Race Relations and Civil Rights
“They did not try to build something ‘good enough for Negroes’ but something as good as money could buy.” This is how Chester Arthur Franklin, the Republican founder of The Call newspaper and one of Kansas City’s most prominent black leaders, greeted the newly constructed eight-story building that housed General Hospital No. 2, serving the indigent African American population of Kansas City. When the new building opened on March 2, 1930, national public health experts joined the local black and white communities in considering the new facility to be the finest black public hospital in the nation, even rivaling some of the best white public hospitals with its state-of-the-art equipment and modern architecture.
One of the defining aspects of “Boss” Thomas J. Pendergast’s “machine” politics was its approach to African American voters. During the early 20th century, at a time when black people were routinely excluded from the vote by Democratic regimes in most of the former slave South, Pendergast’s Democratic organization in Kansas City succeeded in part by attracting considerable black support. While such support was not unique to Kansas City—black Missourians never lost the vote in the same way or degree as their counterparts farther South—historians often point to the city as an example of early black political realignment toward a Northern Democratic Party based in urban, industrial centers and at increasing odds with its Southern wing over the issue of civil rights.
In the years between 1915 and 1925, Mexican migrants such as Paula Sanchez and her family arrived at Kansas City in large numbers to work for the city’s railroad and meat packing companies. These jobs proved to be erratic and poorly paid. In addition, these newcomers possessed few resources upon their arrival, save determination and a strong work ethic. Anglo Kansas Citians worried that this group would drain the city’s resources. Several female reformers, however, banded together to form a social service organization, known as the Guadalupe Center, to aid these arrivals.
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.
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.
When people think of Kansas City jazz in the 1920s and ‘30s, certain images come to mind: political corruption, gangster activity, and music that catered to and benefited from this type of environment. But vice and corruption were not the only elements that made the city a center of innovative music. The black middle and upper classes also supported the music and the musicians, especially at dance halls such as the Paseo Hall. And there were black organizations such as the NAACP, men’s groups like the Elks Lodge, and ladies’ groups like the 12 Charity Girls, who organized formal dances to raise funds for various institutions in the community.
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.
There are world records for nearly everything, including cattle processing. And in September 1918, Kansas City broke them all. As World War I entered its final fateful months, the Kansas City stockyards handled more than 55,000 cattle in a single day and 475,000 for the month. That fall, during a remarkable three-month span, more than 1.3 million cattle passed through the city’s yards. The Kansas City cattle business was impressive, but add to these figures hundreds of thousands of sheep, hogs, and horses, and more than 3.3 million animals were yarded in the city. First seven, then 12, then 34 railroads brought these animals into the city and out again to distant markets.
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.
Kansas City, like the rest of the United States after World War I, heard its returning African American soldiers speak out for the democratic ideals they had been fighting for overseas, and perhaps none so exemplify the activism of this period as Nelson and James Crews. Vocal in print and at the podium, publisher Nelson Crews laid out an agenda of equality throughout the 1910s and early 1920s, while his brother James established one of Kansas City’s most important African American institutions, and integrated an organization previously closed to African American workers.
Ada Crogman Franklin was born in Atlanta, Georgia, one of eight children of Dr. and Mrs. William H. Crogman. Her father, one of the distinguished scholars of the African American race, was professor of Latin and Greek at Clark University for 37 years and then became the first African American president of Clark, serving for seven years. Mrs. Franklin, along with her two sisters and five brothers, grew up on the Clark University campus.
Daniel Arthur Holmes was born the son of slaves in Randolph County, Missouri, in 1876. His family moved to Macon, Missouri after being freed at the end of the Civil War. Holmes, a third generation preacher, answered the call to preach at age 17 and was ordained in 1901.
Politician, gambler, night club owner, newspaper publisher, and bon vivant, Felix Payne was one of the most influential African Americans in Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s.
Dr. John Edward Perry knew that hospitals were needed to train black physicians and nurses and to provide quality health care to the Kansas City African American community. Born in 1870, in Clarksville, Texas, Perry was born to former slaves who encouraged him to receive a good education
Thompkins was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. He became acquainted with numerous Missouri politicians while he was going to school and working as a bellboy at the old Madison House Hotel. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
Joe Turner had a tremendous voice and a talent for improvising lyrics. He was called the "Boss of the Blues," and during the 1930s—Kansas City's musical heyday—"Big Joe" Turner was the greatest blues singer in town.
Claude "Fiddler" Williams didn't play the instrument for which he became best known until after he had already mastered the guitar, mandolin, banjo, cello, and bass. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on February 22, 1908, Williams began his musical career 10 years later.
In a remarkably productive career that spanned a half century, Mary Lou Williams established herself as a pianist, composer, and arranger, an unprecedented feat that has remained an inspiration to women in jazz.
Elizabeth Bruce Crogman, who in 1925 became founder of Kansas City’s Florence Home for Colored Girls to house unwed African American women who were pregnant, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 1, 1894. The home functioned as the counterpart to similar organizations that served the area's white residents but denied care to young black women.
Dorothy Gallagher was born on January 8, 1894, to a wealthy Kansas City family. Not content to live quietly in affluence, Gallagher gained interest in a Catholic women’s group called the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, which carried out social work in Mexican communities in the west side of the city.
Leroy "Satchel" Paige, one of baseball's finest pitchers, was most likely born on July 7, 1906. While Paige believed this date to be correct, poorly kept records left his exact birth year and date unclear. By contrast, there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 29, 1920. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, where he played in jazz clubs as a teenager and young man. The local jazz culture based in the Vine Street nightclub district cultivated his talents as a teenager. Indeed, it was during this period that Kansas City made notable contributions to jazz with hometown artists such as Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and Buster Smith.
On August 30, 1901, Roy Wilkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri. From a modest background, Wilkins would go on to graduate from the University of Minnesota, become the editor of The Call newspaper, and lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for more than two decades at the height of the civil rights movement.
Thomas C. Unthank was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1866. He enrolled at Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 1894. Dr. Unthank graduated in 1898 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He opened Lange Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and co-founded, with Dr. S. H. Thompson, Douglass Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.
For a half a century, 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.
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.
Elizabeth Bruce Crogman, who in 1925 became the founder of Kansas City’s Florence Home for Colored Girls (which housed unwed African American women who were pregnant), was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1894. The home functioned as the counterpart to similar organizations that served the area's white residents but denied care to young black women. Under Crogman's guidance through the 1940s, the Florence Home for Colored Girls eventually expanded to offer counseling, education, shelter, and medical care to dozens of Kansas City's impoverished black mothers and children.
The first edition of the Kansas City "The Call," or The Call, was published on May 6, 1919. It was one of 22 newspapers published by Kansas City’s African American community near the beginning of the 20th century, but the only one that survived past 1943. Starting as an inauspicious four-page paper, the paper soon grew to one of the most successful black newspapers in the nation.
On October 6, 1922, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Kansas City Blues baseball teams embarked on a six-game series that would end with the Monarchs being crowned "The New City Champions" by the Kansas City Star.