Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
July 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.
Local leaders are honoring the sweeping civil rights legislation by taking a look at Kansas City's history during the social change movement.
"Our first African American mayor, Emanuel Cleaver, was quite the agitator in the 1960s. In fact he got me involved," said Taylor Fields, the chairman of the board of directors of the Black Archives of Mid-America.
In the 1960s Fields was in law school. He also joined protests at Kansas City's city hall, demanding fair housing, employment opportunities and access to public places for African Americans.
"There was a certain section of Swope Park called ‘Watermelon Hill' where African Americans were confined to utilize that part of the park," Fields said.
Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Kansas City was segregated. Restaurants were not open to African Americans and racial communities were clearly defined.
"Troost (Avenue) has always been and continues to be somewhat of a dividing line for the African American community," Fields said.
Four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, protestors marched on Kansas City's city hall. Police used tear gas, which sparked a riot.
"I know I had to take a detour. You could hear police sirens, and fire truck sirens," Fields said.
According to the Kansas City Public Library, during the 1968 riots in Kansas City, protestors vandalized and burned white-owned businesses. A three-block stretch of Prospect Avenue was destroyed.
Police made nearly 300 arrests and seven African Americans died in the violence.
Shortly after the riots, Kansas City reformed its housing ordinances to desegregate housing sales and rentals.
"There was a feeling of accomplishment. Today I would say, looking back, there are still challenges," Fields said.
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