Metropolis honors Black filmmaker, Black businesswoman with historical marker
The city of Metropolis, Illinois, unveiled a new historical marker Monday honoring two Black historical icons who once called the southern Illinois city home.
The two-sided marker honors Oscar Micheaux – who’s often cited as America’s first Black feature filmmaker – and Annie Turnbo Malone – an entrepreneur who became one of the first Black female millionaires in the United States. John Turnbo, Metropolis’ first Black alderman elected to city council and Annie Turnbo Malone’s brother, is also highlighted on the marker.
Rev. Orlando McReynolds of First Missionary Baptist Church spearheaded the year-long effort to erect a historical marker for the Metropolis natives. The monument, recognizing the contributions of prominent African-Americans from southern Illinois, now stands just steps away from the town’s iconic Superman statue.
“I think it's very important because we're caught up in a cultural war, and we're at a time where there are people who are trying to eliminate race and eradicate African-American history,” McReynolds said. “So we put this here as a landmark so that all can see the truth of what has been contributed to African American history and what has been contributed by those from right here in Metropolis.”
Micheaux, born in Metropolis in 1884, was an author, filmmaker and producer who the National Museum of African American History and Culture calls the “most successful Black independent filmmaker of the race-movie era.” Over the course of his career, Micheaux directed and produced 44 films. He was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987.
Malone was born in Metropolis in 1869, Turnbo developed hair products around the turn of the 20th century geared toward Black women, including a chemical hair product to straighten Black women’s hair without damaging scalps. She went door-to-door selling her products and became a millionaire by the end of World War I. Malone donated much of her earnings to charity. She also established Poro College in St. Louis in 1917, a cosmetology school for aspiring Black beauticians and sales representatives that eventually expanded to have campuses across the country.
McReynolds said while the marker lists the achievements of Metropolis natives, he noted that they had to leave southern Illinois in order to become successful.
“It makes an example for young people, gives breadcrumbs, encouragement that they can follow,” McReynolds said. “On the other hand, it shows that Metropolis is still suffering from what I call a ‘brain drain,’ because these people make great contributions, but had to leave the area in order to do so. So it's time that we invest in our area commercially so that our young people do not have to leave [Metropolis] to make their mark.”