NewsBlack History Month 2023


Flipping through pages of Kansas City Black History project

Publication gives voices to Black Kansas Citians who shaped city history
Kansas City Black History project
Missouri resoultion
Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-24 10:33:03-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Black history in Kansas City often centers around longtime journalist and activist Lucile Bluford, 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Buck O'Neil and Henry Perry, the father of Kansas City barbecue.

But these figures only make up a fraction of Black lives that helped place Kansas City on the map, which is where the "Kansas City Black History" project comes in.

The yearly publication shows many faces often left out of Kansas City's history.

"These are all Kansas Citians," said Jeremy Drouin, who manages the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library. "They can inspire people from all over the country."

Drouin created the project alongside the Black Archives of Mid-America and the Kansas City Local Investment Commission.

Since the project started in 2010, everyone involved has worked to highlight some of the area's former residents they believed deserve more recognition.

"The project really excels in telling stories that might not be as well known," Drouin said.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams, CEO of the Black Archives, agrees showcasing lesser-known figures for Black history in Kansas City is necessary.

"We hear people talk about boots on the ground, these people were our boots on the ground," Williams said. "There were so many people who actually dedicated their lives and spent their time, invested their time and energy into making sure the Black community had what it needed not just to survive but to thrive."

Williams' own great-grandparents, Frank James and Marie Jane Taylor, are in the publication.

Marie Jane was part of the Exoduster Movement in the late 1870s, moving north to Kansas to rebuild her life.

"They were also important to look at because they're just one of many, many people who did the same thing they did," Williams said.

Other figures helped move policy and activism alike through the public sphere.

Rosemary Smith Lowe founded the KC Local Investment Commission while also becoming the first Black ward committeewoman in Kansas City. She also established Freedom Inc.

"She was a fireball," said Janet Miles-Bartee, current executive vice president of the commission. "She really cared about the community, really cared about the neighborhoods in Kansas City, Missouri."

Miles-Bartee goes on to explain her vibrant personality and ability to talk to just about anyone she met.

"That could be from somebody who was a gang member, to somebody who was a politician," she said. "Everybody ended up on Rosemary Lowe's front porch."

Then there were Kansas Citians who made their mark on U.S. history like Alvin Sykes.

"He took on the case of Emmett Till," Drouin said.

Till was a 14-year-old boy who was abducted, tortured and lynched in 1955 in Mississippi after he whistled at a white woman.

Sykes passed the Till Bill in 2007, which gave funding to open Civil Rights cases from the 1960s involving racially-motivated homicides.

His work was recognized by the Missouri House of Representatives in a resolution.

Missouri resolution
Missouri resolution.

All this work comes from Sykes' self-education.

"He left high school at age 16 and spent his days at the public library," Drouin said.

Drouin says Sykes continued to serve and educate Kansas Citians up until his death.

"He was our scholar in residence in 2013, he was a lifetime user of the library," Drouin said.

The "Kansas City Black History" project has earned several local and state awards in recent years in addition to the National Award of Excellence from the American Association for State and Local History.

More than a decade after the project began, it's not the accolades keeping its partners tied to the mission.

"They want to hold the book, they want to keep them in their personal archives," Williams said. "Because they're seeing people that they know, a means that they recognize and see that they're being honored."

You can learn more about every person included in the project, find lesson plans and discover workshops on the project's website.