If Kansas City kicked back on a shrink's couch for psychoanalysis, this church would definitely play a role in its most repressed, battle-scarred memories.
That's something I learned Tuesday night at a lecture by Dr. Jacob Wagner, a professor at UMKC who teaches Urban Planning and Design. In front of a diverse sprinkling of folks at the ScionLAB, Wagner discussed Kansas City's tendency to demolish important historical structures. He pressed us to consider the greater meaning behind which buildings are torn down, which buildings are saved, and what new structures are built in a city.
Wagner shared the history of the Holy Name Catholic Church building at 23rd Street and Benton Boulevard, which, miraculously, is still standing. I found the building's National Historic Register paperwork online, and it tells the same story:
According to the historic register documents, Holy Name Catholic Church was built in phases between 1911 and 1928. In 1948, when racial discrimination in real estate covenants was outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the racial makeup of the neighborhood began to change. More black families moved in, and many white families left. In 1951, financial strain forced Holy Name to merge with a nearby black church, Holy Spirit Parish. The church became integrated.
"It was the changing demographics of the neighborhood, as well as the parish's desire to serve the local population that lead to its involvement in the riots that broke out in Kansas City on April 9, 1968," the documents read.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Public schools in Kansas City, Kansas, canceled classes on April 9, MLK's funeral, to honor the fallen civil rights leader. But Kansas City, Missouri, public schools didn't follow suit, angering students. On the 9th, more than 200 Lincoln High School students cut class and marched south, joining with Central, Paseo and Manual High students. The plan was to converge on City Hall and demand an apology from Mayor Illus Davis.
The police, responding to reports of broken windows and overturned cars, moved into "tactical alert" and maced marching students at 34th and Indiana. The marchers were met at City Hall by city police, state troopers and National Guardsmen in riot gear.
To diffuse the tension, radio station KPRS (the first African-American-owned station west of the Mississippi) announced that a dance would be held in the basement of Holy Name Catholic Church, where the Carter Broadcast Group had been operating since 1953. They planned to bus marchers from City Hall to the church. Several hundred of the approximately 1,000 marchers left City Hall on buses for the dance.
But no one told the police that there was a dance at Holy Name. Responding to a disturbance call from a neighbor in the area, police shot teargas cannisters into the church's basement, causing mass confusion inside. News of the incident fueled the riots going on elsewhere in the city, which went on for several days. In the end, six people were killed, more than 100 people were arrested, and at least 150 fires were set throughout the city, causing more than $4 million in property damage.
Holy Name continued on as a church after the riots, but congregations dwindled, the building changed hands, and by the mid-'80s, it was completely abandoned. In 2001, the New Day Missionary Baptist Church purchased the building and secured its registration on the National Register of Historic Places. And it appears that Durwin Rice (of Tulips on Troost) has taken an interest in preserving the church's interior.
Photo via www.curmudgeonkc.blogspot.com.