Kansas City History | KCUR

Kansas City History

LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library / UMKC

The photographs tell a story in themselves: images that feel familiar because we recognize our city in the background, and all too familiar because we still see agitated people, most of them black, fleeing through clouds of tear gas or standing alone in front of police lines.

But the photographs don't tell nearly enough of the story. That's because the images in the 1968 Riot Collection at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Library don't have enough information.

LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library / University of Missouri-Kansas City

He was murdered almost 50 years ago, so fewer Kansas Citians these days might know the name Leon Jordan. But he was one of Kansas City's most important civil rights leaders, and at one point his homicide was the Kansas City Police Department's oldest cold case.

Chr. Barthelmess / Library of Congress

Anyone who has even a hazy memory of Bob Marley's song "Buffalo Soldier" knows the broad historical brush strokes of the African-American soldiers.

"Stolen from Africa, brought to America," the song goes. "Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival."

The full history is more complicated.

Courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library

Henry Fortunato, a charismatic shaper of Kansas City's intellectual and history communities, died on Monday. He was 62.

Fortunato's most high-profile role was as public affairs director at the Kansas City Public Library from 2006 to 2015. During his nine-year career, the library said in a statement, Fortunato "revolutionized library programming" and, working with Library Director Crosby Kemper III, helped the library earn local, regional, and national attention.

On our First Friday arts show: a local artist has been keeping a dream journal for over 40 years. In his new exhibit, he's brought recurring objects from his dreams to life through sculpture. Then, we talk to the star of a one-woman show about fashion icon Diana Vreeland, and a band conductor on how his group keeps the Kansas City sound alive ... and how they're taking a step to address the gender imbalance in jazz.


Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

Lonnie and Ronnie McFadden, of Kansas City's McFadden Brothers, grew up at 19th and Euclid, on Kansas City's east side. They've been a tap-dancing duo for as long as they can remember. But it wasn't until long after the art form went out of style that they made it their own — and made it cool

"We grew up in a household that was probably about as close to Norman Rockwell as I've seen to this day," says Lonnie, remembering the elaborate hot meals his mom used to make before working evenings at a country club.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

While Kansas City has a long tradition of black artists, their work tends to get overlooked, says textiles artist Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin. Today, we learn about a community project that's giving these local creatives online posterity. Then, we hear excerpts from a conversation with Democratic Missouri Rep.

Shawn CMH / Wikimedia Commons

At the turn of the 20th century, two sisters who were determined to provide medical care to Kansas City's underserved kids founded what became a local institution. Today, we learn about the women behind Children's Mercy Hospital. Then, jazz vocalist Deborah Brown reflects on her Kansas City roots and a music career that's led her around the world.

Sunflower Development Group

An old Kansas City Public Schools building that’s been sitting empty since 2010 will be soon be repurposed into affordable housing for seniors.

Sunflower Development Group broke ground Monday on the Blenheim school site at Gregory and Prospect. Director of Development Mark Moberly says old schools can easily be converted into residential housing because they’re already subdivided into classrooms. Sunflower has already completed one KCPS renovation, the Faxon School Apartments.

naturalflow / Flickr -- CC

What makes a song a Kansas City song? We revisit the classic "standards" that once defined the KC sound. Plus: a local writer takes us on a tour of the nearby breweries, distilleries and vineyards on both sides of the state line.


Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

In the early 20th century, people didn't have a lot of options for making the tradition of unwrapping gifts more festive. They'd cover packages with brown shipping paper or newspaper, or sometimes wallpaper or fabric.

Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards, Inc., gets credit for starting the modern-day gift wrap industry 100 years ago, an invention created out of necessity during the holiday season. 

Public Domain

Few people bring Kansas City's history to life like Monroe Dodd. But in light of our resident chronicler's move to Colorado, we indulge on one more journey through the great folklore of our town. Then, Kansas City Ballet's lead dancer, Lamin Pereira, shares his experience performing in The Nutcracker. ​Also, learn about a crisis rural America is facing through the lens of a novelist.


National Archives and Records Administration

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James is a pretty colorful character, but did you know he wears a magical bow tie that lets him travel through time? Today, the authors of a new children's book tell how they chose the mayor and his neckwear to recount Kansas City's history.

TheNaska / Flickr -- CC

Meet a soon-to-be-NASA engineer from Missouri who raps about math.

Plus: what are the smells of KC, both past and present? We explore the rich tapestry of Kansas City scents, good and bad, and how they affect our experience of a place.


B. Allen / VOA

It's no secret that race influences a lot of things in our lives, including how our cities are laid out. Today, urban designer Tyler Cukar explains the lasting legacy of racism and redlining that's shaped Kansas City, and how we can move toward a more racially integrated future. Then, if you remember one image from last year's Democratic National Convention, it's probably of Khizr Khan. The Gold Star father raised a lot of attention when he held up a copy of the Constitution and challenged Donald Trump to give it a read.


For an artist, one year is plenty of time to develop new techniques and mature. Today, we check in on local artist Rodolfo Marron, who, after two residencies in New York, has returned to Kansas City with a new exhibit. Then, learn about Liberty's African-American heritage from the group dedicated to documenting and preserving its history.


A handgun and six bullets on a desk.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office / Wikimedia Commons

Drag is big these days in pop culture, but the cross-dressing tradition goes back further than most people realize. Today, we trace its roots on the American frontier. Then, we take a close look with sociologist and researcher Jonathan Metzl at claims that gun violence in America is primarily a mental health issue, and not one related to the easy availability of firearms.

On the southwest corner of Troost and Linwood Boulevard, Katz's Drug Store was quietly torn down after years of vacancy. Today, we learn what old landmarks have to teach us about Kansas City's history and why the demolition of Katz has garnered so much attention — even from young people who never shopped there.


Tools, lumber and bolts are just a few of the things that come to mind when thinking about a hardware store — but how about the smell? Today, meet a local perfume maker who decided to recreate the scent of a Kansas City hardware store. Also, we discuss how the community is affected when these old "mom n' pop" businesses close shop.


alanagkelly / Flickr -- CC

Hear the story behind a classic Kansas City restaurant, then visit a new cafe that's located inside an antique mall. Plus: our Food Critics search out the best Italian food in and around KC, from beloved old-school favorites to interesting new takes on the cuisine.


The Nelson-Atkins Museum campus with an illuminated Bloch Building on right.
Charvex / Public Domain

It's been a decade since the Bloch Building began illuminating the east side of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and its architect, Steven Holl, says it remains one of his most important works.

The sentiment was echoed by Time magazine in 2007, when it dubbed the structure that year's top "architectural marvel."

The Nelson-Atkins Museum campus with an illuminated Bloch Building on right.
Charvex / Public Domain

When the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened the Bloch Building, its "lens" architecture was so different from the existing museum that many didn't see how the two could stand side by side. Today, the architect of the addition, Steven Holl, talks about returning to his building ten years later.

Intel Free Press / Flickr - CC

Kansas City has its fair share of historic buildings, but they're not always easy to find and appreciate. Today, learn how a new guidebook is bringing these sites to people's attention. Then, pediatrician Dr.

Public Domain

They may be icons of the old west, but cowboys aren't just an American phenomenon. Today, we learn the long history of the horseback herdsmen, whose roots go back to Africa. Then, we discuss climate change and the complexities of reducing fossil fuel use with environmentalist Bill McKibben. Later, we ask Sam Cossman why on earth he climbs into active volcanoes and what he hopes to gain from doing so.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

This is the final season for the popular Netflix series Longmire, but not for the books that inspired it. Today, their author, Craig Johnson, reveals the inspiration for his latest novel about the fictional sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, and relates what it felt like when his character came to life on screen. Then, learn what a Prairie Village husband and wife team did when their passion for amassing memorabilia about Kansas City left them with a collection too big to fit under one roof.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Nestled between Kansas City’s downtown business district and the River Market are a bunch of buildings that once literally hummed with the sound of fashion.

From the 1940s through the early 1980s, Kansas City had one of the largest garment industries in the nation. It spanned the area roughly from Wyandotte to Washington and Sixth to Ninth Streets. The local manufacturers there created some of the country’s best-known brands: The Donnelly Garment Company, commonly known as Nelly Don, and YouthCraft, maker of coats and dresses. At its peak the industry was estimated to support over 75 companies.

Trishhhh / Flickr - CC

After handing off the reins of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor is back on the road. Today, we speak with the legendary radio personality about the Love & Comedy Tour that's taking him across the country and through the Paris of the Plains. Then, we learn the history of how mafiosos survived in Kansas City after the death of political mob boss Tom Pendergast.

Wikimedia Commons

The definition of an American family is no longer a man and his wife, living in suburbia with their 2.3 kids. Today, we learn about some of the economic forces reshaping families. Then, we explore the history of sandlot baseball in Kansas City, and find out how communities are trying to revive the tradition. Later, we discuss the controversy over Democratic Missouri Sen.

courtesy: Kansas City Parks and Recreation

The controversy surrounding Confederate statues and memorials across the United States has officials in Kansas City, Missouri scrutinizing one here. And it's in a very prominent spot: right in the middle of Ward Parkway, just south of 55th Street.

Chris Dahlquist

What do you expect to find at a vending machine? Soda or chips? How about a full-blown history tour?

That’s the idea behind photographer Chris Dahlquist’s exhibit History Vendor, located at City Market Park on 3rd and Main Street through mid-October.