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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – While Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored unknown lands, there was a lesser known force working behind the scenes to help them pave the road to the West.

His name was York and while his black skin made him Clark’s slave, it also gave their group an “in” with the Midwest’s Native American population.

You see, to the Indians, York’s skin was mystifying; a symbol power and strength.

“He’s the first known African American known to make it all the way to the Pacific Ocean and back.  So he’s one of the greats as far as the explorers are concerned,” said Richard Edwards with the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence.

Edwards will spend February telling how York and other Black Americans helped carve out America’s place in the world.

“Both free and enslaved African Americans were part of our history from the very, very beginning,” said Edwards.

Edwards said that role enriched America’s history and helped form America’s future.

The National Frontier Trails Museum, 318 W. Pacific, has planned two programs to honor the city’s black heritage.

On Thursday, February 9, 16 and 23, “African Americans in the West” explores the lives of several blacks who followed the trails west. The gallery walk begins at 2:00 p.m. and is included in regular museum admission, which is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors 62 and over and $3 for children ages 6-17.

Art instructor Sarah Poff will share techniques of painting and sculpting in a class which explores and creates Amazing African American Art. The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, February 4, from 10 a.m. to noon. Reservations are required and the class costs $10. Call 816-325-7575 or visit