Library Commemorates Legacy of Lucile Bluford

Last modified: 
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Lucile Bluford Day is celebrated across Missouri on July 1, per a 2016 measure signed into law that encourages residents to "appropriately observe the day in honor of Lucile Bluford, a journalist and civil rights activist who successfully sued to end segregation in the University of Missouri journalism program and whose long and distinguished career at The Kansas City Call contributed to it becoming one of the largest and most important Black newspapers in the nation.” The Library celebrated the inaugural Lucile Bluford Day last year at the location named in her honor -- the L.H. Bluford Branch at 3050 Prospect.
 

The Kansas City Call employees in front of the newspaper’s offices with Lucile Bluford at center, ca. 1930s. (Image courtesy The Kansas City Call)
 
Mayor Richard Mayor Richard Berkley presents a plaque to Lucile Bluford during the opening of the Library's Bluford Branch in 1988.



This year brings another milestone: the 30th anniversary of the Bluford Branch's opening.

"From the strong sense of community to our legendary namesake, the Lucile H. Bluford Branch is an amazing place to spend day after day," said branch manager Beth Edson. "Just ask any of our patrons, and you will get a profound sense of what a library and its resources can do for a community."

The branch originally opened in the summer of 1988. During a ceremony attended by the public and an array of local community leaders, Lucile Bluford was recognized for her important contributions to journalism and the civil rights struggle. 

In 2010, the neighborhood Library location underwent a $1.3 million renovation, upgrading the facility and expanding services. A community event marking the reopening in March of that year featured remarks from Guion Bluford, Lucile's nephew and the nation's first black astronaut. With the renovation came a new 10-panel exhibit tracing significant moments in Bluford's life and career -- and in the history of the surrounding community -- through photographs and artifacts collected by the Library, The Call, and other local organizations.

As Edson noted, the Library honors the memory of Lucile Bluford through the opportunities and services it offers to all guests.  "The Library's Bluford Branch serves as an anchor for our neighborhood by bringing people together for programs, discussions and meetings in a lively, colorful space that’s open and welcome to all," she said. "That is why we are going to make a celebration of our 30th anniversary."

 
LucileBluford3

Guion Bluford, nephew of Lucile and the first black astronaut in space, attended the 2010 grand re-opening of the Bluford Branch.
 
Members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority - the same sorority Lucile Bluford was a member of - at the inaugural Lucile Bluford Day celebration in 2017 gather around the featured exhibit in the Bluford Branch rotunda.


   
Throughout July 2018, the Library is hosting programs and activities that honor Bluford's lasting legacy  -- both local and national.


Lucile Bluford Day
Sunday, July 1, 2018   |  1-3 p.m.
Bluford Branch
, 3050 Prospect Ave.
The community is invited to stop by the Bluford Branch to view the Lucile H. Bluford exhibit, which explores the life of Lucile Bluford and the history of the surrounding neighborhood.


SIGNATURE EVENT
Lucile Bluford: Her National Closeup
Wednesday, July 11, 2018  |  Program: 6:30 p.m.
Central Library
, 14 W. 10th St.

Woven as she is into the history of Kansas City, Lucile Bluford is scarcely known outside Missouri and Kansas. Sheila Brooks is out to change that, examining Bluford’s life and pioneering work in a new book, Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice.

The Kansas City-born Brooks is a former television reporter, anchor, news director, and documentary producer who founded and heads the Washington, D.C.-based SRB Communications. She discusses the book -- co-authored with Howard University’s Clint C. Wilson II -- which recounts Bluford’s fight for admission into the University of Missouri’s graduate journalism program and assesses her dual role as a journalist and advocate for the women’s and civil rights movements.

LISTEN TO THE EVENT AUDIO   Event Details


Lucile H. Bluford Branch's 30th Anniversary Celebration
Saturday, July 28, 2018   |  10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Bluford Branch
, 3050 Prospect Ave.
 
The Bluford Branch is turning 30! Celebrate the neighborhood library's anniversary and ties to the community during an open house featuring guest speakers, community organizations, and refreshments. Rep. Brandon Ellington, who cosponsored the Lucile Bluford Day commemoration bill, and councilman Quinton Lucas will be the featured speakers.

DETAILS
 

MORE About Lucile Bluford


Digital Court Documents

The Library's historical website The Pendergast Years: Kansas City in the Jazz Age and Great Depression has a digitized collection of documents from the National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri related to the lawsuits that Lucile Bluford pursued against S.W. Canada, the registrar of the University of Missouri, for repeatedly denying her admission to the university. Browse the scanned documents and read some of the contextual descriptions of the materials online.

VIEW DOCUMENTS
 

Confronting Injustice: Lucile Bluford and the Kansas City Call, 1939-1942

The Pendergast Years site also features an original article exploring how Bluford used her role as managing editor of The Call to draw attention to her efforts to enroll in journalism classes in the University of Missouri in pursuit of civil rights for African-Americans. An excerpt:
On February 3, 1939, thousands of subscribers to the Kansas City Call opened the weekly newspaper published by and for African Americans and scanned the front page... they saw a remarkable series of six stories under a banner headline, “M.U. Rejects Woman Student.” Positioned prominently was a first-person account by Lucile Bluford, the 27-year-old African American managing editor of The Call, about her historic actions five days earlier when she tried to enroll in classes of the graduate program in journalism at the racially segregated University of Missouri in Columbia (MU). The headline of Bluford’s report was “Nothing Will Happen When Negro Student Is Admitted to M.U.” In the first paragraph, she reiterated that message: “Those who fear trouble if a Negro student attends the University of Missouri may rest at ease—there will be no trouble, no violence of any kind. That is the one significant thing that my attempt to enroll brought out.” Reassuring African American readers who anticipated hostile reaction to her appearance at MU, she also defied the expectations of some whites with her assertion. Bluford’s second first-person story appeared in the lower right corner of the front page, next to a column, “Why I Applied to Missouri U.” A conventional news story and two other short items about the incident provided more details on the front page. On an inside page of this issue was a seventh story, “Desired to Enter M.U. Long Time.” In an era when reputable newspapers rarely featured first-person stories or reports with bylines, this series was uncommon, but this was an extraordinary event. Trying to persuade readers to support the national campaign for educational equity, Bluford and The Call carried on the tradition of African American women journalists and the black press that had advocated racial rights for decades.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE
 

Lucile Bluford Coloring Sheet

Lucile Bluford is among the individuals featured in Coloring Kansas City: Women Who Made History, a coloring book highlighting notable women from our region's past. It was produced by the Library's Missouri Valley Special Collections in March 2018.

ABOUT THE BOOK     DOWNLOAD THE BLUFORD COLORING SHEET
 

Biography

Born in North Carolina in 1911, Lucile Bluford moved with her family to Kansas City when she was 7. She would become one of its most accomplished and beloved citizens.

She fell in love with journalism while working on the newspaper and yearbook at Lincoln High School, from which she graduated first in her class in 1928. With access to the University of Missouri and its famed journalism school blocked by the university’s refusal to admit African-Americans, Bluford attended the University of Kansas, graduated with honors, and launched a reporting and editing career that eventually took her to The Call (where she’d worked summers during college).

She continued to push back against MU’s segregation policy. Backed by the NAACP, Bluford repeatedly applied for admission to its graduate program in journalism and filed several lawsuits. Missouri’s Supreme Court finally ruled in her favor in 1941, ordering the university to admit her because there was no equivalent program at all-black Lincoln University. Mizzou subsequently closed its graduate program, claiming that professors and students were being siphoned away by World War II.

Bluford never took a class at MU, but her fight helped nudge the school toward integration. Mizzou was forced to establish a journalism school for African-American students at Lincoln, and admitted its first black student in 1950. The university would honor Bluford decades later, the journalism program awarding her its Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism in 1984 and the school conferring an honorary doctorate in the humanities in 1989.

Bluford went on to a 69-year career with The Call, moving from reporter to city editor to managing editor and finally editor, owner, and publisher. She made the weekly newspaper a prominent voice for African-Americans in the city and a force in the fight against discrimination.

The Library named its branch on Prospect Avenue for her in 1988. In 2002, a year before she died at age 91, the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce named her Kansas Citian of the Year.
 

Read more about Lucile Bluford’s legacy        Download a Lucile Bluford biography sheet

Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections