The Tale of Joplin’s Two
United Service Organizations (the USO)
during World War II
HMP’s philosophy is to look at historical facts with a neutral eye. In this spirit, HMP does not honor the practice of segregation, but rather recognizes the history that shaped our nation, state, city, and the armed services, plus those who gave of themselves.
The multi-level building at 306-312 South Wall Avenue borders the Historic Murphysburg Residential District on the east side of Pearl. In the late 1920’s it was Farmer Moter Company and several mining and smelting companies. In the 1930’s and early 40’s it was the Quality Motors car dealership. Through the years the building was many different businesses such as manufacturing companies, optical laboratory, an insurance company, a wholesale supplier, and more. During World War II, the building housed the United Service Organization (USO) offices and recreation center.
Because Joplin was a WWII hub for six defense centers and was within close proximity to Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri, the United Service Organization designated Joplin for a local USO site. On March 3, 1942 the USO opened for soldiers, sailors, and 30,000 to 40,000 defense workers!
Pictured above is a 1940’s postcard of the interior of the USO at 310 South Wall Avenue. The other is photo a fabric found years later in the building. The current owners discovered from the postcard that the fabric they found was a remnant of the draperies used for the USO.
Mary Anne Phillips and husband James D. Scott have owned the building at 306-312 South Wall Avenue since 2000. Jim’s business, Scott Electronic Systems, Inc. has operated out of the building since 1979. Jim says it is a sturdy structure with six metal I-beams that span 40 feet to support the second floor. Special features on the second floor include a mezzanine surrounded by offices, a large skylight, and transoms above the office doors. Mary Anne believes that many artifacts remained with the building through the years such as chairs, a glass display case, and draperies because they are depicted in a postcard the couple acquired from Paula Callihan.
But that is not the end of the story—According to minutes of the Joplin USO Council, 1941-1946, (courtesy of the Joplin History & Mineral Museum,
It was not long before the USO Council faced an unforeseen dilemma. Some “colored troops,” 2000 in number, were scheduled to arrive at Camp Crowder. Joplin officials questioned how to accommodate them, since the black population in Joplin was small, only 854.
Committee member W. H. Maher made a passionate plea, declaring “Those men are wearing the uniform of the United States…We are talking about American soldiers…and we owe the duty (USO services) to the colored soldiers as much as…the white soldiers. I believe there should be no racial or religious distinction.” He did, however, suggest that, “The negroes preferred to have their own group.”
On February 6, 1944 with much ceremony by white and black dignitaries, the Main Street (Negro) USO Club opened in an old building at 221 South Main Street. Less than a year after its opening, due to the reduction in black troops at Camp Crowder, the club was ordered shut down. An appeal was made to the USO executive in Kansas City to retain the facility. The colored soldiers stationed at Camp Crowder stated they were appreciative of the Joplin facility and it is better than any they had found elsewhere.
The Wall Street USO closed its doors on June 30, 1946. The Main Street USO remained in operation for another three months until all of the black soldiers had left the camp.
Over one million soldiers passed through Joplin’s USO clubs during the war years.
While the building that housed the Wall Street USO is still in use today, the Main Street USO building is gone and is now the site of Commerce Bank.
James D. Scott Family Archives
Brad Belk, David Cunningham, Andy Ostmeyer, and Leslie Simpson Joplin Souvenir Album, St. Louis, Missouri: G. Bradley Publishing, Inc., 2001. Pages 16-17.
Callihan Postcard collection