Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Machine Politics, Organized Crime, and Reform

For nearly a decade and a half between 1925 and 1939, political boss Thomas J. Pendergast (or simply "Boss Tom"), an unelected dealmaker and leader of the local "goat" Democratic faction, consolidated control of Kansas City's machine politics and ruled its government and criminal underworld with impunity. Prior to those years, Boss Tom and his elder brother, James F. Pendergast, who died in 1911, had long vied for control with other aspiring bosses. Chief among the rivals was Joseph B. Shannon, leader of the "rabbit" faction of the Democratic party. Boss Tom, the namesake of this website, overshadowed Kansas City and exerted influence on most of the best and worst aspects of its history throughout his reign. As reform efforts swept in and the Pendergast Years faded away, so did much of the city's Jazz Age identity.

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One of the defining political trends of the mid-20th century was the transition of black voters from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, accompanied by a major shift in the party’s policy platform toward social liberalism and civil rights. Nationally, this change is usually dated to the latter half of the New Deal, roughly around the election of 1936. In Kansas City and the state of Missouri, however, it happened much earlier and in surprising circumstances that greatly influenced national affairs in later years.

Tom and James Pendergast