1914 – 2009
Gertrude Keith worked for many years to ensure that Kansas City’s disadvantaged residents had access to safe and affordable housing. Raised by relatives after the deaths of her parents, she experienced segregation in her youth and, later in life, recalled witnessing a cross burned on a neighbor’s lawn. At a time when many young African Americans were unable to cover the distance to the only high school in the city open to them, Keith’s grandmother made education a priority and moved her family closer to Lincoln High School.
Keith graduated in 1930 and went on to study music at the University of Nebraska, where she met her husband, jazz musician Jimmy Keith. They started a family back in Kansas City, where Gertrude found work with the city housing department. She was appointed the first director of the Wayne Miner Courts housing development in 1960, advanced in her career over the years, and retired as an associate director of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.
Keith also was a dedicated community activist who worked for the creation of the Spirit of Freedom Fountain honoring the contributions of Kansas City’s African Americans. In 2003, the research library at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center was named for her.