With My Eyes No Longer Blind
The Black Archives’ permanent exhibit, With My Eyes No Longer Blind – titled after the Langston Hughes poem – traces the story of African Americans in the Kansas City from the days of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the mayor-ship of Emanuel Cleaver II.
The exhibit is arranged both chronologically and thematically. Drawing from the holdings of the Black Archives of Mid-America and other local institutions, the exhibit addresses the development of churches and schools, places of entertainment, political organizations, businesses, and social clubs. The exhibit is divided into the following sections:
From the 1850s, when the first white settlements were established in the region, to Emmanuel Cleaver’s election, African Americans had numerous opportunities to despair. Discrimination and segregation against black people were common in that 140-year span. African Americans found themselves stifled economically, socially, politically, and culturally for most of that period. Yet, as Melvin Tolson noted in a poem he wrote for the Lincoln High School yearbook, black Kansas Citians did not despair in their misfortune. Despite the limits, African Americans contributed to every aspect of life in the region while building rich, but separate communities as well.
Institutions of Uplift
Some black Kansas Citians adopted various strategies to tackle segregation and discrimination, most often in collective action. These groups tapped into a deep historical legacy of collective consciousness and mutual association in the African American community.
Hospitals, Churches, and Schools
Schools, churches, and medical facilities were vital institutions within Kansas City’s African American communities. They were structures in which African Americans defined themselves and what was important to them.
Professionals and Working Class
As with many cities before the civil rights era, Kansas City had a small but influential group of black professionals, a group of men and women who – through combination of wealth, background, education, talent, or ambition – assumed positions of prominence in the community. Despite their talent, prominence, and leadership roles, black professionals remained a small minority in Kansas City’s African American community for the first 100 years. Until the Brown decision, most black men and women were of the working class, often worked at the bottom of the job ladder, or were excluded from certain jobs altogether.
Kansas City’s black community is best known for two things – jazz and baseball. But the entertainment opportunities for African Americans before the 1960s go well beyond the athletic field and the night club.
To battle the limits set by the outside community, African Americans protested individually and collectively, on the street and in newspaper articles, through the courts and through the ballot box. Kansas City did not produce one charismatic leader; instead the civil rights movement was the work of a number of courageous people, black and white.
With My Eyes No Longer Blind is made possible by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.