Missouri became a state in 1821. Then, after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the North and South flooded the territory that is now Kansas as the issue of whether it would enter the United States as a “free” or “slave” state was settled. The violence that ensued led it to be called “Bleeding Kansas.”
Today, we think about the so-called Border War in more benign and often sports-related terms, particularly when the Jayhawks and the MU Tigers play. It is a less frequent occurrence now that MU has joined the SEC, but still brings out strong emotions when squads from the two schools meet. For perfect clarity, it’s not TX-OU level emotion, but passions still run pretty high when both teams are good.
Freedom’s Frontier is an organization dedicated to making sure that the history surrounding the Kansas-Missouri border, beyond the playing field, is not forgotten. Recently, they selected my work on the Negro Leagues as the middle school recipient of the Freedom’s Frontier Award. It is a great honor.
In my presentation entitled “An Exploration of the Negro Leagues”, I framed the idea that Kansas City should be seen a critical place in the forward march of civil rights. Mr. Bob Kendrick, CEO of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, introduced me to this idea and a number of local historians such as Larry Lester reinforced it. Within a 50-mile radius of Kansas City, three seminal events come to life. The Truman Library allows people to understand the importance of Truman’s decision to integrate the military. At Monroe Elementary School, you can learn about the events that led to Brown versus Board of Education. Finally, Jackie Robinson started his playing career with the Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs were one of the original teams in the Negro Leagues with the founding meeting held at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Negro Leagues were a driving force for racial integration. The games that they played not just in Kansas City, but in exhibition games in small towns in KS and MO, brought blacks and whites together. As white Americans saw black athletes playing at the highest levels and enjoying a game that they also loved, it changed the course of baseball and the country.
It is exciting to be selected by Freedom’s Frontier for this award. Many other individuals deserve the credit for this recognition, including my teacher and advisor Dan O’Connell. I received $250 and will be donating this money to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum as a small gesture to help Mr. Kendrick and his team continue their important work. As you travel this summer, please keep the museum in mind. I also encourage you to look at the Freedom’s Frontier website if you are interested in learning more about this organization and the events that shaped the Kansas-Missouri border.