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Congressman Emanuel Cleaver remembers his role in redeveloping 18th & Vine

Cleaver at American Jazz Museum.png
Posted at 4:01 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 19:40:51-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The historic 18th and Vine district in Kansas City, Missouri, was a priority for then-Mayor Emanuel Cleaver.

His theory was, "If people understand our history, they will want to come partake of it and keep it alive."

In 1997, the American Jazz Museum opened in the historic area after years of work.

"Even though (jazz) was born in New Orleans, it grew up in Kansas City," Cleaver said of Kansas City's importance to the music.

As the city worked to acquire artifacts for the new museum, it found an authentic piece owned by Charlie Parker's wife Chan.

"She hid the things from him and then she put them up for sale at Christie's Auction House in London," Cleaver said. "We found out that there were all these things over there that belonged to him, including a plastic saxophone. It is the only saxophone that we know for sure he played."

The price, kept on climbing.

"They kept going, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, then $100,000 and I looked around at my guys and team. Everybody had their heads down and I thought okay, $116,000. So, I bought it," Cleaver said. "It's now over half a million dollars so, it was a good deal. But I got 743 editorials, 6,000,019 cartoons and now the praise of people all over the country."

Revitalizing the Gem Theater was also part of his efforts. Now, a district that was once vacant is reminiscent of the history born there.

Now, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver still looks back at his efforts with pride.

"I would do it all again."