The African American community in Springfield has been celebrating the 4th of August long before it was officially named Park Day. It started as a day of celebration of black’s freedom from slavery in 1865 when they first learned, probably by word of mouth, of the Emancipation Proclamation on August 4. The celebrations were held in the area where the blacks had settled which later became Silver Springs Park—or the "black park."
In 1952, Gerald Brooks, a park supervisor and a school band and orchestra director, and Robert Wendell Duncan, also a park supervisor, started a day of games and sports events in the park where young African Americans, particularly boys, could compete for trophies. Blacks from other towns also joined in the competition. The games gave them an opportunity to excel and also kept them out of trouble.
In 1953 Robert Wendell Duncan started the bathing beauty contest. Young women were given a chance to participate in a swim suits competition for the title of Miss Silver Springs. A panel of judges would select the winner. Little Miss and Pre-teen categories were added in later years.
The picnic in the park was turned into a formal annual event by three clubs made up of native Springfieldians. The St. Louis Reunion Club, led by Mrs. Organ Logan, was formed in 1973 and had the first formal picnic that same year. The Kansas City Reunion Club was formed in 1977 and the Springfield Reunion Club was formed in 1980. Today’s Park Day activities are coordinated by the Springfield Reunion Club.
The first scholarship dance was held at the Colonial Hotel in 1975. Miss Vanessa Bedell, a graduate of Hillcrest High School received the first scholarship in the amount of $250. On May 4, 2001, the scholarship was renamed the Clifton Moore, Jr. Minority Memorial Scholarship Fund after the founder and first president of the Springfield Reunion Club, Clifton Moore, Jr. Annual scholarships in the amount of $1000 have been awarded consistently since that time.
The Ladies Civic League, a local non-profit civic organization, started coordinating a Park Day parade in 2004. It is a community parade and businesses, organizations and individuals are invited to join in the celebration. The Central High School Kilties have been a part of the parade since it started. What started as an African-American celebration has become more inclusive today.
Park Day has always been an African American community activity. However, it has become more diverse through the years. As Ms. Norma (Bland) Duncan wrote in A Perspective on Park Day, "Today this three day celebration, held by tradition on the first weekend in August, brings black people back to their beginnings and their birthplace here is Springfield. Not only is It a time to renew our relationships with family and friends, it’s a time when we look forward to our place in the present, plan for the future and give honor to those who helped us."