The history of African American life in Kansas City, Missouri is a long and complex one. African Americans have been living in the city since the early 1850s, when they began to migrate westward in search of new opportunities and better lives. The story of African American life in Kansas City is one of both great triumphs and tremendous trials.
From the early days of the Exodusters to the present day, African Americans have made significant contributions to the city and its culture. In spite of immense challenges, they have persevered and built a vibrant community that is an integral part of Kansas City today.
The Exodusters and the Settlement of Kansas City
: In 1879, thousands of African Americans from the South began migrating to Kansas City in a dramatic movement known as the Exodusters. These people were escaping extreme poverty, racial terror, and a lack of political and economic opportunities in the South, and were seeking a better life in the so-called “Promised Land” of Kansas.
They traveled in large groups by train and wagon to set up towns, churches, and schools of their own. The African American community in Kansas City was concentrated in the West Bottoms, an area directly adjacent to the Kansas River. At the time, this area was largely undeveloped and isolated from the rest of the city, making it an ideal place for the Exodusters to establish their own community.
The first African American church in Kansas City was founded here, as were a range of other businesses and institutions. African Americans also took part in a variety of recreational activities, including sports and dances.
The Development of Quindaro
: During this era, an African American town was established about 10 miles north of Kansas City. This new town was called Quindaro, and it quickly became an important center for African American culture, business, and education in the Midwest. Quindaro was founded on the principles of self-determination and racial pride, and African Americans in Kansas City were proud of the fact that their race was creating a place for itself in the new West. Quindaro was home to many successful African American businesses, including hotels, bars, restaurants, and stores.
African Americans also established a number of churches, fraternal orders, and benevolent societies. The town even had its own school system and library, which were used to educate African American children in Kansas City. African American Churches in Kansas City: African American churches have long been a cornerstone of the African American community in Kansas City. In the late nineteenth century, the city was home to churches such as St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which were both important gathering places and spiritual centers.
The churches provided education and support to their congregations, and they were also at the forefront of the push for civil rights and economic empowerment in Kansas City. African American churches continue to play an important role in the city today, providing comfort and support to their congregants, aiding in the fight for civil rights, and serving as a bridge between African American communities of the past and present. The Pendergast Machine and African American Politics: Kansas City was also the home of one of the nation’s first political machines. This machine, headed by Tom Pendergast, dominated Kansas City politics from the end of WWI through the Great Depression.
During this time, African Americans began to have a greater say in local politics, as the Pendergast Machine made a concerted effort to recognize and give voice to their needs. As a result, African Americans were appointed to city offices and boards, and African American candidates were elected to the state legislature. African Americans were also active in civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League, and the National Welfare League.
These organizations pushed for better housing, improved educational opportunities, and other measures that would benefit the African American community in Kansas City. Segregated Housing and Neighborhoods: As African Americans became more influential in Kansas City’s politics, they also began to make inroads in areas such as housing and employment. Unfortunately, they were largely confined to segregated neighborhoods and communities. African Americans throughout Kansas City were forced to live in housing that was of lower quality than that of the white population, and African American neighborhoods were often subject to redlining, which prevented African Americans from securing loans and other forms of financial assistance.
In spite of these challenges, African Americans managed to make the best of their situation. They created a vibrant cultural life in their neighborhoods, and they actively fought for better living conditions and civil rights. The Cultural Life of African Americans in Kansas City: Despite being confined to segregated neighborhoods, African Americans in Kansas City were able to create a vibrant cultural life. African Americans took part in a variety of recreational activities, such as dances, music, and sports, and they also made significant contributions to the city’s art and literature scenes.
African American entrepreneurs also established businesses and institutions such as restaurants, clubs, and theaters, which provided a place for African Americans to gather and celebrate their culture and heritage. African Americans also gathered in churches and charitable organizations to identify needs in their community and work on solutions to address them. As a result, Kansas City became a hub of African American culture in the Midwest.
The Legacy of African American Life in Kansas City: The history of African American life in Kansas City is a long and complicated one. African Americans have been part of the city’s fabric since the early 1850s, and they have made countless contributions to the city and its culture. Despite the challenges they have faced, they have persevered and built a strong and vibrant community that is an integral part of Kansas City today. From education to politics, business to culture, African American life has left an indelible mark on the city of Kansas City. Their legacy is a testament to the resilience, determination, and courage of the African American community in the Midwest. African Americans in Kansas City have made immense contributions to the city and its history, and their story is one that continues to inspire today.