African Americans in the Kansas City Area
York, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and William Clark’s slave, was probably the first black person to set foot in what is now Kansas City on June 26, 1804. As fur traders, explorers, and settlers moved into the area, African Americans were among them - most, however, as slaves. In the late 1850s, many came through seeking freedom via the Underground Railroad, crossing the Missouri River to Quindaro, Kansas, a headquarters for free-state advocates. In the late 1870s, “Exodusters” often passed through the Kansas City area as they traveled northwest from the Deep South.
Some early notable African Americans include Hiram Young, described as one of the richest men in Jackson County by 1860. Born into slavery, he purchased his freedom in Lafayette County, Missouri. Young moved to Independence in 1850 as a wagon-maker where he helped other slaves earn their freedom. Tom Bass, a slave from Columbia, Missouri, came to Kansas City in 1893. Bass was not only a horse trainer and founder of the American Royal Horse Show, but inventor of the Bass bit. Lafayette Tillman was a soldier, scholar, and one of the first African Americans appointed to the police force. Josephine Silone Yates was a teacher, professor, clubwoman, writer, and prominent speaker in racial uplift in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Information about the African American experience in the Kansas City area can be found by searching the Library’s online catalog and the Missouri Valley Special Collections Local History Index. Several important collections are described below. The Missouri Valley Room continues to add material focusing primarily, but not solely, on African Americans in the Kansas City region. We welcome donations and materials to augment this valuable resource. Call (816.701.3427) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Selected Kansas City African American History Resources
Information about the John Ramos Collection in the Missouri Valley Room.