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Flipping through the pages of the Kansas City Black History Project

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Who do you think of black history in Kansas City?

Maybe it’s longtime journalist and activist Lucile Bluford, 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Buck O’Neil, or Henry Perry, the father of Kansas City barbecue.

While you wouldn’t be wrong, their fame figures make up only a fraction of the lives of the Black people who helped put Kansas City on the map.

This is where the “Kansas City Black History” project comes in.

It is an annual publication that showcases many faces often left out of Kansas City history.

“These are all Kansas citizens,” said Jeremy Drouin, who manages the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library. “They can inspire people from all over the country.”

Drouin co-created the project with the Black Archives of Mid-America and the Kansas City Local Investment Commission.

Since the project began in 2010, everyone involved has wanted to highlight some of the area’s former residents who they felt deserved more recognition.

“The project really excels at telling stories that may not be as well known,” Drouin said.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams, CEO of the Black Archives, has agreed to showcase lesser-known figures in black history in Kansas City.

“We hear people talking about boots on the ground, these people were our boots on the ground,” Williams said. “There were so many people who actually dedicated their lives and spent their time and invested their time and energy and to make sure the black community had what it needed to not only survive, but thrive.” .

Williams’ great-grandparents, Frank James and Marie Jane Taylor, are also in the publication.

Marie Jane was part of the Exoduster movement in the late 1870s, moving north to Kansas to rebuild her life. Williams calls them a model for several others shown on the pages.

“They were also important to watch, because I’m just one of many, many people who’ve done the same thing they’ve done,” Williams said.

Other figures have helped move politics and activism alike through the public sphere.

Rosemary Smith Lowe founded the KC Local Investment Commission, also becoming the first female black ward committee in Kansas City, and founded Freedom Inc.

“It was a ball of fire,” said Janet Miles-Bartee, the commission’s current executive vice chair. “She really cared about the community. She really cared about the neighborhoods of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Miles-Bartee goes on to explain his lively personality and ability to talk to anyone he meets.

“It could be from someone who was a gang member, to someone who was a politician,” he said. “Everyone ended up on Rosemary Lowe’s porch.”

Then there were those Kansas citizens who have made their mark on US history, including Alvin Sykes.

“He took on the Emmett Till case,” Drouin said.

Till was a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, tortured, and lynched in 1955 Mississippi after booing at a white woman.

Sykes passed the Till Bill in 2007, which provided funding to open 1960s civil rights cases involving racially motivated killings.

His work was recognized by the Missouri House of Representatives in a resolution.

Justin Yavorski/KSHB

Missouri Resolution.

All this work, the fruit of Sykes’ self-education.

“He dropped out of high school at age 16 and spent his days in the public library,” Drouin said.

Drouin said Sykes continued to serve and educate Kansas citizens until his death.

“He was our resident scholar in 2013. He was a lifetime user of the library,” Drouin said.

The “Kansas City Black History” project has garnered numerous local and state awards in recent years.

It also won the National Award of Excellence from the American Association for State and Local History.

But more than a decade after the project began, it’s not the accolades that keep these partners connected to the project.

They hope to show black Kansas citizens the mark they could make, like those who have come before.

“They want to keep the book, they want to keep it in their personal archives,” Williams said. “Because they see people they know, a medium they recognize, and they see that they’re being honored.”

You can learn more about each person included in the project, find lesson plans and discover the workshops on the project website.

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