KANSAS CITY, MO. — Rev. Wallace Hartsfield Sr., who died Jan. 23 at the age of 90, spent more than 40 years of his life as a leader in the Christian community and as a leader in the civil rights movement. His son, Wallace Hartsfield II, knew him best.
"To try to sum dad up as just being a black leader is incomplete. He was a leader of all," Hartsfield II said of his father, who was pastor emeritus of Kansas City's Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church.
As a civil rights leader, the elder Hartsfield took his faith beyond the church walls and into the community.
"I can remember back in the ’70s and ’80s, it would feel odd, like we didn't do something if a community issue did not come up in church." Hartsfield II said.
Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, called Hartsfield Sr., godfather.
"When I think about him, I think about him as having the unique capacity to quiet the storm and also trouble the waters,” Grant said. “So he's someone who could bring peace and mediation, collaboration and focus on conflict resolution… and and he could also lead the civil disobedience and the unrest and the discomfort that is necessary to move the closer to change.”
Hartsfield Sr. also was known for his ability to build coalitions with people of different faiths and races.
"Dad was not ashamed to say that he stood for the black community,” Hartsfield II said, “and he was not ashamed of that; but, at the same time, it was not just a black thing with dad. And his thought was that everyone needs access and opportunity.”
Hartsfield Sr. stood up to city leaders and corporate giants, opening doors for people to have a place to live, receive a quality education and have management and ownership in corporate America.
"And I think he [dad] would want to make sure that persons who benefited from those things not ever forget how they got there and to share that with someone else," Hartsfield II said.
Grant echoed that sentiment.
"He [Hartsfield Sr.] would want us to address the economic divide in Kansas City,” Grant said. “He would want us to work to bridge the racial divide in Kansas City. He would want us to keep working because we have not achieved equity.”