Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

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Coon Sanders Band
Author: 
Chuck Haddix

Jazz was born in New Orleans, moved to Chicago in the early 1920s, and came of age in New York and Kansas City during the 1930s and 1940s. Geographically isolated from the other cradles of jazz, Kansas City bred a distinctive hard swinging style of jazz, distinguished by driving rhythm sections and a spirited call and response interplay between the instrumental soloists and the brass and reed sections. As Bennie Moten, George E. Lee, and other African American bandleaders based at 18th and Vine pioneered a new style of jazz, a number of white bands in downtown Kansas City were performing a style of hot jazz modeled after nationally popular white bands. Ironically, while Kansas City would gain renown for its great African American bands that barnstormed across country, it was a white dance band, the Coon-Sanders Nighthawk Orchestra, which first established Kansas City’s national reputation as a jazz center.

Masie Jones Ragan
Author: 
David Hanzlick

Kansas City women–members of the Athenaeum, the Woman’s City Club, and other organizations–sought to assert power in their community and beyond. Coming from Republican and independent Democratic backgrounds, and abhorring the influence of the Democratic machine, they embraced a progressive spirit that revered what they envisioned as good government.

Sketch of Federal Reserve districts
Author: 
Jaclyn Miller

In the second decade of the 20th century, Kansas City was emerging as a key center of economic power west of the Mississippi. Agriculture constituted a central pillar of Kansas City’s success: dozens of railroads shipped grains and livestock through the city’s new hub at Union Station, and its manufacturing district developed large meatpacking, flour, and other food processing industries. Wholesale and retail commerce joined agriculture and industry as the foundations of Kansas City’s economic power.

Klan members posed by train car
Author: 
Timothy Rives

Like a prairie fire, a revived Ku Klux Klan (KKK) spread quickly across the nation in the 1920s, enrolling upwards of six million white, native-born Protestants into its ranks. Promoting “100 Percent Americanism,” “Protestantism,” “Law and Order,” and the “eternal maintenance of white supremacy,” the Klan found keen reception in quarters where the white majority population felt threatened by immigration, modernization, and illegal alcohol consumption.

Lucile Bluford
Author: 
Henrietta Rix Wood

This essay analyzes Bluford’s initial reporting on her effort to enter MU, her commentary on her failed civil lawsuit in May 1942, and the announcement of the newspaper’s fundraising campaign for African American education in the same month. The facts of Bluford’s three-year crusade to enroll at MU are known: she repeatedly tried to enroll at the university and pursued three lawsuits, losing the last one in April 1942. The fact that she and The Call collaborated to influence readers’ responses to the quest for African American educational rights has not been acknowledged or analyzed.

Sign for development of the Country Club District
Author: 
Sara Stevens

Kansas City, like other American cities, added new suburban-style developments at its edges during the early decades of the 20th century. What makes it a unique case for understanding this shift is the character of Jesse Clyde (J.C.) Nichols. Born in Olathe, Kansas, in 1880, Nichols had a career that spanned the first half of the 20th century, and included transforming thousands of acres of land into a planned suburban community.

1928 Republican National Convention
Author: 
Dustin Gann

According to a May 29, 1928, editorial in the Kansas Citian , the Republican National Convention promised to “bring more influential people in industry, business, and financial circles than ever brought here by a convention.” Local leaders envisioned the 1928 Republican National Convention raising the national and regional profile of Kansas City in two related ways. First, delegates and visitors attending the convention could see the city’s growth in person. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the event and subsequent attention would bolster the city’s standing, particularly in relation to regional rivals such as Cleveland and St. Louis.

Rev. Samuel Bacote
Author: 
David Conrads

For a half a century starting in 1895, Rev. Samuel W. Bacote was the pastor of Second Baptist Church, one of the oldest and largest black churches in Kansas City. The son of former slaves, Bacote was also a scholar, a writer, and a nationally prominent figure in the Baptist church.

Count Basie
Author: 
David Conrads

In the rich and celebrated musical history of Kansas City, few individuals are more closely associated with hard-swinging, riff-based Kansas City jazz style than Count Basie. The Count Basie Orchestra became both the best known and the longest-lived big band to emerge from this region, and Basie made Kansas City jazz nationally and internationally renowned.

Albert Beach
Author: 
Nancy J. Hulston

Albert I. Beach served as mayor of Kansas City from 1924 to 1930. Under his administration, a new city charter was voted in that established a city manager form of government for Kansas City.

Alfred Benjamin Memorial
Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Born in Quebec, Alfred Benjamin and his family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he began working as a clerk at the Abernathy Furniture Company. In 1880, the company opened a branch store in Kansas City and the family moved here, where Benjamin soon became first vice-president of the company. It was rumored that he gave as much as 50 percent of his annual income to charities, a reputation that inspired a namesake medical organization named the Alfred Benjamin Dispensary.

John B. Bisceglia
Author: 
Mary I. Beveridge

From 1918, John B. Bisceglia was a pastor, social worker, teacher, scholar, and civic leader in charge of the Italian Mission of the Central Presbyterian Church. The energetic, young pastor immediately swung into action, starting programs and ministering to his flock. A kindergarten came first, then a free nursery school for working mothers. Sports teams and organizations like Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls followed. A free clinic was established, as well as adult education programs and mothers clubs. He instituted a Sunday evening service in Italian.

Lucile Bluford
Author: 
Mary I. Beveridge

Lucile Bluford has been called the “Matriarch” and the “Conscience” of Kansas City. Miss Bluford, as she was always known, was a pioneer, a crusader for equal rights for African Americans and women, but above all she was a journalist, dedicated to getting the news out.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman

A physician and author who sometimes blurred the line between rake and raconteur, Logan M. Clendening became a folk hero in February 1939, when after repeated diplomatic attempts to silence a jackhammer in use on a construction project near his home at 56 th and State Line, he donned a suit, Homburg hat, kid gloves, and button-hole carnation, strolled calmly out to the machine, and attempted to destroy it with an axe. He was arrested and served several hours behind bars. Jackhammers like the one he attacked had been in frequent use on unpopular sewer projects sanctioned by political machine boss Tom Pendergast, and many Kansas Citians cheered the doctor’s symbolic blows against a corrupt City Hall.

Nelson Crews
Author: 
Daniel Coleman

Vocal in print and at the podium, publisher Nelson Crews purchased the Kansas City Sun newspaper and trumpeted a message of advancement. Its reporters covered every aspect of the Kansas City African American community and integrated an organization previously closed to African American workers. Meanwhile his brother James established one of Kansas City’s most important African American institutions, the YMCA at 1824 Paseo.

Thomas Hart Benton
Author: 
Mary Frances Ivey

Thomas Hart Benton, one of the leaders of the Regionalist movement in American art, was a prolific painter, muralist, draughtsman, and sculptor from childhood until the end of his life in 1975. Today he is best known for his realist depictions of American life, which, in his own time, were perceived as directly opposed to modernist movements cultivated in Europe. His paintings, largely vignettes of daily life and ordinary rural characters, were simultaneously praised for their frankness and criticized for their gritty representations of American culture and history.

Park Central Hotel
Author: 
Mary Frances Ivey

Johnny Lazia (born Lazzio) gained prominence in Kansas City’s politics during the 1920s and ‘30s due to his leadership of the North Side Democratic Club, engagement in local organized crime, and involvement with Tom Pendergast’s political machine. Pendergast dominated Kansas City politics not by holding elected offices, but through his machine of alliances and affiliates.

J.C. Nichols
Author: 
Mary Frances Ivey
Jesse Clyde (“J.C.”) Nichols was a nationally renowned city planner in Kansas City from the first decade of the 20th century to the 1950s. Among his numerous legacies are several subdivisions in suburban Kansas City, the Country Club Plaza, and the national spread of deed restrictions and homeowner associations
Joseph Shannon
Author: 
Mary Frances Ivey

Joseph “Joe” Shannon presided over Kansas City’s Northside Democratic Party from the early 20 th century to 1930, after which he relocated to Washington, D.C., for a 14-year tenure as a U.S. Congressman. Shannon’s political career was marked by his Jeffersonian Democratic views and his tenuous relationships with brothers James and Tom Pendergast.

Author: 
Janice Lee

It is safe to say that during the nearly 50 years she worked there, starting in 1918, Carolyn Doughty was the Women’s City Club. Her role far exceeded her modest title of "executive secretary."

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