a study in community building
Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri has a rich history. Native American hunting trails, a huge plantation with slaves, millionaire estates, Jazz, Walt Disney, the Isis Theater, a commercial center – Troost was once a hub of eclectic, urban life. Yet, for the past 40 years, Troost has been viewed as the racial dividing line of the city. Local broadcaster Walt Bodine referred to it as the “Berlin Wall of Kansas City” (Bodine, 1988, p. 137).
In the 1990s new strides at community building were taken with the FOCUS: Kansas City plan and Hands across Troost initiatives. This study is an overview of community building in this neighborhood. The researcher provides a look at the past, reflections on recent developments, and considerations for the future, based on current trends. Participating in the development of the Troost Avenue Festival provided an insider’s perspective to the process of positive community mobilization. After assessing the strength of the area’s economic, social and spiritual resources, the writer comes to positive expectations regarding a revitalized sense of community in what formerly was called a “ghost town” (H. Reaves, personal communication, March 16, 2004).
Part I: Historical Overview of Troost Avenue
Definition of Troost
The Dutch word troost has a meaning of “comfort” or “consolation” (Harper, 2001). Its roots are Indo-European, which provide the etymological foundation for such words as tree, true and trust (EncartaÂ®, 2005).
In the 1750 version of the Dutch Scriptures, the Staten Vertaling, the Holy Spirit (called the “Comforter” or “Paraclete” in English) is translated Trooster. The Dutch phrase “Maar de Trooster, de Heilige Geest…” is translated “When the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost…” in St. John 14:26 (Staten Vertaling, 1750; Douay Rheims; KJV).
These very images of tree, trust and comfort create a vision of hope. This hope is essential for overcoming the negative stereotypes of the mistrust, division, and pain of the past.
Beginning of Troost Avenue: 1840s to 1920s
Le Soldat du Chene and the Osage Nation
The land along present-day Troost Avenue was the site of one of the main trails commonly used by the Osage Indians during the late 18th century and early 19th century. From these trails, they would hunt in the forests or carry their canoes to the Missouri River. Their ancestral village was known as the “Place of Many Swans”, currently near the southwest Missouri town of Rich Hill (DeAngelo, 1995, pp. 14-15).
In 1808, the Osage Nation surrendered over 52.5 million acres of land to the United States. This included the majority of Missouri and half of Arkansas. After yielding their ancestral home, one of the Osage chiefs, called Le Soldat du Chene by the French, (“Soldier of the Oak”, in English), sadly said,
“I see and admire your way of living, your good warm houses, your extensive cornfields, your gardens. You whites possess the power of subduing almost every animal you see. You are surrounded by slaves. Everything about you is in chains and you are slaves yourself. I fear if I should change my pursuit for yours, I too, should become a slave” (DeAngelo, 1995, pp. 17-18).
Dr. Benoist Troost and his times
Troost Avenue was named after Dr. Benoist Troost. Born in Bois Le Duc, Holland, on November 17, 1786, Dr. Troost came to this area during the 1840s (Sandy, 1984, p. 151).
This was the period of mercantile discovery of Kansas City as an ideal location for trade. Located at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers, the early fur traders were afforded relative easy transport for their business (The History, 1881/1966, p. 375, 377-378).
Inordinate trading with local Native American nations was the original impetus for much of the attraction to the area (The History, 1881/1966, p. 399). This quality of commerce is indicated by items obtained for ten cents in St. Louis later being sold for five or six dollars to traders among the Delaware, Pottawatomie, Kansas, and Shawnee nations (The History, 1881/1966, p. 399). Many Native American nations gathered in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma during this period due to the forced migration of Indian nations during the Jackson era. The Wyandotte nation resided in current Kansas City, Kansas. The Shawnee dwelt in Mission Hills, Mission and Shawnee, Kansas. The proximity of this market was an enticement for settlers in Westport and, eventually, the town of Kansas, later to be called Kansas City (The History, 1881/1966, pp. 386-388, 395-399).
One of the sad chapters of Kansas City history is the wealth taken from the First Nations through alcohol. Westport became the center for exchanging Indian dollars for alcohol. Federal Government annuity checks, paid to Native peoples for the forced land sales in the areas east of the Mississippi, were then taken back by the white traders through alcohol sales. As Dr. William Unrau (1996) noted, “Federal dollars paid to emigrant Indians easily found their way into the pockets of Kansas City’s founding fathers, and in the aggregate constituted a firm financial foundation for urban expansion yet to come” (Unrau, 1996). This “urban expansion” takes us to the individual whose name is honored by Troost Avenue.
Eventually, these merchants developed other areas of enterprise. The Dutch doctor, Benoist Troost, is one of the founding fathers of Kansas City, Missouri. He, along with two other doctors, seven farmers, three butchers, and other merchants, grocers, traders, and laborers (to name some of the professions), purchased various portions of the Prudhomme estate in 1846 (The History, 1881/1966, pp. 408-409). This piece of real estate stretched “between Broadway and Troost Avenue, from the river back to the township line, which runs along Independence Avenue” (The History, 1881/1966, p. 396). The fact that Dr. Troost, who died on February 8, 1859, already had been honored with an avenue in his name by 1881 shows that he was a significant member among Kansas City’s early leaders.
The first major hotel in Kansas City was constructed due to the coordination and efforts of Dr. Troost and his uncle, William Gillis (DeAngelo & Flynn, 1992; p. 183; Sandy, 1984, p. 151). Built in 1849 due to the California gold rush, it could be seen from the river between Wyandotte and Delaware Streets. A large bell on the roof would call the guests to meals three times a day. At various times it was known as the Troost Hotel, the Gillis House, and the American Hotel. In the years 1856-1857, over 27,000 guests signed the register from many different countries (DeAngelo, 1995, pp. 23-24).
In addition to his real estate investments, he also invested in the city’s first newspaper, called the Public Ledger in the early1850s (The History, 1881/1966, p. 418). It later became known as the The Kansas City Journal, which lasted until 1942 (McEniry, 2002). In 1854, Dr. Troost was elected to the city council (The History, 1881/1966, p. 414). Then, in December, 1855, he along with other city leaders incorporated the Kansas City, Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad Company, setting up the road between Kansas City and Cameron, Missouri (The History, 1881/1966, p. 443).
Dr. Benoist Troost, and his wife, Mary Ann Gilliss Troost, have their portraits on display in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Painted by the local artist, George Caleb Bingham in the same year of Troost’s death, 1859, the portraits are another part of the legacy Dr. Troost leaves behind (Sandy, 1984, p. 151).
During the late-19th century, the area along Troost Avenue between 26th and 32nd was known as “Millionaire’s Row” (DeAngelo & Flynn, 1992, DeAngelo, 1995; Hughes, 2000; Paynter, 2003). Kansas City was said to have 23 millionaires in 1901, with one-fourth of them living on “Millionaire’s Row” (DeAngelo, 1995).
Plantation on Troost
The area south of 31st and Troost Avenue was originally developed as a plantation by Rev. James Porter. He and his family came from Tennessee in 1834 with 40 slaves. Rev. Porter, a Methodist minister, owned 365 acres that stretched between 23rd and 31st Streets, and from Locust Street to The Paseo. Porter’s mansion was at 28th and Tracy, while the slave quarters were located on 27th Street. The slaves, whose number increased from 40 to 100, tended Rev. Porter’s corn fields, worked his orchards, and cared for his livestock. Later 27th Street would be the southernmost boundary for many African Americans residentially. The Linwood Improvement Association especially tried to keep it that way (Schirmer, 2002; Gotham, 2002).
After his death in 1851, the plantation was divided into various residences. Steadily for the next fifty years, this land would be the site of lavish Romanesque and Victorian architecture. Thomas T. Crittenden, the former Missouri governor and mayor of Kansas City in 1880, lived on the southeast corner of 26th and Troost. Other notables in this area were William T. Kemper, of the Commerce Bank; George B. Peck, owner of Peck’s Department Store; William J. Smith, across the street from the former Wonder Bread Bakery; and William A. Wilson, on the southwest corner of 27th and Troost.
The Richest Man in Kansas City
The Kansas City Star (1951) reported that Lamon Vernon Harkness was the “richest man ever to live in Kansas City” (“It Happened in Kansas City”, 1951). His estate, located at 3125 Troost Avenue, was valued at $150 million (“It Happened in Kansas City”, 1951). His father, partner with John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company, left L.V. his fortune. His home on Troost, built in 1888, was said to have 12 rooms. Although the Harkness estate was worth more, his home was actually considered small when compared with that of William Smith (DeAngelo & Flynn, 1992, p. 135)!
Webster Withers and Troost Transition
A period story of neighborhood transition is that of Webster Withers. He had been appointed the internal revenue collector under President Grover Cleveland. He relocated his family to 31st and Troost Avenue in 1885 to be in “the country.” His mansion was on the southeast corner of 31st and Troost. From that point, the land stretched out for 40 acres. Mrs. Withers told the Kansas City Star (1912) that “we were tired of town life and desired to get away out on a farm” (“Shut in” farm, 1912a).
But by 1912, the area was surrounded by businesses. At that time, immediately to the west of the Withers mansion, were the buildings currently occupied by Reconciliation Ministries, Jimmy Crack Corn Popcorn, and TYCOR (a youth educational outreach on 31st and Troost). In 1912, the ground floor had “attractive shops and the upstairs… a studio, doctors and dentists offices” (“Shut in” farm, 1912a).
An area that formerly had been the hunting grounds of the Osage Nation had become a slave plantation, and later the site of “Millionaire’s Row.” As we will see, its story was far from over.
Life on Troost: 1920s and 1930s
Businesses on 31st and Troost Avenue
Webster Withers, and his wife, Carrie Lee, raised eight children. Their eldest son, Webster Withers, Jr., attended Princeton College and assumed responsibilities for the estate upon the death of his father. Between 1912 and 1922, both the Withers estate and businesses in the 3100 block of Troost Avenue continued to grow. In a letter sent to the South Central Business Association (SCBA) at 3105 Troost Avenue, Withers stated, “It seems to us that 31st Street is already a good retail business street and will widening it improve the street for retail business” (Withers, 1922)? Although the subject of the letter is the widening of 31st Street, we find implicit in the letter the verification of a prospering retail economy. Withers, in the same letter, is writing as the Vice-President of the Withers Estate Company who “have too much at stake on 31st Street to oppose any improvement for the good of that street” (Withers, 1922).
Businesses near 31st and Troost
What businesses were in the area in the early 1920s? In October, 1923, LeRoy H. Kelsey, the proprietor of the Rossington Apartments at 3031 Troost compiled a list of “Various Business Enterprises Within two blocks [sic] of 31st and Troost Avenue” (Kelsey, 1923). The strength of this community is reflected in the concentration of businesses and organizations recorded in the following list:
“U.S. Post Office, Western Union Telegraph Office, Newspaper, Justice of the Peace; Conservatory of Music; Bowling Alley; Knights of Pythias Castle Hall; Business College; 1 Filling Station, 1 Carpenter, 1 Tinner, 1 Optician, 1 Plumber, 1 Jeweler, 1 Building & Loan Ass’n, 1 Insurance Agency, 1 Furniture Store, 1 Window Shade factory, 1 Victrola [sic] Shop, 1 Electrical store, 1 Hat Cleaning shop, 1 Wall Paper & Paint store; White-Way lighted streets; 3 best Street-car lines; 2 large metropolitan Churches; 2 five-story Office Bldgs; 13 Unfurnished Apartment Bldgs, 3-story or more; 10 Transient or Apartment Hotels, from three to six stories high; 2 large Picture Shows, and 2 State Banks; – also – 17 Groceries & Meat Markets, 15 Restaurants & Cafeterias, 9 Cleaners & Dyers, 8 Public Garages, 7 Drug Stores, 7 Barber Shops, 7 Real Estate firms, 6 Beauty Parlors, 5 Dry Goods & Ladies Wear, 5 Confectionaries, 5 Millinery stores, 5 Photographers, 5 Shoe Repairers, 4 Bakeries, 3 Art & Gift shops, 3 Fruit Stands, 3 Gents Furnishings & Clothing, 3 Tailor shops, 2 Shoe stores, 2 Laundries, 2 Undertaking firms, 2 Florist shops, 2 Hardware stores, 2 Transfer & Baggage firms, 2 Auto Supply houses, 2 Upholstering shops, and 2 Shoe-shining Parlors” (Kelsey, 1923).
The extensive list Mr. Kelsey provided for posterity enables one to clearly see that this was a productive and growing community. He records over 186 business establishments within two blocks of 31st and Troost Avenue! Reflecting on this neighborhood after twelve more years, it was written, “In September of 1935, the 3100 block of Troost was a small city in and of itself” (Wilborn, 1991, p. 52).
The South Central Business Association
An interesting side note is the effect of the South Central Business Association (SCBA) on the community. Their motto was “Why Go Down Town?” (SCBA Letterhead, 1922). Their business office, located at 3105 Troost Avenue, served an area from 26th Street to 37th Street and from Gillham Rd. to Michigan Avenue (SCBA Letterhead, 1922).
It was due to their advocacy, in cooperation with the South Troost Development Association (STDA), that cable cars, bus lines, and street lights were servicing the area. Indeed, Troost Avenue is still the longest North-South corridor in Kansas City, not in small part due to the detailed eleven-point plan presented to the South Central Business Association by the South Troost Development Association (STDA, 1924; KC Journal-Post, 1929). Eighty years ago SCBA was advocating for better bus lines, street lights and a parking lot on the 3100 block of Troost (SCBA, 1924). This very discussion was a sign of a community gathering to meet its needs. For many years 31st and Troost was a thriving commercial center with Art Deco architecture, elegant lighting and accessible transportation.
Walt Disney on Troost
While Webster Withers was commending the business achievements of Troost Avenue, a 20 year-old Walt Disney was around the corner struggling to make a living. Born December 5, 1901 to Elias and Flora Disney in Chicago, Illinois, he was the youngest of four brothers, followed by a baby sister.
The family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri when he was four, and then to Kansas City when he was nine. After returning in 1919 as an ambulance driver from France in World War I, he went to work briefly for The Kansas City Star. But just before Christmas, 1919, he was laid off. So, he and another young animation friend, Ub Iwerks, went into business for themselves making cartoons (Disney, 2005a).
Eventually, he formed Laugh-O-gram Films in the upstairs offices on the two-story building at the southwest corner of 31st and Forest Avenue. The building stands today which was built on the original Withers estate in 1922 (“Shut in” farm, 1912b, Laugh-O-Gram Project, 2005). Walt and his company were one of the very first tenants.
He raised $15,000 to get started. At their peak, they employed 12 animators, including Rudy Ising and Hugh Harmon, as well as his partner, Ub Iwerks (Laugh-O-Gram Project, 2005). It could truly be said that 31st and Troost was the cradle of animation for the 21st Century.
The young company had secured a deal for Fairy tale cartoons for $11,100. Unfortunately, Walt only received $100 as a down payment and their client, Pictorial Clubs, went bankrupt. As a result, he had to personally move in to the offices just to live, due to the lack of money. Things got so difficult that his workers left him and he was sleeping on the canvases on the office floor (Disney, 2005b; Disney, 2005c). During this period, he described his experience and lifestyle:
“A couple of Greeks down there [were] running the restaurant right below that gave me credit. So I finally got up to where I had a $60 restaurant bill. But I could always go down and if I gave them $10, could whittle it to $50 and they’d let me ride. Well, it got tougher and tougher” (Disney, 2005d)
During this period of time, Walt would occasionally take a bath for a dime at the Union Station (Disney, 2005d). When his credit ran out with the coffee house downstairs, he was reduced to “eating beans from a can and leftover bread” (Disney, 2005c).
In 1923, Walt cut his losses, declared bankruptcy, took some of his unfinished work and moved to California. The rest is Mickey Mouse. Interesting to note, the idea of Mickey Mouse is said to have started during this very period of his early struggles. While sleeping in his office, a little mouse used to share his crumbs (Thank you, Walt Disney, 2005). The mouse on Wither’s land, during this period of Laugh-O-Gram, was the source of inspiration for the famous Mickey Mouse. It is the opinion of this researcher that Mickey’s descendants are still running around the neighborhood!
A non-profit group has emerged, Thank You Walt Disney, Inc., specifically to save this original building. The motto of their organization is “Save the house where the mouse was born” (Thank you, Walt Disney, 2005)!
Walt Bodine on Troost
Kansas City broadcast legend, Walt Bodine, grew up in this very neighborhood. His father owned “Bodine’s” drugstore on the southwest corner of Linwood and Troost in the ‘20s and ‘30s. One of his adolescent hubs was the “Isis Theater” on the southwest corner of 31st and Troost. It was an elegant, 5-story, Art Deco masterpiece showcasing one of the most beautiful theaters in Kansas City. Bodine remembers that, during the 1920s, “it had everything: action, thrills, adventure, Betty Boop cartoons, and the weekly meeting on Saturdays of the Brer Fox Club” (Bodine, 2003, p. 9), where there would be weekly prizes for the young members. In his teens, the top balcony of the Isis was, as Bodine put it, “where you discovered who you were – and what you could get away with” (Bodine, 2003, p. 35). Lamentably he mused, “The Isis was a big part of my life. It marked many passages, and the final one came years later, when one day I passed the corner of 31st and Troost and saw that the Isis had been torn down” (Bodine, 2003, pp. 35-36).
Bodine’s stories abound regarding the 31st and Troost neighborhood. When the market crashed in 1929, his family was able to maintain a livelihood due to their corner drugstore. Linwood and Troost was the cross-section of U.S. Highway 40, going East and West, and U.S. Highway 71, going North and South, down Troost Avenue. Their drugstore was a popular stop. Dizzy Dean and other baseball players would drop by when they used to stay at the Linwood Hotel, formerly at Linwood and Harrison, one block west of Troost, (another tribute to Art Deco Architectural Style). Comedian Red Skelton did a routine at the El Torreon, on 31st and Gillham, and then dropped by the drug store at 1 or 2 a.m. Johnny Lazia and his entourage, one of Kansas City’s crime bosses, was a regular before he was gunned down in front of the Park Central Hotel on Armour Boulevard in 1934 (Bodine, 2003).
Jazz on Troost
While Prohibition was in force in most of the nation, it happened to pass by certain locales in Kansas City. The city was known as a “wide-open” town (Page, 1999, p. 25). In spite of the infamous career of Tom Pendergast in Kansas City politics, one of his enduring legacies, undoubtedly, was to enable an environment that allowed Kansas City Jazz to flourish in the 1920s and ‘30s. Porter and Ullman (1993) clearly state that “from 1928 to 1939, the town was dominated by its flamboyant crime boss, Tom Pendergast, a gangster-politician whose interest in night life helped make Kansas City the region’s entertainment capital” (Porter, Ullman & Hazell, 1993, p. 134). Kansas City, in those days, was said to have
Three hundred churches and heaven knows how many gambling joints, at least one of which advertises regularly in the newspapers. You can name your games and stakes in dozens of wide-open gambling halls, in some cases operated or partially controlled by ex-election judges, ex-precinct captains and ex-cons (Allhoff, 1938, as cited in Haddix, 1999).
The cover for an anthology album of Kansas City Jazz in the early 1960s advertised it as “KC in the 30’s: Rowdy Music Memories of America’s Wildest City” (Dexter, as cited in Haddix, 1999). The famed news reporter, Edward Morrow, wrote to his readers in Omaha, “If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris and go to Kansas City” (Morrow, as cited by Russell, 1971/1997, p. 8). Indeed, Kansas City became known as the “Paris of the Plains” (Haddix, 1999).
During Prohibition and the Great Depression, budding Jazz musicians found a niche in Kansas City, attracted from the Southwest and Midwest (Page, 1999; Russell, 1971/1997). Jazz immortals like Charlie “the Bird” Parker, Bennie Moten, Jay McShann, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, and Julia Lee all started in Kansas City. Not only on 18th and Vine, but at 4th and Cherry, 12th and Cherry, 12th and Troost, 26th and Troost, Armour and Troost, 31st and Gillham Rd., and Linwood and Main, the unique riffs, ragtime, and swing sound that became KC Jazz would fill the air like the thick smoke of a juke joynt (Haddix, 1999). One of the interesting club names was Bar Le Duc at the corner of Independence and Troost Avenues (DeAngelo and Flynn, 1992). It carried a play on words with the birthplace of the avenue’s namesake, Dr. Benoist Troost, who was born in Bois Le Duc, Holland.
A colorful figure along Troost Avenue was Milton Morris. His first major club was the “Hey, Hay Club” down at 4th and Cherry, where people would sit on bales of hay, listening to future greats like Count Basie. Shots of whiskey and joints of marijuana both sold for a quarter (Haddix, 1999; DeAngelo, 1992). During prohibition, his drugstore at 26th and Troost would sell liquor for “medicinal purposes” (Haddix, 1999). In 1934, he opened “Milton’s” at Armour and Troost, later immortalized in the song, “Meet Me at Milton’s” by Pee Wee Hunt (Haddix, 1999). Count Basie would refer to him as “my main, main man” (Haddix, 1999). In 1950, the club on Troost moved to 32nd and Main and became “Milton’s Tap Room,” where he advertised they could “seat 10,000 people, 69 at a time” (Haddix, 1999).
West of Troost, down the street from the Isis Theater, on 31st and Gillham Road, was El Torreon. Opened in 1927, it continues as a concert hall and dance center to this day. As one of the larger ballrooms, it regularly featured Jazz Greats like Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, Andy Kirk, and Clarence Love’s band. Holding up to 2,000 dancers at a time, it was one of the Kansas City sites for the “battle of the bands” (Haddix, 1999). Another ballroom, West of Troost, was the Pla-Mor at Linwood and Main, with room for 3,000 dancers. Mary Lou Williams with the Clouds of Joy, Count Basie, and George E. Lee were all regulars. It is said that Hoagy Carmichael introduced his famed “Stardust” while working at the Pla-Mor (Haddix, 1999).
With the demise of the Pendergast machine in 1939, most of the musicians and singers known for Kansas City Jazz migrated to other cities. But the genre they left behind still lingers and inspires present and future artists. Kansas City Jazz made its imprint on history.
Congregations near Troost in the 1920s and 1930s
A vibrant community is comprised of all the facets within it working together as a harmonized whole. The spiritual life of the developing Troost community reflected European diversity, both the long-term Northern Europeans, and the newly arrived Southern and Eastern Europeans.
What was sadly missing from the sharing of power, influence and nearby residences in those days were those from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Native American displacement. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Jewish (Conservative and Reformed), Christian Science, Baptist, and various other Protestant denominations were among the many congregations represented near the burgeoning Troost corridor. Here we focus on but a few.
St. Vincent De Paul Roman Catholic Church
St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church was built in 1922 at 31st and Flora, 5 blocks away from Troost Avenue. It stands as a testimony to English Gothic architecture, with an extant 1913 pipe organ continuing to play. The huge bronze bell can to this day be heard, still calling worshippers to prayer. For its first 50 years, the parish was served by the Vincentian Fathers, who provided not only daily liturgies, but a parochial school for the community. Currently the church is owned by the Society of St. Pius X, an off-shoot of the Roman Catholic Church (Crown jewel, 1980).
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation served the many Greek immigrants in the community at the southeast corner of Linwood and Paseo, 4 blocks from Troost Avenue, from 1941 until 1987. Prior to that time, the congregation gathered at 1423 Broadway in the downtown area of Kansas City (Economy, 1987).
Originally, the Greek community settled in an area known as “Athens” along the Bluff by the Missouri River, along 5th Street and Wyandotte. Since most immigrants arriving around 1907 were single males, they lived in small rooms over “shops and saloons” (Schirmer, 1976, p. 4). As their numbers increased they spread out from 14th and Broadway south to 31st and Troost. Schirmer provides a description of day to day life for the men away from their families. Her description of the Greek coffee house is not unlike the one young Walt Disney found as a source of sustenance during his lean days at the Laugh-O-Gram Studios (Disney Online, 2001c).
The [Greek] laborers in Kansas City, who could not work in winter, were bored and lonely without their families. The traditional Greek coffee house provided them a place to rest and pass the time exchanging news and playing cards. The police were afraid that so many lonely, single men would resort to heavy drinking and unvirtous women and they consequently forbid any women or children to enter a Greek coffee house. By 1913, however, the police admitted that the Greeks were not heavy drinkers and very rarely committed a crime (Schirmer, 1976, pp. 13-14).
The employment of the first wave of Greek immigrants came from railroads, or shining shoes, or construction. Due to language difficulties, most of the early Greek immigrants tended to work in gangs. But since most had at least a secondary education, their facility for language enabled them to assimilate fairly quickly into the dominant culture (Schirmer, 1976).
Members of the Greek community around Troost Avenue included Panagiotis Bellos. He established restaurants at 2608 E. 31st Street in 1923, and later at 2849 Troost Avenue under the name, “Bellos Café” (Zaharopoulos, 2005, p. 6). In 1920, at 1016 E. 31st Street, there was “Victory Lunch,” operated by Efstratios Kapsimalis (Zaharopoulos, 2005, p. 4). In 1918, A. Panagopoulos bought and maintained a hat shop at 1022 E. 31st Street. At 31st and Main, Alexios Karygiannis and Antonios Papanikolaou were co-owners of the Apollo Confectionery. They were both known to be “great contributors” (Zaharopoulos, 2005, p. 9).
After World War I, the Galanis brothers started “Good Eats Lunch” at 4703½ Troost Avenue. Stavros and Nikolaos Gilanis had come to America from the province of Arcadia. Both were known for their “gentle nature and their piety” (Zaharopoulos, 2005, p. 36). The famous Nichols Restaurant on Southwest Trafficway was started by Fotios Nikolopoulos (Nichols) after he came to America in 1912 (Zaharopoulos, 2005, p. 38).
It was fortunate for Kansas City that, as Walt Disney related it, “a couple of Greeks” had a restaurant downstairs from his studio at 31st and Forest Avenue (Disney, 2005d). Very probably, due to their gyros and pita, he was able to sustain a little mouse that would later bring him such fame.
Tom Vleisides, one of the members of Annunciation and a neighborhood resident during the 1940s, reminisced with the writer of this study:
Really, next to the Plaza, downtown was large, and then you had 31st and Troost! It was a big shopping [area]. In that area, there were a lot of Greeks, ‘cause our church had moved from 14th and Broadway up to Linwood and Flora. There were a lot of Catholics ‘cause of St. Vincent’s, which was a big church and also a school. And of course you had the Jewish synagogues. But anyway, the Blacks … well, it was the culture in those days, they didn’t walk up Wayne to catch a street car (personal communications, 2004)!
In addition, there is Superior Linen Company to this day at 31st and Holmes. Run by the Kartsonis family, this is the 4th generation that they have been working in the neighborhood near Troost Avenue.
Although a few early merchants in Westport Landing (the present-day River Quay area) were Jewish, most came during the migration at the turn of the 20th century. Those who escaped the pogroms in Russia between 1900 and 1920, settled at 19th and McGee in the McClure Flats. These were tenements, supported by Jewish benevolent agencies in Kansas City.
Prior to the First World War, half the Jewish population in Kansas City was first-generation immigrants. By 1942, of the 20,000 Jewish residents here, one-third were first generation. Sixty percent lived in a “middle class area between Cleveland and Troost from Linwood to 47th (Schirmer, 1976, pp. 3, 8).
The Jewish Community Center was housed in its first building at 3123 Troost in 1917 (Smith, 1974, pp. 26-27, 51-53). Herman Passamaneck, Executive Secretary of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, at the same address, sent in their quarterly dues of $3.00 to the South Central Business Association in 1923 (Passamaneck, 1923).
Congregation Beth Shalom
In the 1920s, the 3400 block of the Paseo, the next major street East of Troost, was graced with the massive domes and inspiring design of Moorish and Byzantine architecture. Beth Shalom Synagogue was inspired by the Judaic style in Muslim Spain, the Neo-Romanesque style with its columns and arches, and the Byzantine period with its adornment, common for early 20th century synagogues. Architect Samuel Greenebaum and his firm won the 1928 “Kansas City Architectural League’s gold medal for ‘the most beautiful building, best suited to its purpose’” (Ford, 2003).
Rabbi Gershon Hadas (1896-1980) began serving the congregation in 1929, and helped to bring financial stability to the struggling congregation during the Great Depression. With a 1500-member congregation, the rabbi was said to infuse it with a “family feeling.” Rabbi Hadas was known for his pastoral work and his work on behalf of children, the poor, the elderly, and Jewish-Christian relations (KC Star, 2000). The congregation moved to 95th and Wornall Road in 1969. The former temple was converted to Christ Temple Pentecostal Church, which still serves the community to this day (Ford, 2003).
Congregation B’nai Jehudah & Rabbi Samuel Mayerberg
On the southeast corner of Linwood and Flora, was the Temple B’nai Jehudah. In the style of an ancient Greek temple with Ionic pillars, it stands today as the Mohart Building and one of the FOCUS: Kansas City Centers. Today it reads “Linwood Multi-Purpose Center” covering the stone-etched words above the portal of the former temple that once read, “My House Shall Be a House of Prayer for All Peoples (Ray, M. K., 1969).”
One of the most fascinating chapters in the story of Troost Avenue and its surrounding community is that of its rabbi, Samuel Mayerberg (1892-1964). Not only was Rabbi Mayerberg the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Jehudah, but one of the most powerful moral forces during the Pendergast era (Sandy, 1996).
He gave a series of autobiographical lectures in 1942 at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although his title for the talks was The Rabbi as Civic Leader, they were later published by the college with the title, Chronicle of an American Crusader (Mayerberg, 1944). This single rabbi, with the force of conscience and determination, advocated for an end to the death penalty with the Governor of Missouri, fought for academic freedom at the University of Columbia, sought to stop a lynching in Maryville, Missouri, while simultaneously developing deep friendships with those of good will throughout Kansas City. A story regarding him and his friend, Episcopal Bishop Robert Spencer, reveal the deep mutual respect expressed in inter-faith dialogue:
It flashed upon me that my friend was using the term Christian in no dogmatic sense. To him the word connoted all that was good and true. I was much touched by his affectionate regard and of course felt that I did not deserve such appellation. When I acknowledged his gracious introduction, I recalled the story of Lessings’ Nathan the Wise, in which the Baron, grateful for a service Nathan had rendered him, exclaimed, ‘By God, Nathan, thou art a Christian; never was a better!’ Soberly Nathan replied, ‘That which makes me to thee a Christian, makes thee to me a Jew!’ (Mayerberg, 1944, pp. 94-95).
With his conscience strengthened by the writings of the Prophets and the Talmud, he prepared to follow the guidance of the righteous Hillel, “In a place where there are no men strive thou to be a man” (Mayerberg, 1944, p. 103). Describing that era, he wrote, “There were men in Kansas City in 1932, but they were strangely silent!” (Mayerberg, 1944, p. 103). Although Tom Pendergast held no elected office, through his Red-D-Mix Concrete Company and in league with Kansas City’s “Al Capone,” Johnny Lazia, he was the stereotype of a political boss. Rigged elections, bribed officials, and with the mob to do his dirty work, Kansas City was under his control. After a hopeful change had been made in the city charter in 1924, people were expecting an administration of accountability and integrity. Instead, the new City Manager, a realtor named H. F. McElroy, was one of Pendergast’s friends and easily followed his dictates.
For the next 15 years, Kansas City would carry the reputation of “America’s wildest city” (Dexter, as cited in Haddix, 1999). From 1932 to 1939, the thorn in the flesh for Pendergast, McElroy, and Lazia would turn out to be this persistent rabbi. Although he was shot at, threatened, had his office ransacked, his phone tapped and his records stolen, Rabbi Mayerberg remained at the front of a citizen’s coalition to restore justice to the city administration. Initially members of his congregation tried to dissuade him. But, with the assistance of other ministers, like Rev. D. A. Holmes, the Kansas City Star, and other businessmen, he finally succeeded. In April, 1939 Pendergast was indicted by Federal Grand Jury on income tax evasion. A week later, McElroy resigned (Mayerberg, 1944; Riley, 1999).
Second Church of Christ, Scientist
On the northeast corner of 31st and Troost Avenue, the Second Church of Christ, Scientist stood for many years. Its cornerstone was laid Christmas Day, 1902. This church, which held over 1000 people at capacity, held its first services in 1904 (Postcard, 1971), and was dedicated on April 8, 1917 (Second Church, 1927). As reported in the Kansas City Journal-Post (1923), “The church edifice has a beautiful approach artistically terraced and planted. The general style of architecture is Roman Doric” (Second Church, 1927). Its presence added cultivated landscape, beauty and a sense of spirituality to the community until its demolition in 1955, when it became a J.C. Penney store (Ray, 1971).
Paseo Baptist Church & Rev. D. A. Holmes
Paseo Baptist Church has always been a moral influence in Kansas City, Missouri. Originally the church was located at 18th and Vine, known as “Vine Street Baptist Church.” But in 1927, the congregation, under the leadership of Reverend D.A. Holmes, moved to its current location at 25th and Paseo, when it changed its name to “Paseo Baptist Church” (Riley, 1999).
Reverend D.A. Holmes (1876-1972) was known as an early civil rights activist and was part of the resistance against the Pendergast political machine in the 1930s. He was born the son of slaves in north central Missouri, near Moberly. Called to preach at the age of 17, he earned degrees from several colleges and universities, including the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (Riley, 1999).
Rev. Holmes was influential in the integration of the University of Missouri at Columbia, in 1939. He advocated for better homes and jobs for African Americans, and strongly spoke out against police brutality and corruption under Pendergast. He led a successful, but protracted conflict with the Kansas City School Board over building a new Lincoln High School at 21st and Woodland Avenue (Riley, 1999).
Dr. James S. Smith, Sr., pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, grew up under the preaching of Rev. D.A. Holmes. He recalls that Rev. Holmes was a “great giant of preacher, poet, and scholar … [a] clarion voice, speaking out on behalf of the black community, pointing his finger at racists.” But he also remembers the sense of community that existed between African Americans and the Jewish community in those days. He said, “I don’t understand the hatred between some blacks and the Jewish community because I remember … the great rabbi who stood with D. A. Holmes way before Martin Luther King, Jr” (Hunter, 1988).
Troost during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement
Although the multi-ethnic landscape of Kansas City was one of the richest features of life along Troost Avenue, the creation of exclusion became its infamous claim to fame. Gotham (2002) points out that during the 1990s, scholars found Kansas City to be “one of the nation’s hypersegregated metropolitan areas” (Gotham, 2002, p. 13).
Jim Crow in Kansas City
The end of the 19th century saw increasing segregation after Reconstruction in 1870. However, in 1896, the case of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, gave legal backing to the policy. Jim Crow was now the law of the land. “Separate, but equal” became the justification for racial ideology. Roles and institutions became duplicated along racial lines. Racial etiquette was enforced by violent, vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Between 1884 and World War I, lynchings exceeded 3,600 (Marger, 2003, pp. 266 – 267)!
During this period, there were 81 lynchings in Missouri, 51 of whom were African American. This is more lynchings than occurred in either Virginia or North Carolina during the same period (Greene, Kremer & Holland, 1980/1993). A virtual caste system, American “apartheid,” had enmeshed itself into the fiber of the national psyche. Jim Crow had become such a norm that, even though Missouri didn’t pass a segregation law for public facilities, African Americans were prohibited, by custom “from joining whites in facilities such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, and hospitals” (Greene, et al., 1980/1993, p. 107).
The worst examples of stereotypes began to appear in the local press. Demonizing caricatures were published to create political cleavage. The Klan-like images of oversexed, beast-like, incarnate evil began to re-emerge. An editorial in the Kansas City Post reveals the fear-mongering:
Will the ‘better class of white Republicans’ permit ‘this magnificent city [to be] the stronghold of negro (sic) equality in the whole United States? This city can be turned over to negroes (sic), who have shown at the workhouse what they will do when clothed with a little brief authority, and then such a reign of debauchery and iniquity will take place here as was never seen in civilized communities (Kansas City Post, 1906, March 30, as cited by Schirmer, 2002, p. 67).
To make things worse, stereotypes were now backed by pseudo-science. This was the era of social Darwinism, espoused by Herbert Spencer and other social scientists. “Survival of the fittest” was now applied to social relations, allowing laissez-faire economics to prevail (Coontz, 1992). The “Gilded Age,” stretching from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the turn of the century is exactly when Kansas City’s “Millionaire’s Row” was established, along with the prevailing racist sentiments. When black soldiers began returning from Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War (1902), Chaplain George Prioleau wrote of how they were treated in Kansas City:
These black boys, heroes of our country, were not allowed to stand at the counters of restaurants and eat a sandwich and drink a cup of coffee, while the white soldiers were welcomed and invited to sit down at the tables and eat free of cost (Zinn, 1980/2003, p. 318).
In the southern United States, many thought that an exodus to the North would bring income and greater freedom. What they would come to find out was that Jim Crow had stretched its cloak over the entire nation.
Northward Migration for African Americans
With the federal withdrawal of troops in 1877 from the South, pre-Civil War racial politics simply reframed the old social structures. As a result, over fifty thousand, known as “Exodusters,” fled to the North and made it to the “promised land” of Kansas. Several thousand settled in the Kansas City area. Yet tens of thousands were forced back by armed vigilantes along the riverfronts and southern roads (Greene, et al., 1980/1993, p. 104; Bennett, Jr., 1984, p. 272). This was the first Great Migration from the South.
The second period of large migration to the Northern cities coincided with the legitimization of Jim Crow after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896. By legalizing an oppressive system of racism, the Supreme Court created a primary push factor that motivated thousands of African Americans to leave the South. Other push factors during this time included an infestation of the boll weevil in southern agriculture that wiped out much hope for a livelihood. Toward the end of World War I, southern unemployment was rising from 13% in 1918 to 20% by 1920.
Meanwhile, the new immigration laws restricting foreigners in the 1920s, created opportunities for African American workers in Northern urban centers. Other pull factors included increased industrialization, thereby creating more factory jobs; a better wage structure; and migration networks, comprised of labor agents, family, friends, and churches. These networks would often help those coming from the South to get resettled in the North (Mary Kelly, PhD, personal communications, 2003; Tolnay, 2003).
Troost as a dividing line
Kansas City did not always have identifiable residentially segregated areas. Sherry L. Schirmer, in her outstanding work on Kansas City segregation, pointed out that “in 1880, blacks constituted at least 10 percent of the population in sixteen of the twenty-one enumeration districts in the city” (Schirmer, 2002, p. 32). Neighborhoods like “Hell’s Half Acre” in the West Bottoms, Church Hill near 10th and Charlotte, Belvedere Hollow centered north of Troost and Independence Avenue, and the Vine Street Corridor, between Troost and Woodland Avenues, stretching from 12th to 25th Streets, were integrated at the turn of the 20th century (Schirmer, 2002). Studies of isolation for ethnic groups revealed that, prior to 1900, African Americans would have comprised only 13% of an average ward in Kansas City (Gotham, 2002, p. 28). This was before the “dividing line.”
The previously discussed “Millionaire’s Row” occurred during a real estate boom in the late 1880s. However, when it collapsed in the 1890s, many spacious homes became available to the most immediate buyers, regardless of race. Known for the beautiful lawns and impressive homes, more affluent African Americans began to move into this area. “Within a decade, a corridor along Vine Street in this eastside black settlement would form the nucleus of the black ghetto in Kansas City” (Schirmer, 2002, p. 39).
Kevin Gotham (2002), in his study of race and uneven real estate development, uses Kansas City as his case study. He especially focuses on the use of Troost Avenue as a dividing line. Utilizing quantitative and qualitative research methods, he arrives at six key causes to Troost becoming a racial dividing line:
Housing and Welfare reports linking “place, race, and culture”
Kansas City is known for establishing the nation’s first welfare agency – the Board of Public Welfare (Gotham, 2002, p. 36). Unfortunately, the view of its social workers was diametrically opposed to that of today’s National Association of Social Workers (NASW). NASW, established in 1955, lists among their core values, social justice and the dignity and worth of the person. Included among their ethical standards are cultural competence and social diversity (NASW, 1996). They stand at the forefront of advocacy for populations at risk.
Yet, in 1913, Asa Martin wrote in Our Negro Population: a Sociological Study of the Negroes of Kansas City, Missouri,
Social workers say that no class of people with whom they have to deal is so shiftless, indolent, and lazy as the Negro; that he has very little self-pride, and hence will lie and misrepresent the facts in order to get any assistance whatever (Cited by Gotham, 2002, p. 36).
In addition, two widely read analyses of Kansas City housing were published by the Board of Public Welfare, Report on Housing (1912), and Social Prospectus of Kansas City (1913). As Gotham points out,
Failing to distinguish between character and environment, these housing surveys provided ostensibly objective and scientific evidence to reinforce emerging prejudices and stereotypes that made it appear that Blacks were responsible for the social problems found in their neighborhoods (Gotham, 2002, p. 36).
Typical of studies during this period was the tendency to blame the victims of poverty, without thought for the systemic or institutional factors involved. Such studies, emboldened by the Social Darwinism of the era, was one of the factors that spread the idea of “racializing urban space” (Gotham, 2002, p. 37) and the ideology behind making Troost Avenue a racial dividing line.
Racial restrictive covenants
Of the instruments used by the dominant class of European Americans in Kansas City, none was as effective in promoting residential segregation as “restrictive covenants.” A contract entered into between property owners and neighborhood associations, the covenant stipulated that the sale, lease, or rental of a property could only be offered to whites. One restriction for Wornall Acres, read,
None of the lots in the subdivision shall be conveyed, leased or given to and no building erected thereon shall be used, owned, or occupied by any person not of the white race (Restriction, filed in Jackson County, 1938; Cited by Thomas, 2005).
Between 1900 and 1947, out of the 221 housing subdivisions in Jackson County, Missouri, 62% had restrictive covenants (Slingsby, 1980, cited by Gotham, 2002, p. 39).
J.C. Nichols and homeowner associations
J.C Nichols has a bigger than life reputation in Kansas City. The founder and developer of one of the nation’s first shopping districts, the Country Club Plaza, Nichols is known for bringing a sense of beauty, elegance and taste to the city. Each Thanksgiving night, one of the major community events is the ceremony of lighting the Plaza holiday lights. Tens of thousands cram into Nichol’s Country Club Plaza for the annual beginning of Kansas City’s holiday season. Regrettably, the means by which such loveliness developed is intimately linked with residential segregation and the eventual creation of Troost Avenue as a racial dividing line.
Making extensive use of racially restrictive covenants, the J.C. Nichols Company assured that these would be enforced by homeowners associations. The members agreed to bind themselves and future owners from selling or renting to African Americans. Empowered by legal restrictive covenants, these associations became the “racial gatekeeper” (Gotham, 2002, p. 43) that were part of promoting a sub-division with a “feeling of security… a more interested citizenship, and a more home-loving family” (Nichols, 1914, cited by Gotham, 2002, p. 43).
J.C. Nichols was part of the creation of the Federal Housing Association (FHA), the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) (Weiss, 1987, cited by Gotham, 2002, p. 41). The influence of Nichols’ policies was transmitted to the nation through these organizations. Indeed, as McKenzie (1994) made clear, by the 1940s most developers would include homeowner associations as part of their master-plan for new subdivisions (McKenzie, 1994, as cited by Gotham, 2002, p. 43).
Several housing associations east of Troost followed the Nichols model. Linwood Improvement Association (LIA) and Southeast Home Protective Association (SHPA) were two such associations. LIA had its geographic boundary from 28th to 31st Streets and from Flora to Brooklyn. SHPA lie between 20th and 30th Streets and from Euclid Avenue to Benton Boulevard. However, due to a pre-existing African American population in these sub-divisions, they ultimately were unsuccessful in their segregation attempts. This was in spite of bombings, threats, racial slurs, and LIA’s manipulation of the Troost and Spring Valley Parks to create a racial boundary (Schirmer, 2002).
Gotham (2002) makes a key point regarding racializing space. “These stereotypes did not arise spontaneously but were fostered by elite real estate firms and community builders to protect their investments from the infiltration of racial minorities” (Gotham, 2002, p. 45).
Nichols and the homeowners associations had made a fortune off of segregation. The flow of race money would continue, not only through real estate developers, but also the agents themselves, by means of “blockbusting.”
Real estate blockbusting as a catalyst for neighborhood transition
Marger (2003) defines blockbusting as real estate agents,
“spreading word through a white neighborhood of an impending black influx, [to] frighten whites into selling their homes cheaply. These homes were subsequently sold to blacks at inflated prices. In the process, all-white areas were transformed quickly into all-black areas” (Marger, 2003, p. 297).
Blockbusting could be phrased in such a way that it sounded very nice. “I’m glad you want to stay in the neighborhood; so few white people do” (Curls, 1976, cited by Schirmer, 2002, p. 225). But that was enough to trigger the move response.
In Kansas City, Missouri this process most clearly happened in the southeast section. Between 1950 and 1970, in an area bounded by 12th Street on the north, Gregory Boulevard (71st Street) on the south, Cleveland Avenue on the east, and Troost Avenue on the west, there was a dramatic population shift. White residents fell from 126,229 to 33, 804. The white presence fell from 74.7% of the population to 24.6%. During that same period, black residents increased from 41,348 to 102,741. In terms of percentage, it was nearly an exact reversal. The black presence increased from 24.4% to 74.6% (U.S. Census Bureau, cited by Gotham, 2002, p. 95).
For European Americans, the very sense of status and the value of one’s identity had become linked to place and homogeneity. By denigrating African Americans with stereotypes like “immoral,” “criminal,” “dirty,” they thought they could boost their own sense of status by staying away (Schirmer, 2002; Gotham, 2002). As Gotham suggests, “Early twentieth-century meanings that people assigned to home, neighborhood and community were intimately connected to constructions of race and racial identity that together racialized space in the emerging segregated metropolis” (Gotham, 2002, p. 47).
In the discussion of “white flight,” Gotham (2002) elucidates that a neglected piece of the discussion is the role that real estate actors played in stirring up hostilities and fears in order to create huge profits for themselves through the rapid turnover of homes (Gotham, 2002). Yet realtors weren’t the only industry that played off of the race construction.
Housing disinvestment (“redlining”) by lending institutions
When banks and other lending institutions refuse to lend to an area of minority concentration, we have “redlining.” Gotham summarizes the effect on Kansas City and the area east of the Troost corridor:
“Once the racial transition of the southeast section of the city was complete, private lending agencies ceased making home mortgage money available to residents living east of Troost Avenue, thereby redlining entire neighborhoods and launching a vicious wave of disinvestment and physical deterioration that continues to this day (Gotham, 2002, p. 138).
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 made all of the above policies illegal. Title VIII of the Fair Housing Act of the Civil Rights Act specifically covers such practices as blockbusting and redlining, under Sections 804 through 806 (Fair Housing Act, 1968). Yet, as we have seen, clever ways of communication could maneuver around the law with the same discriminatory effect, either for a realtor or a lender.
After the 1968 Fair Housing Act, we would hope that conditions would have changed. Yet of the $642 million in home mortgages granted to Greater Kansas City residents by savings and loans in 1977, less than 1 percent went into the area east of Troost (Gotham, 2002). Redlining was drawn with a very thick pen down Troost Avenue.
Segregative school action by the Kansas City, Missouri School District
The policy of segregation was not only a disinvestment of economic capital. From 1950 on there was a deliberate attempt to limit the development of social capital as well. The Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD) school board sought to keep segregated schools by “using Troost Avenue as a racially identifiable school attendance boundary from 1955 through 1975, separating White schools to the west and Black schools to the east” (Gotham, 2002, p. 93). Indeed, the Troost boundary, created by the school district, was utilized by the realtors and the lenders to provoke White flight (Gotham, 2002). This was in direct reaction to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision. Instead of calling it a “racial attendance zone”, they now would call it a “neighborhood attendance zone” (Gotham, 2002, p. 99). But the effect was the same. The schools remained segregated.
Kansas City was so attached to the segregation of its schools that it took a 1984 court order to force the district to change (Jenkins v. State of Missouri, 1985). Judge Russell Clark fortunately saw through the duplicity and mandated the development of magnet schools that would be racially integrated.
In his court ruling, Judge Clark quoted Robert Kennedy,
“When thousands of our citizens are afforded only inferior educational opportunities, they suffer a loss which can never be compensated and the whole country is subjected to unnecessary social and economic waste” (Kennedy, 1964, cited in Jenkins v. State of Missouri, 1985).
Troost during Civil Rights Movement
Local Kansas City resident, Thelma Altschul remembers what it was like when she first moved to the Troost corridor in the early 1960s, living near 24th and Tracy:
They had signs on the water fountain that said black and white. We couldn’t sit at a counter in a white restaurant and eat, ‘cause we had to come in the back door. They just wouldn’t let you in! But in the movie [Isis Theater], we’d sit in the balcony [light chuckle], and they sat down on the first floor, and they got lots of spitballs! Kids will be kids… (personal communications, 2004).
In 1964, there was a push in Kansas City for residents to sign a petition to end discrimination in the real estate industry in the area. Sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Council on Religion and Race, the “Good Neighborhood Campaign” was able to organize 23 fair housing councils. It met with fierce opposition from the National Real Estate Board (NAREB) who publicly opposed banning discrimination in housing (Gotham, 2002).
Nevertheless, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., coupled with an intensive fair housing lobby, the Fair Housing Act finally passed as part of the Civil Rights Act. Regretfully, the passage of a law doesn’t take away the frustration, the grief, the pain of injustice consistently expressed by a subordinate culture. Thelma Altschul again reflects on this period:
In 1968, they put Kansas City under martial law, which means we had tanks, paratroopers, and servicemen all over the streets. In order to go anywhere, you had to have a pass to go to work. If you wasn’t (sic) going to work, you was arrested, if you was out after 6:00 in the evening! The way I felt about the tanks, was that if they was going to have martial law and tanks, they should have put everybody off the streets at 6:00, not just the blacks (personal communications, 2004, April)!
Troost under Urban Renewal
Harry Reaves worked with the Minority Contractors from 1969 until 1985 on the site of the old Withers estate on the southeast corner of 31st and Troost. Since then, he has encouraged young entrepreneurs, while seeking to keep going with a company that manufactures and distributes popcorn called Jimmy Crack Corn. He personally experienced the disinvestment along Troost Avenue:
We put a manufacturing plant into the building to produce popcorn, which started to give life back to the property. We started to bring money back into fruition again. During that period, Troost was turning, more or less, into a ghost town. It seems as though people drifted back down toward 18th Street or further out to 63rd Street. It was very difficult to get any kind of action, from the city or anybody (personal communications, 2004, April).
Another example of institutional discrimination was the urban renewal plan instituted by both the federal and civic leaders. In the attempt to rid the area of “blight,” many historic buildings and landmarks were demolished. Dr. Mindy Fullilove refers to this as “root shock.” She writes, “Blight, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and it happened, more often than not, that the part of the city the businessmen thought was blighted was the part where black people lived. By my estimate, 1,600 black neighborhoods were demolished by urban renewal” (Fullilove, 2004).
Where she writes of the entire nation, the experience along Troost Avenue mirrored that of other urban areas. Classic examples of Art Deco architecture were destroyed when the city tore down the historic Isis theatre and the La Salle apartments near the 3100 block of Troost Avenue. A previous hub of collective culture was transformed into two empty lots collecting empty cans, KFC chicken bones, and the fading beauty of dandelion flowers.
Another factor in “root shock” has been the obvious impact the Bruce Watkins Drive (or Highway 71) has had on the area. On one hand, it contributed to the major destruction of neighborhood housing. In 1960, there were 11,120 housing units in the area under study on the east side of Troost Avenue. By 2000, they had dropped to 3,142. This, combined with demolition of older apartment buildings, has also led to significant displacement. On the other hand, the presence of the Drive makes easier access for people coming to the community from the wider region. Yet the problem of the lack of affordable housing remains (City Planning, 2004).
Troost Revival: FOCUS: Kansas City; Hands across Troost
Fresh hope visited the Troost Corridor in 1991 with Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver II, becoming Kansas City’s first African American mayor. Considered to be one of Kansas City’s finest mayors, he especially emphasized a systemic, community approach to problem solving. Guiding the city for two-terms, he was able to see his initiatives begin to bear fruit before being elected to the United States Congress in 2005 (U.S. House, 2005).
With themes of diversity and inclusiveness, he instituted a sweeping study to launch a city plan that would guide the city for the next 25 years. The plan, called FOCUS: Kansas City, was an acronym for “Forging Our Comprehensive Urban Strategy” (FOCUS, 2005). The planning team, led by the Director of City Planning and Development, Vicki Noteis, especially emphasized a strong community-based representation (FOCUS, 2005; Collison, 2004; Rouse, Noteis, & Arason, 2000). In 1999, the FOCUS plan, with Noteis at the helm, was honored with the best plan in the country by the American Planning Association (Collison, 2004).
When the planning stages were over in 1997, the first area they focused on was the Troost Corridor. This new initiative began to stir the east and west sides of Troost toward a new beginning. Using charrettes and focus groups, the process led to an eventual redevelopment plan for the Troost Corridor. As a scion of the FOCUS: Kansas City plan it embodied some key aspects of that design.
The first round of assessments were initiated for Troost Avenue, which has been described as a significant racial and economic barrier in the community. Neighborhoods along both sides of Troost conducted individual workshops identifying their own assets as well as priorities for improvement, and also met together to determine common priorities and concerns for the corridor. The Troost Community Association continues to meet nearly two years after completion of the initial assessments. Cooperative successes include a community market that combines fresh produce, crafts, and activities with fashion shows and music, all contributing to a festive atmosphere. (Rouse, Noteis, & Arason, 2000).
Besides the Troost Community Market, another collaborative effort that has led to a sense of community for both sides of Troost is the “Hands across Troost” initiative. Connecting the Beacon Hill neighborhood on the east side of Troost, with the Union Hill and Longfellow neighborhoods on the west side of Troost, they have an annual block party for strengthening relational ties. In addition, they have joint neighborhood clean-up days, an abandoned tire deposit center, and information sharing. Rhonda DewHurst, a local resident, serves as the liaison for the three groups (personal communications, 2005).
Where FOCUS has Unfinished Business
Vicki Noteis, the author of the FOCUS – Kansas City plan, shared with the writer of this paper, what was left undone from the original plan. She explained how the government sector had done a very good job of fulfilling their commitments to various elements of the plan. But the portions that were yet to be completed had to do with the private sector – the human investment plan. She enumerated what is yet needed as work on “health, education, arts, and racial discrimination” (personal communication, 2005). Part II of this paper will consider the current manifestations of discrimination and long-term solutions.
Part II: Moving from History to a New Community
In considering the history of Troost Avenue and the surrounding community, its rich and painful complexities are discovered. From such contradictions emerge human beings and the communities they create. Certain forms of art are built upon the beauty perceived from contrasting light and dark, like the chiaroscuro tradition. The challenge now will be to build a community together from a sense of shared history. For that to become a reality, the ways that prejudice and discrimination continue to be expressed must be explored more deeply.
Prejudice, Stereotypes, Racism and Discrimination
Prejudice has been defined as an arbitrary belief or feeling toward an ethnic group or its individual members” (Marger, 2003, p.67). Allport, in explaining the difference between prejudgments and prejudice, writes, “Prejudgments become prejudices only if they are not reversible when exposed to new knowledge” (Allport, 1958, as cited by Marger, 2003, p. 67). Rutstein (1993) synthesizes these by the following definition: “racial prejudice: an emotional commitment to ignorance regarding race” (Rutstein, 1998).
Stereotypes were described by Lippman (1922) as “pictures in our heads” that don’t come from personal experience (Lippman, 1922, as cited by Marger, 2003, p. 68).
“These mental images of groups thus serve as supports for the negative beliefs that constitute prejudice. Once we learn the stereotypes attached to particular groups, we tend to subsequently perceive individual members according to those generalized images” (Marger, 2003, p. 68).
When this definition is applied to the images held to support the status of the dominant culture, as in the residential segregation in Kansas City, Missouri, the purpose served by enduring stereotypes is made clear.
Racism is defined by Rutstein (1998) as “racial prejudice plus power”. Power, in this case is seen as “control over the economic and social institutions of a country” (Rutstein, 1998). The ideology of racism is shown by Marger (2003) to have three separate ideas:
Dividing humans according to different physical types.
Physical traits that they display are inherently related to their culture, personality, and intelligence.
As a result of their genetic inheritance, some groups are naturally superior to others.
He points out that, in racist thought, the idea of superiority of one group over another is thus innate, “just the way it is,” and can’t change. Ultimately, this is the ideology that enables the legitimization of unequal distribution of resources in a society, especially in regards to “wealth, prestige, and power” (Marger, 2003, p. 25).
Discrimination is expressed in two ways – individual and institutional. If we think of prejudice as a belief or attitude, then discrimination is linked with behavior or actions. Feagin and Feagin (1978) supply a clear definition of discrimination as “actions or practices carried out by members of dominant groups, or their representatives, which have a differential and negative impact on members of subordinate groups” (Feagin & Feagin, 1978, as cited by Marger, 2003, p. 78).
Individual discrimination is expressed by intentional actions that tend to be the manifestation of prejudicial attitudes. Institutional discrimination tends to be more indirect and expressed in the policies or systems of a society. It does not necessarily reflect the individual prejudices or intentions, but rather the “normal functioning of the society’s institutions.” Yet, those policies that become “normal” are generally rooted in previous overt, intentional discrimination of those that set the previous policies (Marger, 2003, p. 81).
In the change from “racial attendance zones” to “neighborhood attendance zones,” KCMSD was able to evade desegregation of the school system for thirty years after Brown v. Board of Education (Gotham, 2002, p. 99). This is an example of intentional discrimination that eventually becomes the norm. To this day, the lingering effects of those decisions are affecting the entire school district and the children and families served.
How institutional discrimination & white privilege reinforce old divisions
To be able to overcome these issues, those in the dominant culture must be willing to “step out of the box”, and look at themselves, and the institutions they participate in, from a different perspective. A revealing tool is to examine the many hidden forms of privilege European Americans experience within this society. Peggy McIntosh provides an extensive list of 26 different aspects of life that reveal this hidden privilege. Consider a few examples:
I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race (McIntosh, 1988).
From just a few examples, the point becomes very clear. European Americans live in a world structured around privilege based on skin color. Access to daily privileges and advantages are inherent in our system for some, but not for others. Thus, the burden of change falls upon those with the privilege. To ignore or deny the privilege reinforces the discrimination. The minority cultures are then subject to further injustices, while being told all is fine or they shouldn’t complain so much or they should just work harder or study more, etc.
Although the issue of discrimination affects all aspects of life in one way or another, more attention needs to be directed towards neighborhood associations. Given the history of restrictive covenants used by the J.C. Nichols Company and the specific use of homeowner associations to enforce a segregationist policy, it is not too surprising to find these tendencies yet remaining (Gotham, 2002). The very nature of systems is to return to homeostasis, the balance of a previous state (Cannon, 1932, as cited in Hartman & Laird, 1983, p. 65). As in individuals overcoming prejudice, this is a process and not a single cathartic event (Montleith, 1993). The same is true of groups or communities. There must be ongoing “self-regulation” to overcome the tendencies of discrimination in the dominant culture. Otherwise, what will seem natural is to return to “the good old days,” which in the context of this paper was the era of “separate, but equal,” i.e. Jim Crow (Coontz, 1992). One method by which this “self-regulation” could be accomplished is by neighborhood workshops or groups purposefully dealing with issues of healing racism (Rutstein, 1993; Kivel, 1996).
Failure in this will inevitably lead to negative aspects of exclusion in policy making and lack of power sharing that are at the very heart of institutional discrimination. If this continues to occur, it will greatly limit the opportunities for those in minority cultures.
In attending housing association meetings at the Hyde Park and Longfellow Neighborhood Associations, this writer heard several members express the intention of having homeowners primarily in their neighborhoods, rather than renters (personal communication, 2004). This intention unfortunately has serious racial overtones. In the area under consideration, west of Troost Avenue, 26.8% of all the housing units are owner-occupied; 73.2% are renter-occupied. In that same area, 50.4% of the residents are white, 40.6% are black. Of those that are white, 48.3% are in owner-occupied housing, 51.7% are in renter-occupied housing. Of those that are black, 14.2% are in owner-occupied housing, 85.8% are in renter-occupied housing (City Planning, 2004). To make derogatory statements against renters, in the area under study, would generally be a derogatory statement against a black person. Whether this was the intention, such an intention certainly supports institutional discrimination.
When we consider the problem of discrimination discussed in Part I, we find that directly or indirectly it affects all of the residents. Of the population divisions mentioned above, we now consider these more in-depth.
The median age for both sides is 33.3. On the east side of Troost, 42% are between the ages of 25 and 54; on the west side, 53.3% are in that age range. On the east side of Troost, school age children make up 22.9% of the population, 14.3% on the west side. On the east side of Troost, 26.3% are households with someone elderly living with them; on the west side, only 9.6% have an elderly householder. The sizes of households thus also differ significantly. On the east side of Troost, 41.4% are single households, compared with 50.7% on the west side. On the east side, 21.8% have households of 4 or more, but on the west side, only 10.7% have larger households. The east side then has a much wider spectrum of ages dispersed throughout the households. In addition, extended family is more likely. 65.1% of those living on the west side are considered non-family households, compared with 47.4% on the east side.
Gender analysis reveals 48.1% are male, 51.9% are female on the east side of Troost; while 52.8% are male, and 47.2% are female on the west side. The west side is more likely to have a single, middle-age male in the household.
Considering the socio-economic factors in the area under consideration, we find that 28.6% are living in poverty on the east side of Troost, compared with 24.1% on the west. $19,982 is the median income for those east of Troost (i.e. 43.1% of the Metropolitan area median); whereas, $25,605 is the median income for those west of Troost (i.e. 55.3% of the Metropolitan area median). For those living east of Troost, 36.1% have no High School diploma, compared with 20.1% on the west side of Troost. In addition, 8.6% of those living on the east side have a bachelors degree or higher, whereas 29.9% of those living on the west side have a higher degree (City Planning, 2004). Considering the residual effects of the historic school segregation down Troost, combined with the increased earning power connected with education, this is a significant factor.
Given the segregationist legacy of neighborhood associations in Kansas City, this would be an excellent place to start the work of undoing institutional discrimination. Several questions could be asked to begin reflection and the change process: What is the racial composition of our neighborhood association board? Is the board representative of the neighborhood in terms of ethnicity and class? Is there cultural sensitivity training encouraged for board members?
These and other questions could begin the kind of change that could have a transformative effect on the neighborhoods involved. Out of such dialogue could emerge friendships that could produce a new and exemplary model of community.
Gentrification and community
Today, much has been written on gentrification. It is viewed as either the redeemer of urban decay or a voracious monster preying on the poor. I suggest that when, viewed on a continuum, there is truth found in both perspectives. Each urban community must grapple with the role gentrification is to play. The question for Kansas City and the Troost Corridor is not if there will be gentrification or community, but if there will be gentrification and community.
Definition of Gentrification
Gentrification is defined by Princeton University’s WordNet as “the restoration of run-down urban areas by the middle class (resulting in the displacement of lower-income people)” (WordNet, 2003), and, by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier usually poorer residents” (Merriam-Webster, 2005).
Gentrification, as a term, was first used by Ruth Glass (1964) to describe the displacement of local working-class groups by urban redevelopment in London (Glass, 1964, cited by Atkinson, 2003, p. 2343). After 40 years of research from varying disciplines, Atkinson (2003) distilled two key processes that occur in gentrification from the literature. “First, the class-based colonisation (sic) of cheaper residential neighbourhoods (sic) and, secondly, a reinvestment in the physical housing stock” (Atkinson, 2003, p. 2344, cf. Lees, 2000).
A typical scenario is that a post-White flight, blighted neighborhood still retains historical value. Artists discover the area for inexpensive studios, housing and restoring a place of history. Lawyers, professors, doctors, and some inspired suburban professionals want to live close to their downtown offices. The idea of pioneering a broken area gives them a sense of well-being and well-doing. Eventually, other developers catch on. They begin restoring old homes or building new homes or lofts. Property values start to rise. Property taxes start to rise. Rents start to rise. However, poor people can no longer afford their homes and displacement occurs.
In research literature, gentrification is often found to express salvific attributes for a decaying urban core (Freeman & Braconi, 2004; Von Hoffman, 2003; Wyly & Hammel, 1999; Berry, 1985). Indeed, Berry’s title “Islands of Renewal in Seas of Decay” speaks to this perspective (Berry, 1985). On the other hand, there is significant research literature to indicate the very real side effect of displacement for the poor (Atkinson, 2003; Dulchin, 2003; Marcuse, 1999), as the dictionary definition refers to. A brief glance back at the history of gentry sheds more light on the subject.
Reflections on Gentry and the Value of Person
The concept of gentry in our culture comes from the 16th century English landowners who were ranked by class below the nobility (Wikipidia, 2005). “During this period, the most stable and respected form of wealth was landownership. The government of the country was largely in the hands of the ‘landowners’” (Wikipidia, 2005).
The early American colonists based the right to vote on land ownership. “The revolutionary constitutions of most states retained colonial freehold (property) qualifications for voting” (Murrin, et al, 2002, p. 277). This sense of structural status is tied to owning property. Thus, African American slaves, Native Americans, women, and the poor did not share in this socially constructed meaning of value. The sense of who you are was tied to property ownership. If you owned land, you were a respected member of the community, able to participate in the decision-making structure of the times.
From our early days as a society, many would embrace a de facto definition of self as “I own, therefore, I am.” Others, would lean on the construction of race, built on the backs of those they had kidnapped or conquered, to define themselves as “I’m white, therefore I am.” The combining of these two concepts has left an infamous legacy, void of true value: “I’m a white owner, therefore, I am.”
In contrast to this is a different sense of person and value reflected in the Original Nations on this continent. Consider the sedentary (farming) nations. Not owning land as individuals, their families protected their “rights of use” granted them by their chiefs (Murrin, et al, 2002). Knowing that someday they would be gone, few “cared to acquire more personal property than the women could carry from one place to another, either during the annual hunt or when the whole community had to move” (Murrin, et al, 2002, p. 19). These values were expressed by Le Soldat du Chene when he said, “I fear if I should change my pursuit for yours, I too, should become a slave” (DeAngelo, 1995, p. 18). One can hear the echo of the words of Christ when He said, “Take heed and beware of the [desire for more], for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses” (NKJV, 1988; p. 914). The Native American experience gives just cause for watchfulness regarding unbridled gentrification. The process of changing a place into what seemed good to the “gentry” was a key part of American genocidal policies in the past. Much can be learned from the displacement of the Native Americans.
Scott Pratt (2001) draws upon the teaching of Black Hawk, the great leader of the Sauk nation almost two centuries ago, to present a conciliatory picture to European Americans. Sauk tradition has a sacred sense of connection to place, a sense of center. The Europeans were actually seen as a displaced people since they had left their ancestral homeland or were forced to leave. Pratt shows that if they could acknowledge their sense of displacement, they could be embraced and become a new people. He explains:
These were people who had stepped out of the westward migration framed by the values of progress and had begun to be part of a place. On the other hand, these same people necessarily affirm an indictment against the European presence in America. If their given land is somewhere on the other side of the eastern ocean, they must admit to being a displaced people. Their displacement means that they must see themselves as strangers in the land, must seek to establish new relations and ways of life, must become emplaced. The double valence of the mountain people’s beliefs frames the lesson Black Hawk wants to teach the displaced peoples who had come to Saukenuk. ‘It has always been our custom,” he says as he closes his story, “to receive all strangers that come to our village or camps, in time of peace, to share with them the best provisions we have, and give them all the assistance in our power. If on a journey, or lost, to put them on the right trail—and if in want of moccasins, to supply them’ (Black Hawk Autobiography, 1833/1990, as cited by Pratt, 2001).
By facing their displacement, other whites, like the “mountain people” of the Appalachians, can realize their need for alternative ways of thinking about themselves and the world. By recognizing the principle that explains their displacement, they are on the brink of taking seriously the process of emplacement (Pratt, 2001).
In Orthodox Christian spirituality, the human person is seen to be an icon of God Himself. From this perspective the sense of who we are is linked not to something transient, but Someone eternal. As Nikolai Berdyaev (1948), the Russian philosopher stated, “Personality is not self-sufficient, it presupposes the existence of other persons … Human personality can only realize itself in fellowship” (Berdyaev, 1948, cited by Sakharov, 2002, p. 88). To put it another way, Archimandrite Sophrony, the English disciple of the 20th century Saint Silouan of Mt. Athos, wrote, “amo, ergo sum,” or “I love, therefore, I am” (Sakharov, 2002). The person, the human being, must be valued for simply existing, for being who he or she is. For each to experience who they are, it behooves all of us to become a real community.
Community: Raising the Gentrification Consciousness
If we are to see displacement and unbridled development as two ends of a continuum in dealing with gentrification, the residents in a given area can decide how they want to respond. If these are simply viewed as oppositional poles with no hope of connection, the experience in Kansas City will lead to further displacement and institutional discrimination. But if those involved can raise their consciousness to see these poles as forces that can be managed, an amazing creative opportunity emerges. Kansas City can bring forth one of the rare models for both – gentrification and community.
Varied expressions of art and music, diversified neighborhoods, beautiful streets, great restaurants, and unique places to shop are often identified with the positive sides of gentrification. Resistance is found when, once again, progress is at the expense of those that are currently unable to own or maintain property or those who do not hold ownership as a primary value. That being said, there are alternatives that can and should be explored.
One example is the Displacement Free Zone in Brooklyn, New York (Dulchin, 2003). When facing an eviction due to gentrification, the local residents and community leaders first speak with the landlord to provide an alternative. If that is unsuccessful, it is followed by Legal Aid delay strategies. If the threat of eviction continues, direct action is taken, like picketing the home of the landlord, in order to keep the resident in the community.
Another example is rent-controls for those in an area undergoing gentrification. A Harvard proposal provides clear economic basis for such a strategy (Kennedy & Case, 1987).
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is currently available for restoration and renewal of blighted areas or areas in need of economic development (EDC, 2004). Why can’t a piece of that be negotiated that would help maintain existing tax structures not only for the developer, but also for the poor? This would grant time for skills to be developed or support to be gathered.
These suggestions are practical ways developers and the city could say to those at risk of displacement, “We want you here.” In collaboration with social service agencies, mental health organizations, faith-based organizations, neighborhood associations, and local residents, every member in the area could be given a sense of connection and hope. Building on the African proverb that it “takes a village to raise a child,” a sense of village and residential renewal could thus become a reality.
A New Community
When accepting his Nobel Peace award in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with a play upon the words of John Donne, expressed the following:
“In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich. We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality” (King, 1964)
That sense of mutually being diminished is awakening individuals across the city to realize their need of one another. It is the hope of this writer that this awareness is a step toward the experience of village, of community.
Troost Avenue Festival: a Catalyst for Community
As part of a McNair Project for Central Missouri State University (CMSU), this writer conducted a prejudice reduction seminar utilizing an experimental design in 2004 (Addendum 1: Troost Avenue). Later, several of the participants invited others, including the writer, to join a Race Action Group. Sponsored by Kansas City Harmony and the Kauffman foundation, the group had to decide on an intervention for increased racial harmony. They eventually concluded that they wanted to have a festival on Troost Avenue. Its purpose was to hopefully become a catalyst for change. The ultimate goal was to change Troost from a dividing line to a gathering place, a place of community. It was felt that a positive event, to engage residents from both sides of Troost Avenue, would enable a new perspective to begin to form.
Fred Culver, from the Center for Global Community (CGC) in Kansas City, added an additional element to the event to create a unique experience. He called it the “Coffee House on the Street.” It would be ten circles of dialogue seeking to connect people heart to heart, while sharing about ten areas of common concern: art, community, communications, education, environment, health, justice, resources, science and spirituality. Each circle would focus on one area. While reggae, blues, jazz, gospel and folk were being played, others would be sitting face to face discussing a systemic approach to community along Troost (personal communications, 2005).
Since the word Troost was used for the Holy Spirit in the Dutch Scriptures, the planners decided that a good day to have the festival was around the time of Pentecost Sunday. Thus, May 14th, the Saturday before Pentecost, was selected. One aspect of Pentecost was that people from other cultures and ethnicities came together, due to the influence of the Holy Spirit (NKJV, 1988, p. 958).
Brief Chronicle of a Community Building Event
Fairly quickly enthusiasm and excitement for the event began to build. People began to catch the meaning of “changing Troost to a gathering place.” Harry Reaves, who owns Jimmy Crack Corn Popcorn, opened his office at 3105 Troost for meetings. This is the exact location that the South Central Business Association gathered for their meetings in 1922! Fairly quickly it was determined that two meetings per week were needed. On Tuesday afternoons, planning meetings would be held at 3105 Troost. On Thursday evenings, planning meetings would be held at 3101 Troost, the site of St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church and Desert Wisdom Bookstore.
One of the first items of business was to obtain a permit for the street closure. Each of the merchants along the 3100 block of Troost Avenue signed it. Things were moving. In meeting with City Councilman Jim Glover of the 4th District, he quickly gave his support. Coming from the west side of Troost, he wanted to sponsor it jointly with City Councilperson Rev. Sandra McFadden-Weaver, of the 3rd District on the east side of Troost.
At every meeting there was a basic format. The participants would introduce themselves by name and then share what made them interested in Troost. As the meetings grew larger, that format would often take up to an hour. Many began to comment that “this IS the event!” People were getting connected. Representatives from Operation Breakthrough, (the largest day care center in four states), the Heart of America Indian Center, Hands Across Troost, KC Harmony, MOVE-UP, area churches and mosques, local clergy, homeless people, City Hall representatives, musicians, artists, young poets, students, business leaders, lawyers, teachers, nuns, persons with disabilities – the neighborhood and friends from both sides of Troost were gathering. After the meetings people would stay and continue to talk. Heart to heart dialogue was happening.
One day the writer of this study was having coffee at Coffee Girls with Professor Mike Frisch of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A local developer, Vince Gautier, just happened to come in. After a discussion on gentrification, he was asked what he saw as the main problem in the area. He flatly replied, “The fifty-thousand pound gorilla in the middle of the room that no one wants to talk about is racism!” Needless to say, he seemed excited to share in the dialogue circle at the festival (personal communication, 2005).
Coming together with tremendous diversity is always a challenge. Some felt that there were too many gospel groups and would turn off the artists. At that meeting, one of the disc jockeys and coordinators for KKFI, a community-based radio station was present. In asking her to be the Master of Ceremonies, it broke the tension and they were able to walk forward together.
At another meeting, there was some excitement about having a parade with motorcycle clubs at the beginning of the event. Others felt this might be a distraction. Again there was some concern that religious people were trying to “run the show.” After discussion, feedback, and creative insight from the members, it was agreed to have a motorcycle contest for the best looking motorcycle, best-dressed motorcycle couple, and best-looking motorcycle club. Those who had felt excluded, now felt they were being heard (personal communication, 2005).
In addition to the “Coffee House on the Street” and the music, there are also plans for African American cowboys and cowgirls, a clothing show, an art fair, ethnic food, Native American drumming, and a history booth to tell the story of Troost. The community is engaged. Synergy is occurring. Hope is rising.
Hope for the Future
Due to the pattern of homeostasis and the common tendency for life to return to “business as usual”, the need for consistent energy moving toward community is needed. The most important thing emerging from the festival is the formation of friendships with people from both sides of Troost Avenue. As ongoing dialogue comes from a grassroots level, hope for a real sense of village is growing. Likewise, while receiving support from the power sector, but not control, the community is empowering itself. People are starting to find how much they have indeed been diminished by being separated.
It is one of the circular movements of history and Providence, that in order for us to go forward we must return to our place of departure. For Kansas City to go forward, we must face our past. We must face what took place in our city due to discrimination and segregation. We must face our prosperity that came because of taking advantage of our Native hosts. We must return to where we departed from the path of community.
In Kansas City, there are several pockets of pain. One of these is Troost Avenue. As European Americans acknowledge that they have been displaced and then displaced others, the process leading to being embraced begins. For Troost Avenue to go forward, we too must face our past. If we will, once again the Native Americans will be able to say, “This is our place.” The entire Troost Corridor will be able to say, “This is our village. This is our place. Welcome to our hearts.” It takes time. It’s a process. But the event has started. Community has started. People from both sides of Troost Avenue are already finding one another, and as a result, finding themselves.
The word “Troost” has deep meaning. The longing to be “troost” is very powerful. The hope of this community is to become a tree once again that is rooted in being true to one another, restoring deep trust, and making room for the tremendous varieties of life in our midst. The wind is blowing. Comfort is coming. Troost is becoming a gathering place once again.
Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction.
Submitted by Fr. David Altschul and Musa D. Ilu, PhD, Sociology and Social Work
Over the past 30 years, awareness has grown throughout Kansas City, Missouri that Troost Avenue has been a racial dividing line. In other parts of the country, attempts at prejudice prevention have proved effective. A key aspect in reducing prejudice has been continued self-monitoring of one’s own prejudicial thinking and reactions. Furthermore, attempts to achieve quick results in prejudice reduction have led to deeper levels of stereotypical responses and more institutional discrimination. As a step in reducing prejudice, the researchers of the current project studied the effects of a prejudice reduction seminar for residents in this area of Kansas City, Missouri. Participants were drawn from various housing associations along Troost Avenue. Out of 41 registrants, 16 responded. Using a classic experimental design, they were randomly assigned to either a control group or an experimental group. Each group completed a pretest, and then a posttest, after watching a film. The control group watched a film not based on racism, while the experimental group watched The Color of Fear, a film on overcoming racism, with intermittent discussion and group activities. There emerged significant differences between the two groups in the open-ended questions. The control group responses to the posttest were mainly repetitious of the pretest. For the experimental group, previous feelings were changed to hope and determination. Recommendations from the experimental group included future Focus Groups and Prejudice Reduction workshops to facilitate greater change. Although only a step along the journey, most felt the seminar was an important part of this process.
Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction
In Kansas City, Missouri, Troost Avenue is known as the “racial and dividing line since the early part of this century” (Sixth Council District, 2004). A recent journal article by Stanley Gaines, Color Line as Fault Line (Gaines, 2004), compares and contrasts the works on prejudice from the renowned social scientists, Gordon Allport (1954/1979) and W.E.B. DuBois (1903/1969). The implication of his title and the ensuing article is that eruptions in the earth and in social relations can be anticipated along certain stress points.
Prejudice prevention interventions have been shown to be effective in working with culturally diverse groups. In Hawaii, a controlled experiment was conducted with students that indicated “students in the treatment group benefited from participating in the prejudice reduction intervention as demonstrated by their improved cooperation scores” (Salzman & D’Anrea, 2001, p. 345).
A key factor in reducing prejudiced responses has been found to be purposeful self-monitoring. Research involving those that were considered low prejudiced subjects found that significant changes were brought about when the participants saw this as part of a process and began a routine of self-regulation (Montleith, 1993).
Attempts to circumvent this process and seek to achieve quick results have led some to assume that we are near a “color-blind” society. Unfortunately, this has tended to reinforce white privilege and deepen stereotypes and class differences between ethnic groups (Sue, 2003). This research project sought to ease some of that stress by exploring the effects of a prejudice reduction workshop on urban residents who live or work in neighborhoods adjacent to Troost Avenue.
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
Participants: The current research project intended to show that even one prejudice reduction workshop can help lower the level of prejudice reflected in institutional discrimination and raise cultural sensitivity among the participants. From the verbal and written responses of most that participated, this objective seemed to have been met. Yet, as will be seen, due to the small number of participants, generalizing the results to the larger community would not be warranted.
The researchers conducted a classic experimental design study on the effects of a prejudice reduction workshop for residents living near the Troost Corridor from 23rd to 47th Streets. From the 41 respondents who had signed up, 16 actually participated. They were selected from among members of neighborhood housing associations who lived on the east and west sides of Troost Avenue. A brief presentation was made at each housing meeting regarding participation in a research project on prejudice reduction along Troost Avenue. All present were given an introductory brochure. Those interested then completed a sign-up sheet providing basic data and were given a voluntary informed consent form. Furthermore, each was reminded of the seminar, several days in advance.
Materials: The site of the seminar was in the Reconciliation Ministries building at 3101 Troost Avenue. Upon arrival, these 16 were checked off the list to verify that they had come from the area under study. Then name tags were randomly taken from a basket and given to each one. Random assignment gave an equal chance among the participants to be placed in either the control or experimental group. There were eight with a red tag and eight with a blue tag. On each name tag was listed a code name based on the name of a tree or precious gem. For example,
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
“Ash” or “Jade.” In this way, the researchers could study the effects of each individual response, while preserving each one’s anonymity.
Procedure: Those with a red tag were led into a meeting room set up for the red or control group. Once seated, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire. This served as a pre-test to provide some insight to each one’s awareness of cultural sensitivity and institutional discrimination. Other factors included demographic information concerning ethnicity, income level, and whether they lived on the east or west side of Troost Avenue. After completion of the pre-test, they watched the film, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.
Although having no overt references to racial prejudice, two of the participants surmised that the researchers had a deeper meaning in choosing the film to illustrate stereotypes. For instance, they reflected on the correlation between the color white with good and black with evil in the character portrayals. However, it was actually chosen because it was not dealing with the subject of racial prejudice, in particular.
Those with a blue tag were taken to the third floor meeting room for the blue or experimental group. They were seated at two tables where each filled out the same questionnaire as the control group. After this, the participants watched a film entitled The Color of Fear, dealing with racism, white privilege and cultural sensitivity. Every half-hour the film was stopped so the participants could reflect, share feelings and exchange insights from guided questions. Care was taken to insure that the discussion focused on each participant expressing his or her feelings and insights rather than attempting to change or blame another. At the end of the film, group conclusions were discussed with a representative reporting insights from each small
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
group to the entire experimental group. After completing this exercise, each participant was given the post-test, with the same questions as the pre-test.
When the film was over, one of the research volunteers notified the red (control) group’s volunteer monitor that it was time to administer the post-test. Again, this was the same test that had previously been taken to compare the results of the control group with the experimental group. So as to avoid diffusion of results, the evaluations were administered in the two different rooms. In addition, each of the tests had previously been marked with a (1) or (2) to designate pre-test (1) or post-test (2). Thus, the film when combined with the discussion (the independent variable) was expected to help lower institutional discrimination and raise cultural sensitivity (the dependent variables) among the participants in the blue group.
As an added incentive for participation, both groups were treated to a catered meal from Addis Ababa Ethiopian restaurant. The discussion during the meal, where all 16 sat together, was in itself a productive ending. It provided a chance for those in the blue group to share what they had learned with the others. Local networking also emerged with plans to continue to work against racism and prejudice in the area.
The 16 participants came from both sides of Troost, 6 from the East side, and 10 from the West side, 8 male and 8 female, 4 African-Americans (AA), 11 European-Americans (EA), and one preferred not to be ethnically identified. Whereas in the red (control) group there was only one African-American among the 7 others, in the blue (experimental) group there were three African-Americans among the 5 European-Americans.
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
Of the 16, one made over $75,000 and lived on the East side of Troost, six made between $40,001 and $75,000, one made between $18,000 and $40,000, four made between $10,000 and $18,000, and four made under $10,000. Of the six in the $40,001 to $75,000 range, they were split evenly between AA and EA, as well as equally coming from both sides of Troost.
Each test was comprised of 10 questions. 3 questions dealt with cultural sensitivity, 3 with institutional discrimination, 3 with demographic information, and concluded with one open-ended question. Cultural sensitivity was measured by issues such as labeling, feelings about past racial injustices, and how they saw racism in general. Institutional discrimination was measured by attitudes on neighborhood segregation, inter-racial intimate relationships, and trust of other races in responsible positions.
After the post-tests, it was noted that there was no measurable change for the control or the experimental group in regards to cultural sensitivity. In regards to institutional discrimination, for both groups as well, there was a very small increase in the number of those that answered with more discrimination and a very small decrease in the number of those that answered with less discrimination.
The most significant differences were reflected in the open-ended questions about how they felt about racial prejudice. Common feelings in both the control and experimental groups during the pre-test were sad, angry, frustrated, concerned, and determined. In the post-test, although most of the control group, expressed the same feelings as before, one had changed to sad and another changed to frustrated.
However, in the experimental group, after the post-test, three expressed being hopeful about real change being made. One, whose answers reflected more discrimination afterwards,
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
said, “I didn’t realize that I’m still so prejudiced.” Another participant, who previously had felt “frustrated and angry,” afterwards still felt frustrated, but now, “also hopeful that it can be discussed, is being discussed and by diverse collections of people. This is a step in a good direction.” One participant had previously seen the film The Color of Fear nine times. This same person afterwards felt “very frustrated.”
The concluding comments of all the participants in the group discussion of the experimental group are important to note: All could identify with the minority culture’s experience of powerlessness. There was an acknowledgement that “we are still fighting the racism that has been here from the beginning of the United States of America.” Afterwards, all were aware of white privilege, especially how the desirability of being white has ingrained itself in the institutions of this nation. It was stated that the way we are socialized teaches white supremacy.
The film was about the experience of eight men from various ethnic groups struggling with racism. It was noted that no female perspective was portrayed in the film and that the oppression of women and their experience of fear is also constant.
The group concluded by saying that what needs to be done is more education on racial and ethnic issues. There also need to be increased efforts made to teach how to communicate across cultural lines. With persistence and patience, all need to work on getting to know ourselves and how we respond to a culture of whiteness and the experience of others when they are different than our own. Finally, there needs to be persistence and patience in dismantling institutional racism, power, and privilege along racial and ethnic lines.
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
The researchers anticipated the results from the blue (experimental) group to show a greater cultural sensitivity and indication of lower levels of prejudicial attitudes than the red (control) group. While significant changes were not expected to be produced from one experience, the seminar was intended to be a step in the process of greater cultural sensitivity. If this proved true, similar seminars could become a part of other organized interventions to help build harmony in previously divided neighborhoods.
Although the number participating wasn’t large enough to show this in a quantitative way, this certainly was borne out by the ensuing discussion in a qualitative way. Whereas there was very little change in the open-ended questions of the control group, the experimental group indicated a greater hope for cultural sensitivity and overcoming racial prejudice in the future.
All present acknowledged, as Montleith (1993) did with her earlier research, that this is part of a process. Much more needs to be done. One of the group members stated that, in a way, the seminar was “preaching to the choir.” In other words, most of the participants who took the pre-test had previously scored high in cultural sensitivity. Yet all acknowledged the need for more seminars and workshops.
Most of change due to the seminar was reflected in the open-ended responses and the exchange of the ideas in the groups. As a result, the researchers of this project recommend a different format along Troost in the future. It would be ideal if all of the neighborhood housing associations could sponsor Focus Groups and Prejudice Workshops with their adjacent neighborhood housing group on the opposite side of Troost. These Focus Groups would be able to gather the collective wisdom, experience, and frustrations of residents in the area. Then, by
[Addendum 1: Troost Avenue: a Study in Prejudice Reduction (cont.)]
following up with the Prejudice Workshops applicable solutions could be provided on how to work through the points of frustration. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “No social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle” (King, 1983, p. 59).
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