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These biographies spotlight educators, activists, entrepreneurs, athletes, and other leaders in our community, without whom there would be no Kansas City as we know it.  

William T. Vernon

William T. Vernon

1871 – 1944  Bishop William T. Vernon served twice in leadership positions — including president — at Western University in Quindaro,…

William L. Fambrough

William L. Fambrough

1916 – 1983  For three decades, William Fambrough documented African American life in Kansas City through his photographs. Born in Little Rock,…

William J. Thompkins

William J. Thompkins

1884 – 1944  Physician, hospital administrator, newspaper publisher, and civil servant William J. Thompkins helped found General Hospital No. 2 in…

William “Count” Basie

William “Count” Basie

1904 – 1984  The musician most closely associated with Kansas City jazz, pianist and bandleader William Basie was born in…

Wayne Miner

Wayne Miner

ca. 1890 – 1918  The brief yet distinguished life of Wayne Miner was defined by sacrifice and valor. The son of…

Thomas C. Unthank

Thomas C. Unthank

1866 – 1932  Thomas Unthank rose to prominence as a physician and the “father of Kansas City’s Negro hospitals.” As…

Samuel W. Bacote

Samuel W. Bacote

1866 – 1946  The son of former slaves, Samuel W. Bacote in 1895 became pastor of Second Baptist Church, one…

Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins

1901 – 1981  Roy Wilkins led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1955 to 1977 and…

Rosie Mason

Rosie Mason

1918 – 2001  Rosie Mason was a law enforcement trailblazer, working 39 years in the Kansas City Police Department and…

Rosemary Smith Lowe

Rosemary Smith Lowe

1926 – 2020  Rosemary Smith Lowe broke color barriers in a segregated city, forged Black political power, raised up neighborhoods…

Rebecca L. Bloodworth

Rebecca L. Bloodworth

1901 – 1991  Sumner High School English teacher Rebecca L. Bloodworth was born in Bethpage, Tennessee, received her bachelor’s degree…

R.T. Coles

R.T. Coles

1859 – 1930  Richard Thomas Coles was an educator who focused on teaching manual arts — practical, job-related skills —…

N. Clark Smith

N. Clark Smith

ca. 1866 – 1935  Maj. N. Clark Smith was a prominent musician, composer, and instructor and one of the most…

Myra Taylor

Myra Taylor

1917 – 2011  Singer Myra Taylor is recognized as one of the last great performers from Kansas City’s jazz heyday of…

Minnie Lee Crosthwaite

Minnie Lee Crosthwaite

1872 – 1963  Crosthwaite was one of the first African American social workers in Kansas City and spent decades working…

Melvin B. Tolson

Melvin B. Tolson

1898 – 1966  Melvin B. Tolson became the first Poet Laureate of the Republic of Liberia. Born in Moberly, Missouri,…

Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou Williams

1910 – 1981  Among the great jazz musicians, Mary Lou Williams was a piano prodigy and became a professional performer while…

Mary Groves Bland

Mary Groves Bland

1936 – 2016  For more than two decades in the Missouri State Legislature as a Democratic representative, Mary Groves Bland was an…

Lucile H. Bluford

Lucile H. Bluford

1911 – 2003  Bluford served as editor of The Kansas City Call for nearly 50 years and played an important role in…

Lloyd Gaines

Lloyd Gaines

1911 – unknown  Sixteen years before the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in schools, Lloyd Gaines fought a…

Leona Pouncey Thurman

Leona Pouncey Thurman

1911 – 1985  Leona Pouncey Thurman was the first African American woman to practice law in Kansas City. Born in Russellville, Arkansas,…

Leon Jordan & Orchid Jordan

Leon Jordan & Orchid Jordan

Leon Jordan – 1905 – 1970  Orchid Jordan – 1910 – 1995  The Jordans worked throughout their careers to expand the influence of African…

Lena Rivers Smith

Lena Rivers Smith

1922 – 1968  Journalist and civil rights advocate Lena Rivers Smith was one of the first African American women to…

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

A leader of the Harlem Renaissance, James Mercer Langston Hughes was a writer and social activist who developed a new…

L.C. “Speedy” Huggins

L.C. “Speedy” Huggins

1913 – 1999  Ironically nicknamed “Speedy” for his slow, soft-shoe dancing style, L. C. Huggins’ roots stretched back to the city’s Golden…

Junius G. Groves

Junius G. Groves

Farmer, landowner, and businessman Junius G. Groves was one of the wealthiest African Americans of the early 20th century. Born…

Julia Lee

Julia Lee

1902 – 1958  Born in Boonville, Missouri, and raised in Kansas City, Julia Lee was a singer and pianist whose…

John F. Ramos Jr.

John F. Ramos Jr.

1920 – 1970  John F. Ramos set two important precedents in Kansas City — he was the first African American…

John Edward Perry

John Edward Perry

1870 – 1962  Dr. J. Edward Perry dedicated his adult life to providing quality health care to Kansas City’s African…

John A. Hodge

John A. Hodge

1882 – 1969  John A. Hodge, the longest-serving principal of Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas, was born in…

Joelouis Mattox

Joelouis Mattox

1937 – 2017  Joelouis Mattox’s dream as a young man was to teach high school history. Military service altered his course, but…

Jay McShann

Jay McShann

1916 – 2006  James Columbus “Jay” McShann was a prominent and influential jazz pianist and band leader. Growing up in Muskogee, Oklahoma,…

Ida M. Bowman Becks

Ida M. Bowman Becks

As a renowned lecturer, clubwoman, and suffragist, Ida Bowman Becks led the local African American community in the pursuit of…

Hugh O. Cook

Hugh O. Cook

1873 – 1949  Hugh O. Cook, one of the longest-serving principals of Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri, was…

Horace M. Peterson III

Horace M. Peterson III

1945 – 1992  Peterson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and as a child moved with his family to Kansas City, Missouri. He…

Henry Warren Sewing

Henry Warren Sewing

1891 – 1980   Henry Warren Sewing founded the Douglass State Bank, the first bank owned and operated by African Americans…

Hazel Browne Williams

Hazel Browne Williams

1907 – 1986  Hazel Browne Williams, the first full-time African American professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, exemplified academic…

Harold L. Holliday Sr.

Harold L. Holliday Sr.

1918 – 1985  Harold Holliday Sr. was a lawyer and legislator who devoted his career to civil rights activism. Born…

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks

1912 – 2006  The son of a farmer in Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Parks defied racism and his own impoverished beginnings to…

Girard T. Bryant

Girard T. Bryant

1905 – 1993  Longtime teacher and administrator Girard T. Bryant was the first African American to serve as president of…

Gertrude Keith

Gertrude Keith

1914 – 2009  Gertrude Keith worked for many years to ensure that Kansas City’s disadvantaged residents had access to safe and affordable…

G. Lawrence Blankinship Sr.

G. Lawrence Blankinship Sr.

1913 – 2005  One of Kansas City’s best-known Black businessmen, G. Lawrence Blankinship Sr. was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1913 and…

Florynce R. Kennedy

Florynce R. Kennedy

1916 – 2000  Florynce Rae Kennedy was a civil rights attorney and feminist activist. Her controversial tactics and provocative tone…

Fannie L. Meek

Fannie L. Meek

ca.1898 – 1979  As the founder and operator of Mrs. Meek’s Mortuary — recognizable for its pink limousines and building…

Cloteele T. Raspberry

Cloteele T. Raspberry

1910 – 1994  Born in Texas, Cloteele T. Raspberry moved to Kansas City at a young age and became a fashion designer and…

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

1920 – 1955  Musical giant Charlie Parker was a key creator of bebop, the jazz style marked by improvisation, quick tempos, and…

Bernard Powell

Bernard Powell

1947 – 1979  Bernard Powell was a leader in local and national efforts to end racial discrimination and increase the…

Bruce R. Watkins

Bruce R. Watkins

1924 – 1980  Bruce R. Watkins was an entrepreneur, public official, and community leader. Born Bruce Riley in Parkville, Missouri,…

Bettye Miller and Milt Abel

Bettye Miller & Milt Abel

Bettye Miller and Milt Abel, a husband and wife musical duo, reigned over the Kansas City jazz scene from the 1950s through…

Etta Moten Barnett

Etta Moten Barnett

An actress and singer closely identified with the role of Bess in the opera Porgy and Bess, Etta Moten Barnett was…

Edward Wade Wilson Jr.

Edward Wade Wilson Jr.

1925 – 2019  More than a century after the Kansas City Fire Department was established, Edward Wade Wilson became its…

Lincoln University. Photo: Lincoln.edu

Education: The Key to Success

From their first steps onto Diasporic soil, Africans in America, now African Americans, have recognized the importance of obtaining an…

Earl Thomas

Earl Thomas

1897 – 1985   Thomas dedicated his life to education and public service. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, he graduated from…

Daniel Arthur Holmes

1876 – 1972  Holmes was the pastor at Paseo Baptist Church for 46 years and used his role in the community to…

Corinthian Clay Nutter

Corinthian Clay Nutter

1906 – 2004  Corinthian Clay Nutter was a teacher who fought to expand educational opportunities for her students. She was born in…

Bailus Tate Jr.

Bailus Tate Jr.

1946 – 2020  Described as barreling through life blind to failure, Bailus M. Tate Jr. worked his way up from shoveling coal…

Andy Kirk

Andy Kirk

1898 – 1992  As a prominent big band leader, Andy Kirk popularized the Kansas City sound nationwide. Not a virtuoso…

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division; Photographer: P. H. Polk

Aaron Douglas

Known as the “Father of African American Arts,” Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, and developed an interest in…

Education: The Key to Success

Education: The Key to Success

From their first steps onto Diasporic soil, Africans in America, nowAfrican Americans, have recognized the importance of obtaining aneducation. In…

Anna H. Jones

Anna H. Jones

1855 – 1932 Anna H. Jones was born in Canada and graduated from OberlinCollege, a private Ohio school noted for…

Tom Bass

Tom Bass

1859 – 1934 Tom Bass broke down color barriers as a world-class equestrian and trainer of showhorses over a career…

Josephine Silone Yates

Josephine Silone Yates

1859 – 1912 An inspiring teacher and passionate communicator, Josephine Silone Yates devotedher life to fighting racial prejudice. The first…

Lafayette A. Tillman

Lafayette A. Tillman

1858 – 1914 Lafayette Alonzo Tillman is remembered most for being one of Kansas City’s firstAfrican American police officers. Born…

Cathay Williams

Cathay Williams

1844 – ca.1892 Cathay Williams was the first African American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army — in a…

William D. Matthews

William D. Matthews

1829 – 1906 Lt. William Dominick Matthews was an African American officer of the IndependentBattery, U.S. Colored Light Artillery, at…

William Messley

William Messley

First Sergeant William A. Messley (also known as Measley) of Company C, 62ndUnited States Colored Troops, posed for this portrait…

Hiram Young

Hiram Young

Hiram Young was born about 1812 in Tennessee. In 1847, Young obtained freedomand with his wife moved to Independence, Missouri.…

Battle of Island Mound

Battle of Island Mound

This illustration from the March 14, 1863, issue of Harper’s Weekly magazine — titled “A Negro Regiment in Action” —depicts…