Understanding Race in America

As our community and our country lean into the conversations and responsive actions arising from the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, libraries are in a position to both serve and lead through their services, resources, and programs. The Kansas City Public Library looks to facilitate open-mindedness and receptiveness to a variety of viewpoints and experiences — including voices often unheard or overlooked. Here, we offer videos and/or audio recordings of several programs over the past two years that touched on or confronted pressing issues of race, inequity, and injustice.

For additional reading and resources that address race in America, check out a collection of books, news sources, and more recommended by the Library and suggested by people from the Kansas City community.


One hundred years ago, women won their fight for the right to vote – though not all of them. Black women, who had pleaded as passionately for suffrage as they did for African Americans’ civil rights, welcomed the 1920 passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment as only a partial victory. Many Native and Asian Americans and other women of color were not granted citizenship and likewise kept at arm’s length from voting booths. University of Minnesota historian Sarah-Jane (Saje) Mathieu recalled and examined those revealing silences amid the celebration of the landmark constitutional amendment.

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Everywhere You Don't Belong

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A lot of Black kids, Gabriel Bump says, are just trying to live their lives – fall in love, go to school, not do their homework – but find it difficult to move problem-free through today’s America. Growing up on Chicago’s South Shore, he was one of them. Claude McKay Love, the protagonist of Bump’s debut novel, is, too.  Everywhere You Don’t Belong has drawn critical praise for its portrayal of an African American youth on Chicago’s South Shore who’s unexceptional by society’s traditional measures but kind and empathetic and trying to figure out exactly where he fits in the world. Bump, through Claude, deftly reckons with some of today’s weightier matters: activism, social change, Black identity. Bump discussed the book and the elements of his life that influenced its writing, joining the Library’s Kaite Stover in an online presentation. 

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

What has made anti-black violence such a predominant feature of life not only in the U.S. but around the world? Why does race seem to color almost every feature of our moral and political universe? How does slavery, in all of its cultural, intellectual, and other modern forms, continue to define the African American experience? Frank B. Wilderson explores those questions in his book Afropessimism, which the University of California, Irvine, professor discusses in a special, two-part online Library event.

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What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Acclaimed African-American writer Clifford Thompson discusses his book What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues, looking at shifts in Americans’ views on race —including his own — since the 2016 elections.

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Driving While Black

March 12, 2020

In a discussion of her new book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights, historian Gretchen Sorin looks back at the rise of the automobile in the mid-20th century and its impact on black Americans. It brought the promise of freedom, adventure, power and self-expression – but also such new challenges as unwarranted traffic stops and subsequent racial violence.

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Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

March 10, 2020

Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College and an authority on racial issues in the U.S., looks anew at the challenges she addressed in her bestselling book on the psychology of racism, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?. Two decades later, we still are struggling to understand what racism is, how it impacts us all, and what we can do about it.

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Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

January 14, 2020

Professor, historian, and author Marcia Chatelain examines the upside — and considerable downside —of the proliferation of black-owned McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises in African American neighborhoods in a discussion of her book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.

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Affordable Housing: A Status Report

November 20, 2019

Nearly two years after the Library and KCPT-Kansas City PBS launched an examination of affordable housing in the city, what has changed? Mayor Quinton Lucas, who campaigned on the issue, joins a panel discussion and assessment of where KC now stands and might be headed. KCPT’s Nick Haines moderates.

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The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America's Poor

November 14, 2019

Some 38 million people, nearly one in eight, live in poverty in today’s America as liberals and conservatives spar over solutions. Researcher and writer Michael Tanner wants to draw from both sides of the debate.

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The 2019 State of Black Kansas City

September 26, 2019

Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, leads a discussion of its 2019 State of Black Kansas City: Urban Education, Still Separate and Unequal. From health to social justice, key indicators trended downward four years ago. To what extent, if any, have they improved?

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Remembering Emmett Till

July 11, 2019

The Mississippi Delta is dotted with memorials to the murdered Emmett Till and other major civil rights, suggesting a region come to terms with its troubled racial past. But in a discussion of his book Remembering Emmett Till, the University of Kansas’ Dave Tell divulges a more conflicted backstory. Turns out there’s money to be made in struggling communities from luring civil rights tourists. Politics play a role. And persistent vandalism of the memorials betrays enduring racism.

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On Writing, on Race

February 20, 2019  |  Writers at Work

Two distinctive African American writers and educators — Kennesaw State University’s Anthony Grooms and the University of Kentucky’s DaMaris Hill — join local novelist Whitney Terrell in a Writers at Work discussion of their craft and our nation’s fraught dialogue on race.

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It Finally Happened Here

July 26, 2018

Historian Joel Rhodes, who led research for the Library exhibit It Finally Happened Here: The Kansas City Riot, April 9-12, 1968, takes a 50-year look back at the deadly, four-day episode – one of nearly 300 incidents of civil disorder across America during the civil rights era.

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A Girl Stands at the Door

July 18, 2018

Rutgers University historian Rachel Devlin examines an underappreciated aspect of civil rights history – the crucial role of young African-American girls in the fight to desegregate America’s schools – in a discussion of her new book A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America's Schools.

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Lucile Bluford: Her National Closeup

July 11, 2018

Sheila Brooks, a Kansas City native and former TV personality who now heads the Washington, D.C.-based SRB Communications, discusses her new book Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice – written to acquaint a national audience with the iconic KC journalist and activist.

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Eviction in KC: Leveling the Foundation

June 27, 2018

The Library and KCPT-Kansas City PBS begin a search for solutions in the second installment of a series examining eviction in the city. The event begins with a screening of Evicted, a documentary examining the issue and how it's tackled elsewhere. A panel including then-Councilman Quinton Lucas then discusses how it can be addressed in KC.

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Quindaro: The Coming of Freedom in the Decade of Civil War

April 19, 2018

In the keynote address for the Quindaro Symposium, held April 19-21, 2018, in Kansas City, Kansas, historian Quintard Taylor explores the history of the Quindaro region from 1855-65, and the nexus between border fighting and freedom for the enslaved.

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White Predators, Free States: From the Fugitive Slave Act to George Zimmerman

April 5, 2018  |  Richard D. McKinzie Lecture

Cornell University historian Ed Baptist examines the track of race relations in the U.S., tracing much of what has happened in the past 150 years to the mid-19th century and efforts to control the movement and life of slaves who had escaped to so-called free states. The federal government and states joined the broader white population in hunting black people down.

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The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South

April 3, 2018

Florida State University’s Wayne Wiegand, widely considered the “dean of American library historians,” examines an overlooked chapter in our nation’s civil rights history in a discussion of his book The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism.

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Strife in the Streets: Kansas City Remembers 1968

March 26, 2018

Frustrated with the slow pace of civil rights reforms and outraged at the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., protesters in Kansas City took to the streets on April 9, 1968, leading to four subsequent days of civil unrest. The Library, in collaboration with KCPT-Kansas City PBS and KSHB-41 Action News, marks the 50th anniversary of these events with a screening of the new documentary short '68: The Kansas City Race Riots, Then and Now. Then, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, then-Mayor Sly James, and former city council member and longtime community activist Alvin Brooks join a discussion of the lessons learned from the violent chapter of history, from the role of policing to the value of protest.

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Freedom, Inc. and Black Political Empowerment

March 4, 2018  |  Missouri Valley Sundays       

Micah W. Kubic, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, discusses his book about Freedom, Inc., and its more than half-century history of raising the visibility of issues impacting Kansas City’s black community and helping to elect African-Americans to political office.

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Race and Meaning: The African-American Experience in Missouri

February 8, 2018

In conjunction with Black History Month, Gary Kremer, director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, examines the journey of Missouri’s African-Americans in a discussion of his book Race and Meaning.

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Evicted in Kansas City

January 24, 2018

Social activist and now-director of KC Tenants Tara Raghuveer presents troubling findings about the frequency of eviction in the Kansas City area — an average of 42 cases per business day from 1999 to 2016, with African-Americans disproportionately affected — and then joins a panel discussion of the issue.

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The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

September 6, 2017

In a discussion of his book The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein makes the case that the racial divide in America’s cities  is not just the product of individual prejudices, income disparity, or the actions of developers, banks, and other private institutions, but also federal, state, and local governments.

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