Kansas City Historian Joelouis Mattox Dies

Mar 21, 2017

Joelouis Mattox, one of Kansas City's most prolific and recognized historians, was found dead of natural causes Tuesday morning at his home, according to friends and colleagues. He was 79.

Mattox held the title of historian for many local agencies and organizations, including Kansas City's Historic Preservation Commission and the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. He wrote and spoke frequently about Kansas City's history, as well as local and national African-American history.

"He loved history," said Anita Russell, who served with Mattox on the executive committee of the Kansas City, Missouri, branch of the NAACP and considered him a friend. "He was always looking at a way to put historical buildings on the national registry."

Though famed for his knowledge of Kansas City, Mattox grew up in Arkansas. He sometimes talked about his parents -- his mother was a "domestic" and his father cut the hair of white men in a segregated barbershop. In 1957, he enrolled in Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, to study history and government.

According to a 2015 story in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Mattox was the first African-American member of the Jaycees of Independence, Missouri, and the first African-American certified property manager in Kansas City.

For many years, Mattox was also part of a group that had been meeting at the Bluford branch of the Kansas City Public Library to discuss current events. Russell says he loved to talk.

"Whenever he called you, you needed to have at least an hour," Russell said.

As recently as last month, Mattox appeared on KCUR's Central Standard to tell the story of Westport's Steptoe neighborhood, where many former slaves purchased homes and started new lives. He spoke at numerous Kansas City Public Library events, including presentations on the glory days of Prospect Avenue, the city's segregated past and a light-hearted 2015 look at "great places with bad reputations."

"He loved to preserve history," Russell said. "He believed in telling the story. He was just a very pleasant person that will really be missed."

Brian Ellison is a contributor and host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend Missouri. You can reach him at brian@kcur.org or on Twitter, @ptsbrian.

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.