Top of page

Honoring African American Contributions to the Heartland

Share this post:

This guest post was authored by 2020 Junior Fellow Sophia Southard, University of Kansas Graduate, B.A. in History. This is another in a series looking at African Americans in business and the sciences.

When the 2020 Junior Fellows internship went virtual, I was nervous and uncertain, but I was still nonetheless excited. I was also incredibly lucky that the project I applied and interviewed for, a project related to African American Business and Entrepreneurship, remained the same.

I was fortunate to find myself paired with my project mentor, Lynn Weinstein, who allowed me to explore my own interests and write a series of blogs on everything from African American midwives and nurses to Chinese Americans and African Americans on the Western frontier to African American entrepreneurs in the beauty, hair, and fashion industries. I was also fortunate that she allowed me to help contribute to a Research Guide on the History of African American Business and Entrepreneurship.

Advertisement for the Overton-Hygienic Manufacturing Company, with the tag line Youth and Freshness. The ad notes that there are seven different shades of Overton's high brown face powder from which to choose or blend.
Sunday Chicago Bee. 05 Dec. 1943. sn82015409/1943-12-05/ed-1/seq-13/

To learn more about the 2020 Junior Fellows internship, visit Display Day 2020.

For this  blog post, I wanted to highlight African American history in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, as well as a few quotes that caught my eye the most during the research process.

Born into slavery in 1865, Anthony Overton became a leading African American entrepreneur during the twentieth century with the establishment of his Chicago-based empire. However, before moving his business to Chicago, Overton had his start right here in Missouri and Kansas. Overton had even owned a fruit and grocery store in Topeka, Kansas for a short time. In 1898, Overton created the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company, based in Kansas City, Missouri. The company sold baking powder, cosmetics, perfumes, and toiletries. In addition to his manufacturing company, Overton established The Douglass National Bank, The Victory Life Insurance Company, The Half-Century Magazine, The Chicago Bee, and The Great Northern Realty Company.

One photo shows the boarded up exterior of the Star Theater, the second shows the interior space with crumbling ceiling and dilapidated structure. The Theater seats are all stored in the center of the picture.
Star Theater, 1615-1617 East Eighteenth Street, Kansas City, Jackson County, MO. Historic American Buildings Survey.

Learn more:

Built in 1912 as a silent movie theater, the Star Theater served Kansas City’s African American population. Renamed the Gem only a year later, the theater continues to be known by this name today. By 1929, when motion pictures were no longer silent, the Gem had become a popular destination in the city’s 18th and Vine commercial district. Unfortunately, in 1960, its reign as a popular and leading movie theater within the African American community ended. However, during the 1980s, the city restored the Gem and it is used today as a performing arts center.

An advertisement to the Gem Theater in conjunction with an advertisement for L.L. Lane, Mer. Tailor.
Monroe City Democrat. (Monroe City, Mo.), 14 March 1912.

Learn more:

Group portrait of players from the Monarchs and the Hilldale baseball teams in front of grandstands filled with spectators before the opening game in Kansas City of the 1924 World Series.
First colored world series between the players from the Monarchs and the Hilldale baseball teams. Opening game Oct. 11, 1924, Kansas City, Mo. / photo by J.E. Mille[r], K.C.
On October 11, 1924, the first colored world series took place in Kansas City, Missouri, home of the famed and celebrated Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs, champion of the Negro National League, competed against Hilldale, champion of the Eastern Colored League. In a series that stretched out for a total of ten games, the Monarchs beat Hilldale 5-4, with 1 game ending in a tie. As with the world series today, ticket prices were inflated, with tickets set at $1.00 and $1.65 for general admission and box seats, respectively. Normally, tickets only cost $0.35 and $0.85.

In the October 25, 1924, issue of The Richmond Planet, the writer reported;

Playing the last games of the East West world series, the Kansas City club faces the Hilldale ball tossers on even terms, following one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the diamond sport. Outclassed three games to one and practically out of the running following the first game in Kansas City, the Monarchs, fighting before a friendly home crowd, and realizing they must win if they hoped to stay in the running, the club came back on Sunday and Tuesday, evening up the series, and forcing the play to Chicago where the winner will eventually be decided.

The Kansas City Monarchs enjoy a rich history in Kansas City. Besides winning the first colored world series, Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play on a Major League Baseball team, played for the Monarchs for 5 months before joining the MLB team Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945.

Learn more:


In the first issue of Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper, the newspaper editors, John Brown Russwurm and Samuel Cornish, wrote, “We wish to plead our case. Too long have others spoken for us.” So, with that in mind, I will end this blog with a few remarkable quotes from a few remarkable African Americans.

From the memoir of Susie King Taylor, the first recognized African American army nurse:

Taylor concludes Reminiscences of My Life in Camp by writing;

… My people are striving to attain the full standard of all other races born free in the sight of God, and in a number of instances have succeeded. Justice we ask—to be citizens of these United States, where so many of our people have shed their blood with their white comrades, that the stars and stripes should never be polluted.

Frederick Douglass:

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.  Attributed

Lonnie Bunch said in a conversation with Carla Hayden: 

I realized that African American history was too important to be just in the hands of an African American community. That it really had lessons for all Americans and it really profoundly shaped everything and who we are.

Do you want more stories like this? Then subscribe to Inside Adams — it’s free!

Comments (2)

  1. Such a rich legacy for Black communities. Why is there such a vast decay in 21st Century Black communities?

  2. Thank you so much for writing this piece. I learned so much from it about Kansas City. Knowing all of what you shared I look forward to visiting one day and learning more about the city’s African American history. Thank you so much again for sharing your work 🙂

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.