Lafayette A. Tillman

Lafayette A. Tillman
Tillman (Photo Credit: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library)

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.