Angry African Americans
Published 09/17/2009 - 10:35 p.m. CDT

Close to 100 years ago the Dominican Order of Preachers decided to build a church at 23rd and Benton Blvd. It was a grand design. Planners envisioned a huge English Gothic cathedral on the hill, towering over the city.

Build it and they will come seems to have been the thought since the Order was troubled by insufficient funding from the start. Nevertheless, in 1911 the work began, a basement was dug and a foundation built before funds were quickly depleted. So, the foundation was covered and not until 14 years later did work begin on the church again.

But, everybody knows that cathedrals take years, decades or even centuries to build. Just look at the world’s largest gothic cathedral St. John the Divine in New York City where work began in 1892. 117 years later, it’s still not completed or even anywhere close.

Different than, and perhaps reflecting less vision than, the grandest of grand plans for the Holy Name Catholic Church on Kansas City’s east side which quickly got scaled back and not just a bit which allowed Kansas City’s east side planners to “complete” the structure in 1925 at a cost of $175,000. ($100,000 of it borrowed and only a small portion ever repaid.) The massive central spire over the transept was, however, relegated to the scrapbook. Nevertheless, an impressive church had been built.

Then stuff happened. Federal highways were built. Large populations of people chose different neighborhoods. And, in 1968 just 43 years after the Holy Name Church was “completed” Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN.

Then, more stuff happened that led to a near riot before officials directed the excited teenagers to the basement of a church for a dance intended, one expects, to cool off their temperatures.

The young Rev. David K. Fly was there:

“As many as four hundred kids had made it back to the church where a dance was being held in the basement. As we watched, police units surrounded the church. I watched as they blocked the wooden basement doorways, so that no one could get out of the building and then began to throw tear gas through the squat little basement windows. I can still hear the screams of the kids as they were trapped inside the church. “

In this manner, hundreds of Kansas City’s youth were targeted. Already impacted by racial discrimination and the assassination of a leader they all considered a “family member” and at a “cooling off” dance. Perhaps, after the day’s dangerous dealings downtown, they were actually thinking they were doing the right thing. Calming down from an emotional day, not looting, just being young at a dance in the basement of a church.

Then the doors were locked and tear gas canisters broke through the basement windows.

Congratulations there. You’ve just earned the animosity of an entire generation on the east side. And that generation (who has now aged to their late 50’s) is the generation who is making most of the city planning and political decisions for the district which surrounds the Holy Name.

You expect them to play nice? I don’t. And, by-the-by, if I’d been there myself, I’d probably re-act the same.

Then more stuff happened. Troost Avenue was burning, the National Guard was called and a division was born.

Today, the owners of the Holy Name Catholic Church have (unlike the owners of St. John the Divine) filed for a demolition permit. Instead of preserving history, they seem to want to erase it.

And, in a recent opinion piece at the Kansas City Star, Lewis Diuguid told us what was now “cooking” around the east side’s (now meaning east of Troost) Vine District.

“The plan could include a journalism school tied to The Call, Disney studios, a genealogy center, a performance venue such as a pavilion for concerts, a barbecue museum and a black history education center.”

Kansas City’s east side, we all know, would benefit from the city’s best planning and development efforts.

But, a journalism school at The Call is a flat out lunatic idea.

The Disney Studios would likely be the fruition of efforts by a group known as Thank You Walt Disney who are working to preserve Laugh-O-Gram studios. That’s exactly what teenage boys need, teenage boys who carry handguns because they fear for their lives.

And, of course, a Black History Education center and a genealogy center sound good too so, why not invent six of them? The Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and now the Black Genealogy Center and the Black History Education Center? Never mind that we have an excellent public library and one of the nation’s “preeminent resources for family history” located nearby at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, MO

And, while we are at it, let’s go ahead and put up an $800,000 2-story neon sign atop a building that people now seem worried that said might not physically support.

What will the sign, which will probably will be seen from outer-space, lead our visiting aliens to? A Vine District where a beautiful and chic restaurant named The Peach Tree cannot survive. And, if the city planners have their will, a new Barbeque Museum!
There’s a public meeting on October 20th to finalize the plan which will then go to the City Council for consideration (Diuguid says approval) in 2010.

This writer hopes that Kansas City residents who believe that positive change is possible on the east side will attend that meeting in droves and ask the participants if any of them remember, or were told about, that afternoon in the basement of the Holy Name. Their answers just might help us begin to understand their very odd style of political leadership.

Diuguid’s article then concludes with this:

“Political will and interested developers are the missing ingredients.”
Thank God for that.

Doesn’t lack of interest from developers for this plan give any of them a clue?

But what really makes us angry is this. The current owners of the Holy Name Catholic Church have filed for a demolition permit.