Last week I traveled to Kansas City trailed by a chorus of whys. The whys didn’t bother me but I felt slightly treacherous entering the domain of the Royals, the team that had whipped my Mets in the World Series. More than four months later Kansas City was still crowing about its triumph.
So why? Kansas City is an unattractive city that boasts a host of attractions.
The Hallmark Visitors Center stands in the center of downtown, a tribute to wholesomeness. But wholesomeness has an ugly underbelly. A short distance from Hallmark headquarters is the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum, commemorating play in the Negro Leagues, which were organized in Kansas City. Just a few blocks from Hallmark stands the National World War I Museum and Memorial, commemorating the war that didn’t end all wars. Decades earlier, Kansas City had been a way station on the Oregon, Santa Fe, and California Trails. It was also a way station for Missouri slaveholders crossing the border into Kansas to influence the vote on whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. They didn’t succeed but the skirmishes known as Bleeding Kansas between slaveholders and abolitionists, John Brown included, precipitated and foreshadowed the Civil War. (Defeated Missouri Confederates Jessie and Frank James ranged even further than Kansas in their spree of post-war outlawry.)
Nearby Independence is home to the Harry Truman Home and Library. Imagine being catapulted into the presidency and within months sparring with Stalin at Potsdam and then having to decide whether to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. Historians now rate Truman sixth in presidential rankings but he still holds the record for lowest presidential approval rating. Truman is known for his integrity but he owed the start of his political career to notorious Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. In 1948 Truman proposed national health insurance. We’re still waiting for it almost 70 years later. Today it’s impossible to imagine success without a college education, at least outside IT. Truman was the last president who did not attend college. Before him was William McKinley, elected in 1896, who attended Allegheny College briefly but did not graduate.
Topeka, Kansas is an hour from Kansas City. It is home to the segregated school that was the subject of the Brown v. Board of Education ofTopeka decision that ended segregation in education. It was selected by NAACP counsel because its facilities were equal to neighboring white schools. The goal was to establish that segregation was inherently unequal. The school now houses an informative museum that traces the history of segregation and desegregation in America. It also chronicles the lamentable thumbs-up that the Supreme Court gave to discrimination during the century before Brown: Dred Scott, the approval of separate but equal in 1896, the decision okaying Japanese internment during World War II and a ruling that confirmed that Japanese could not become American citizens.
Segregation of any kind does not deserve a second chance. Kansas City, an underdog of a city with a dark strain to its history, definitely deserves a visit.