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Lafayette A. Tillman

Lafayette A. Tillman

Photo: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library

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  • 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
    City.


    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.