Thursday, February 25, 2010

KC Black History Month Notes

Lewis Woods was a Kansas City businessman. In his time he was best known as the publisher of The Rising Son, a weekly newspaper for the region's African American population.

This is what the Rising Son looked like:

In 1903 the editor of the Rising Son was Harry R. Graham.

In a newspaper 'Salutory' he spelled out the mission statement of the Rising Son. He said, in part,

"As to newspaper work our early experiences, dating from the year of 1876, enable us to fully comprehend the arduous and responsible duties of editor, and the great field for the enlightenment and elevation of our race which is open and needs the services of fearless advocates and defenders. We come to assist, and not to antagonize, all other agencies to build up the race morally, socially, intellectually and politically."

There was a lot of talk in the Rising Son about elevation of the race, and for good reason. In the early Twentieth Century African Americans were becoming educated at colleges like Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City; they were becoming doctors and lawyers, and yet their children couldn't get medicine from the dispensary at Mercy Hospital. If they needed surgery they had to go to Kansas City, Kansas to get it. The schools were segregated, and the Rising Son often lamented that the city's "colored schools" were at the bottom of the school district funding barrel. African Americans were restricted as to where they could live, sometimes violently.

Forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation gave slaves their freedom, there were some (but not all) white people who absolutely refused to accept the idea of racial equality. One of these was Confederate Colonel John T. Crisp, a Jackson County politician whose career went as far as the Missouri Legislature.

His mission in 1903 was championing a bill keeping African Americans off of railroad cars that white people would be riding on. The Rising Son did not take kindly to Colonel Crisps ideas. They rallied protest through their paper. Among the editorials on the issue they stated:

"...The men of Crisp's calibre can give no plausible cause or demand for such a law. It is only the hateful animosity ranking in the hearts of a few men like the author of the bill that have a desire to crush the Colored man; to impose upon his manhood and to curtail the few public accommodations he has. The broad-minded white man is perfectly willing that we be left to the enjoyment of a few of the civil and personal rights left us in Missouri. The Democratic legislature cannot afford to pass the Jim Crow law."

The "Jim Crow Car" bill made it out of committee in the Democratic-led Missouri House on February 17 of that year (this was back when the Democrats were outspoken racists and the party of Lincoln was considered "the friend of the Negro"). Among the kinder things that Colonel Crisp said that day was this statement to Republicans:

"What would the Republicans do for the blacks -- amalgamate them, make them a race of mulattoes? I do not know why it is, but one drop of black blood in a hundred gallons of white blood contaminates it. It is God's way."

When put to a vote by the house, though, the Jim Crow Car bill went down by a vote of 55 for to 75 against on March 11. The Republican floor leader, O'Fallon of Holt county, reminded the legislature that the parties of African royalty coming to next year's Worlds Fair would be treated with courtesy until they got to Missouri's border. He summed up his party's sentiments by saying that white people kept the Negro in slavery for 250 years. Now that they are free, the Negroes ought not to be discouraged in their efforts to become good citizens. "I look upon this," he said, "as freak legislation. We ought not to put these people down when we could help them and should, in justice, and in expatiation of the crime of slavery, give them all the help we can." The Kansas City Times credited the bill's loss to the fact that Democrats from big cities did not want to anger their black constituents, who had been voting in large numbers in Missouri since 1869.

Colonel Crisp died the month after the Jim Crow Car bill was killed. About his death, the Rising Son said this:

"Col. John T. Crisp of Jackson County, sah, is gone. With charity for all and malice for none, we hope he is at rest. One thing we know there will be no vaporings from him on these mundane shores, and as far as he is concerned, Jim Crow cars and Negrophobia will have a little rest. Let us look over the past and forget John T. Crisp, of Jackson County, suh!"

But the Jim Crow Car bill would come back again and again, and the struggle would be long, and the bigotry of yesteryear lives on in too many hearts today. And although there are few people around this area that can tell you a single thing about Colonel Crisp, he got the legacy of both a street and a lake named after him in Independence, while men like Lewis Woods and Harry R. Graham live on only in microfilm obscurity and the occasional footnote reference. Crisp would not be the only one to be honored for a career furthered by racial hatred. Someday I'll write about James A. Reed.

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