Racism in Kansas City (Book Review)

By G.S. Griffin

If you live in Kansas City, put this book on hold at your local library immediately. It is exactly what I needed to read upon moving back to Kansas City. Frankly, I wish every city had such a book to tell the local history of racism, and highlight how it still persists today.

“History is not defined by the steady march of progress. There are years of progress and years of regress, depending on how many individuals in a community actively promote equality and justice, and oppose subjugation and violence. Things do not necessarily get better as time goes on,” Griffin writes.

I learned the history of Bleeding Kansas more definitely; how Kansas became a swing state with votes doubling the actual population due to folks flooding the state to influence whether it stayed an abolitionist state or became a pro slavery one like Missouri. I also learned more accurately about the redlining that occurred around the 1950s in the city, marking everything east of Troost black, and west of Troost white (still today, the economic hub and downtown Kansas City sits squarely on the white side of the line). I learned about Kansas City’s first black mayor, Emanuel Cleaver, the second black mayor, Sly James who just left office. I learned about the Kansas City Black Panthers chapter inspired by movement out of Oakland, as well as the 1968 riots.

“How can we dismiss [slaveholders such as] Jefferson as a “product of his time” when others were so capable of rejecting oppression based on his very words? Mormons, Quakers, and other abolitionists were products of the same era as slave owners. Jefferson’s personal experience, along with many other influences, led him to choose wealth and tradition over mercy and freedom. Other founders did just the same… And it goes without saying the “product of his time” idea adopts the viewpoint of the oppressor. Black slaves knew slavery was wrong,” Griffin writes.

The book also covers recent racist history including practices of excluding people of color from the Plaza, and Power and Light District. A good tidbit near the end of the book gives statistics that are handy if you ever find yourself speaking with someone who doesn’t believe people of color are treated any differently:

“Researchers write in Pulled Over (2014) that blacks in Kansas City are three times more likely to experience investigatory stops (these are not stops for actual traffic violations), especially in the white suburbs. They are twice as likely to not be told why and five times more likely to be searched, but are less likely to be found with anything illegal and act no more disrespectfully than similarly treated whites.”

Originally published at everydayembellishments.wordpress.com

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© Copyright 2019 Annie Windholz



midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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