In this book, we celebrate those African Americans on whose shoulders we stand.
We must remember. Our entire community’s identity is built on a foundation laid by the people whose lives foreshadowed our realities. We are who we are because they lived. Every business venture, social commitment, and artistic creation that we make today is a learned response and adaptation of our past. Focusing on our personal ancestors is important, but also, we must rip off the blinders, and expand our vision to clearly see the totality of our lives. We must honor and acknowledge our broader community. Horace Peterson III, named “The Keeper” by artist Charles Bibb, gave us the great gift of a place and means to capture the memories of our past, our people, and our culture when he established The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.
The stories of my great-grandfather Frank James Taylor and his wife Marie Jane Wilson, a product of the Exoduster Movement of Black people seeking new lives and a new freedom in Kansas, are deeply ingrained in my self-identity. They moved to Kansas City, Missouri, settled in Mozier Place/Dunbar Park, aka The Old 54th Street Neighborhood, in a space filled with Blackness: the churches, schools, and social clubs. Offspring of neighbors like the Shelbys, Isaiahs, Hollands and others continue to make deep inroads in creating the culture of Black Kansas City. Marie’s mother, my great-great-grandmother Pinkie Wilson, settled in the Leeds District, where Alvin Brooks, the Blands, and other Black folks planted their roots. These were not isolated communities. Their stories are not unique. Entire communities of Black families came together in different spaces of this town to create the flourishing culture of Kansas City.
Black Kansas Citians sat up, sat in, kicked down doors, and broke through glass ceilings as they insisted on obtaining civil and human rights, effective educations for their children, equitable health care, and fire and police protection. Golf courses and lunch counters were desegregated in Kansas City long before the modern Civil Rights Era opened the doors of public accommodation laws. Hospitals populated with Black doctors and nurses provided effective yet segregated health care for Black patients. Black parents reinforced the educational system with their presence, books, and materials so their children could learn the same information as other children.
There is a long list of Kansas Citians — Rosie Mason, Carolyn Mitchell, Gertrude Keith, Mamie Hughes, Corinthian Clay Nutter, Blanche Waters Blue, and Mary Groves Bland, among so many other Black women — who, even in the midst of danger, would not give up the fight for social justice. So many Black men, like Dr. Bruce McDonald, Bruce R. Watkins, Leon Jordan, Jerry B. Waters, Henry Warren Sewing, and John “Buck” O’Neil, stood strong in the trenches of racial inequity and changed Black life and culture forever.
The roll is long, and it would take days, if not weeks, months, even years, to name all the people who made it possible for Black Kansas Citians to live, grow, and flourish in this space we call home.
We must always remember and honor them.
Carmaletta M. Williams, Ph.D.
Executive Director, The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City