Over forty years ago, Horace Peterson III started collecting relics of Kansas City-area history in the trunk of his car.
That collection grew into the Black Archives of Mid-America, a research facility, museum and community gathering space now located at 1722 E. 17th Terrace in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District in Kansas City, Mo.
Marking the 40th anniversary of the Black Archives, a new exhibit looks back over the organization's history. It's a history that, at times, became controversial and drew attention from state officials.
Michael Sweeney, a Kansas City Public Library employee, designed the exhibit to highlight the multiple functions the Black Archives has filled. He has worked for the past 11 months as the collection librarian, reprocessing the material in the archives.
“The heart of the collection really is local history,” Sweeney said. “At the end of the processing, the work that I am doing, what you will have is a really good record of the people, places and events of this community.”
Here is a timeline of the Black Archives’ past 40 years:
1974 – Horace Peterson III began collecting items of local significance at age 29 and stored them in the trunk of his car. These items later became part of what is now the Black Archives of Mid-America. Peterson originally held the Black Archives in the old Paseo YMCA building.
1975 – Peterson began the first research project, collecting oral histories of prominent black community members. These recordings still are available at the Black Archives.
1976 – As the collection expanded, the Black Archives needed a larger space. Peterson moved the collection to 2033 Vine St., which was the first all-black firehouse in Kansas City.
1977 – Peterson acquired a former slave’s cabin from a genealogist in Trenton, Mo. Tracing its history through the Grundy County recorded histories, the archives found that the cabin sheltered a woman named Lucy Willis in the mid-1800s. After Peterson deconstructed and relocated it to the Black Archives, the cabin is now one fourth of its original size.
1980 – Partnering with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Black Archives organized an exhibit featuring the original document of the Emancipation Proclamation. The letter granting the release of the document to the Black Archives is part of the 40th anniversary exhibit.
1981 – Peterson opened the museum portion of the Black Archives, showcasing the reconstructed slave cabin from Trenton.
1992 – Peterson drowned in Swope Park’s lake.
2004 – Following Peterson’s death, the Black Archives failed to pay property taxes. When the Black Archives did not submit audits, the Kansas City Council canceled its subsidy, which had reached $100,000 per year during its history.
2006 – Financial issues caused the Black Archives to shut down the firehouse location, leaving the future of the Black Archives uncertain. After failing to file annual reports, the state dissolved its nonprofit status. Then-Attorney General Jay Nixon held a series of public hearings on the state of the archives, which resulted in the selection of a new board of directors.
2007 – The Black Archives broke ground at the new location at 1722 E. 17th Terrace. Formerly a Parks and Recreation Department’s maintenance building, the new location neighbors the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District.
2008 – The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation gave the Black Archives a $1 million grant to complete renovations on the new location.
2012 – After completing renovations, the Black Archives re-opened to the public.
2014 – The Black Archives celebrates its 40th anniversary with a new exhibit focusing on the various functions that the archives has served over the years. Currently, Chair Taylor Fields leads the organization's board of directors. Michael Sweeney, the collection librarian who organized the exhibit, is an employee of the Kansas City Public Libraries. But the organization plans to hire a development director this year.
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