In 1901, musician Scott Joplin, the “King of Ragtime,” moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to pursue his composing career. Despite years of neglect and dilapidation, the home Joplin rented during this period was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and was subsequently saved from destruction by the local African American community. In 1983, Joplin's home was given to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to create the first state historic site in Missouri dedicated to African American heritage. Until recently, interpretation of this site has focused primarily on the celebratory history of Scott Joplin and ragtime music, ignoring the urban milieu in which he lived and its influence on his musical compositions. A new community-based heritage project has attempted to expand this historic narrative to include the more complex social history of African American urban migration and the transformation of a multi-ethnic neighborhood to the contemporary community. Part of this diverse narrative includes unpleasant or uncomfortable topics of racial oppression, poverty, sanitation, prostitution, and sexually transmitted diseases. Through frank and open dialogue among museum professionals, scholars, and local residents, efforts are now being made to engage and interpret this “tough” history. The desired outcome is to transform a static historic site into an engaging cultural center that connects a more inclusive past to contemporary concerns of the descendant community.

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