Telling Stories of Trailblazing Kansas Citians During Black History Month

Thursday, February 8, 2024
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The Kansas City Public Library’s local history archive, Missouri Valley Special Collections, continues a 14-year partnership with the Black Archives of Mid-America and Local Investment Commission (LINC) in celebration of Black History Month.

The collaboration’s mission is to provide a way to learn about Kansas City’s African American community through the contributions of those who left an indelible mark.

The Kansas City Black History website launched in 2022 and features more than 70 biographies, as well as essays and research, about notable African Americans who broke barriers, blazed trails, and shaped Kansas City history.

“When I think of Black History Month, I think of storytelling,” shared Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, who represents Missouri’s fifth district, on the site, “where traditions and history are preserved to reflect self-love, the overcoming of great obstacles, and appreciation for those who blazed a trail for us today.”

Cleaver added, “Without telling their stories, we in turn erase our own. We risk critical misunderstandings of American history, along with the context of Black strength and perseverance.”

Dive into the Black History program archive with dozens of interviews, lectures, and panel discussions focused on civil rights and activism, politics and community leadership, and life and culture.

A special Kansas City Black History compendium released in 2021 to mark the bicentennial of Missouri’s statehood continues as an annual publication. The 2024 edition is an eight-page booklet highlighting six Black Kansas Citians, including an educator and activist, a politician, an author, a composer, a physician, and a blues singer.

This year’s Kansas City Black History Month booklet (PDF download) and poster (PDF download) are available for digital download. A limited number of copies of the 2024 booklet can be picked up at Library branches and at the Black Archives in February. Reach out for additional copies and the poster set by request through LINC.

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Vincent O. Carter

Carter enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to France during World War II. He fell in love with Europe, finding France both artistically inspiring and more hospitable to Black intellectuals than the racially segregated society in which he was raised. He authored a nontraditional travel book and Sweet Thunder, a semi-autobiographical novel about coming of age in early 20th century Kansas City.

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Phil Curls Sr.

A longtime Missouri legislator, Phil Curls was active in Freedom, Inc., a Black political organization co-founded by his father, real estate company owner Fred Curls, in 1962. During his tenure as president, the organization helped elect the city’s first Black congressman, Alan Wheat, and first Black mayor, the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II.

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Nora Holt

Born in Kansas City, Kansas, composer, singer, and music critic Nora Holt began playing piano at age 4. She graduated with a music degree from Western University in Quindaro, Kansas. A year later, she completed a master’s degree in music from Chicago Musical College — the first Black women to do so. Although few copies of her compositions remain, her legacy as a trailblazer in music and Black culture endures.

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Annetta Washington

A songwriter, musician, and poet, Annetta “Cotton Candy” Washington reigned almost four decades as the Queen of Kansas City Blues. Washington helped found the Kansas City Blues Society in 1980. Her band, Cotton Candy and So Many Men, placed third in the International Best Blues Band Contest in 1998. Taking performers under her wing and donating time and energy to various causes earned her the nickname “Mama.”

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Myrtle Foster Cook

Educator, social worker, and suffragist Myrtle Foster Cook devoted her life to enhancing the political and economic lives of African Americans, particularly Black women and girls. As a leader in the National Association of Colored Women, Foster Cook engaged in politics to bring more Black women into political life and promoted Black economic independence.

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Samuel U. Rodgers

Dr. Samuel U. Rodgers dedicated his life and career to providing health care to those who needed it most. “To be poor is really tough, to be sick is really tough,” Rodgers said, “but to be both, there’s nothing worse.” In helping countless Kansas Citians, he also broke color barriers in the city’s medical community.