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Government, Politics & Issues

Fort Leonard Wood Restores Building And Mural To Honor Segregation-Era Soldiers

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Sammie Ellis (center, in white) joins family members and leaders at Fort Leonard Wood to cut the ribbon at Countee Hall, named for her uncle, Samuel Countee.

The mostly nondescript Building 2101 at Fort Leonard Wood was the home of the Black Officers' Club before the Army was desegregated in 1948. 

The building had been slated for demolition, but a preservation effort restored it. The goal is to honor African American soldiers who served in difficult times.

The restoration included a mural by Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee painted above the fireplace in 1945. Countee’s niece, Sammie Ellis, said the project honors the values of her uncle and his fellow soldiers.

“They were going forward to represent the country and defend it,” Ellis said. “And I believe what my uncle did exemplifies what we should all be about.”

The building, now known as Countee Hall, will be used for classes, meetings and a memorial to segregation-era service members.

Credit Fort Leonard Wood
The mural painted by Samuel Countee, now restored and located over the fireplace in Countee Hall, formerly the Black Officers' Club, at Fort Leonard Wood.

Robert Stanton, a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which worked on the effort, said it’s meaningful that the project was supported by and completed by soldiers and civilians of all races.

“All of us share a responsibility in contributing to the preservation of our collective heritage,” Stanton said. “And I said collective, in that the story and the richness of this place is not only important to African Americans, but indeed to all citizens.”

Fort Leonard Wood held a ribbon-cutting for the restored building Tuesday. The base commander, Maj. General Donna Martin, the first African American woman to lead Fort Leonard Wood, spoke at the event.

Martin said it’s important for the Army to remember all of its past. 

“This is a tangible piece of the segregated Army experience,” she said.

The building is one of only two World War II-era segregated officers' clubs in the country still standing. It was built by German POWs at the base.

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