1858 – 1914
Lafayette Alonzo Tillman is remembered most for being one of Kansas City’s first
African American police officers. Born in Evansville, Indiana, Tillman attended
Oberlin College in Ohio and Wayland Seminary in Washington D.C. He focused
initially on developing his vocal talents, touring with several successful singing groups
and once performing at the White House.
He settled in 1881 in Kansas City, where he opened a restaurant and worked as a
barber, eventually opening his own shop at 12th Street and Grand Avenue. With his
wife, Amy, he started a family at their home at 17th Street and Lydia Avenue. Tillman
developed an interest in law and enrolled in the Kansas City Law School, but left his
studies to join the U.S. Army at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898. He
advanced to the rank of first lieutenant before returning from the Philippines to Kansas
In recognition of his service, a group of prominent citizens secured a position for Tillman with the Kansas City Police
Department, and he worked as a policeman until his death in 1914. He was accorded full military honors at his funeral.