sent us a letter after attending a Symposium on the Shared History of Germans and African Americansin St. Louis in 2019. Armentha is a retired Superintendent of Schools in St. Louis County and she wrote the following:

My father, Joseph P. Mitchell, was born on July 27, 1908. He came to St. Louis from Greenville, Mississippi. He gained employment as a laborer at U-SAN-O Company, 1800 Chouteau Ave. in St. Louis. This company made and distributed mops, brooms and sanitary supplies to many different businesses in the metropolitan area. His employer, Mr. Knopp, who was a German Immigrant, developed a bond with Joseph, an African American. As a result of this bond and dedicated hard work by Joseph, he advanced in the company and was promoted.

After a period of time working at U-SAN-O, Mr. Knopp came to Joseph and offered him the opportunity to start his own business. Mr. Knopp did so because of major medical issues; he was going to retire and close the company. He was willing to provide equipment, materials, etc. and clients for Joseph to start his own mop-making and supplies business in the basement of his home. Joseph became the owner of Royal Mop Manufacturing Company because of his good friend and former employer, Mr. Knopp, a German immigrant. My father successfully operated his company until he retired because of illness in 1980. Mr. Knopp made a tremendous impact on the life of Joseph Mitchell and his family.

When Gordon Carlson moved into the West End of St. Louis City with his German wife Ellen Schmitz it was an intentional decision. He loved the old Victorian houses from the 1904 Worlds Fair and he wanted to be a part of a neighborhood where he and his wife could contribute. The neighborhood was predominantly African American with some residents that had lived there for many years. There were other families that were more transient and poorer. Ellen felt that if she was to be effective with the African Americans in her neighborhood, she needed to get to know them. She made it a point to invite families to come to her home and over time started working with children on academic tutoring and bible studies. Ellen didn’t see the color of her neighbor’s skin but saw potential as she began to develop relationships. Over time Ellen was seen as an “angel” by her neighbors.  When several young gang members tried to intimidate Ellen, her Black friends intervened by contacting the parents of those youth who quickly “corrected their behavior.”  After years, Ellen would pass from cancer. Many Black families came to the funeral to support the “German lady” they loved and to support her husband. They surrounded Gordon with love and kindness—something that he will always be grateful for. Gordon recounted the story of a little black school girl who asked her mother, “Is Ms. Ellen Black? For Gordon that naïve question reflected the fact that Ellen had successfully broken the color barrier with that young child.

We would love to hear your stories so that they can be shared with others. Amplifying who we are together as a diverse America is good for the soul and for the heart. If you have a story that should be told, send us an email at

You’re invited to learn about the history of Germans and African Americans in Missouri at the Warren County Historical Society on Saturday, August 12 from 2:00 PM- 4:00 PM. For information call 636-456-3820 or register online.

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