NewsBlack History Month 2024


From Missouri capitol to Kansas City council chambers, politics run deep in the Curls family

Posted at 9:41 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 23:15:55-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Being involved in politics is part of the Curls family way.

“It’s pretty much a requirement; I don’t think you can live in Kansas City and have the last name of Curls and not be involved in politics," Monica Curls said.

Monica Curls, the daughter of Philip B. Curls, is a current Kansas City Public Schools district board member.

"We've all had to canvass neighborhoods or pass out ballots on election day," Monica Curls said. “I was about two when I did my first election. When I went there, I said, 'Please vote for my daddy,' and they’d say, 'Oh, that’s so cute,' and I got my vote."

Monica Curls will tell you all about some of her family, some of who've been state legislators, school board members, and city council members — all focused on community development.

“It’s so interesting when people are so negative about politics, but I grew up around politics," she said. "To me, they were loving, committed to the community, and about sacrifice."

Monica Curls told KSHB 41's Megan Abundis about the history of her family's involvement in politics.

“Fred Curls came up from Oklahoma; we were a mix of Cherokee and African Americans; we were freed slaves,” she said. “Fred was a real estate appraiser and developer; my dad also went into real estate; my brother in California; my cousins and aunts here are each about community development.”

She describes it as public servants striving for political engagement.

“My grandfather was one of the founders of Freedom Incorporated, which is a Black political organization here in Kansas City," she said. "And they’ve been influencing politics for decades. My grandfather was the founding member, and my dad was its president during some of its really pivotal years."

Now, a display at Kansas City Museum is honoring Fred Curls and his family's work.

Monica Curls said it’s a family that the was dedicated to make things better for generations to come.

"Perseverance — that’s one of the things I’ve learned," said Darrell Curls, a current KCMO councilman. "I ran for office a few times before being elected. If it’s a dream or something you want to do, don’t be upset that you’ve lost, it just may not be the right timing."

Monica Curls said not everyone was convinced Freedom Inc. would be successful.

"I was reminding my mom of a political cartoon that has been in the KC Star," Monica Curls said. "It had a caricature of my dad sitting with Freedom Inc., and it said, 'When we suggested you people be involved in the political process, we had no idea you’d be good at it,' and I just love that, because everybody had low expectations of what Freedom Inc. was going to be able to do and of what Curls were going to be able to do."

Melba Curls, another member of the Curls family and a former KCMO councilwoman, talked about her journey in politics.

"I used to picket downtown and in the stores; where we couldn’t eat, we would picket that," Melba Curls said. "We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go."

Fred Curls was described as the type of person who got along with anyone, who was good with people and who was a universal kind of person.

You can see the display at the Kansas City Museum for free from Thursday-Sunday.