Race Relations and Civil Rights

Kansas City’s cultural vitality was made possible in large part by the diversity of its citizens and by the oft-contested relationships among people of minority races and ethnicities. Prominent leaders confronted traditional legal, social, and political barriers. One of them, Lucile Bluford, opposed segregation by applying for admission to the University of Missouri school of journalism and documenting her struggle in one of the nation’s leading African American newspapers, The Call. African Americans and people of Irish, Mexican, and Italian ancestry comprised significant constituencies of the Pendergast political machine, and consequently they were able to exert unprecedented influence on the city’s politics and development.

There remained, on the other hand, strong resistance to racial liberalism. Hopes for true progress were often dampened by the corruption associated with machine politics. A resurgent Ku Klux Klan reached some six million members nationally by the mid-1920s, holding its second national convocation in Kansas City, Missouri, and exerting considerable influence on the Kansas side of the metropolitan area. As Professor Jeffrey Pasley argues, Kansas City’s contested racial and political landscape ushered in the transition of black voters from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party under the banner of the Pendergast coalition, years before the same party realignment occurred nationally under President Franklin Roosevelt.

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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.

Klan members posed by train car
KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY | DIGITAL HISTORY
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.