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When Civil Rights Movement Marched Forward, The Kansas City Star Lagged Behind

“We don’t need stories about these people,” The Star’s top editor reportedly told one of his reporters.

Overcoat buttoned up, fedora pulled down tight, an older Black man with a wooden leg hobbled through the slush clutching a sign to his chest demanding justice.

“We protest racial discrimination in the serving of customers at the cafeteria or restaurants in this store,” said the placard Ernest Robbins clung to that freezing night in January 1959.

Macy’s, Jones and three other downtown Kansas City department stores were glad to sell Robbins and other Black shoppers clothes, dishes and linens. But the stores’ dining rooms were off limits to people of color.

Municipal Auditorium had been open to all races for nearly a decade. The Swope Park swimming pool had been integrated by court order several years earlier.

But Jim Crow still lived large in parts of Kansas City and, like the department store dining rooms, hundreds of bars and restaurants were still whites-only when a reporter for The Call newspaper interviewed Robbins and snapped his picture.

“I take my wooden leg and my 74-year-old body and walk on the picket line with and for my people,” Robbins said in the article below his photograph on the front page of the Jan. 30 edition.

Over the course of the seven-week boycott that began 10 days before Christmas of 1958, the Black-owned weekly, a champion of civil rights since its founding in 1919, published dozens of stories and photos about the marches downtown. At least three editorials called for justice and equality in the store dining rooms.

The Kansas City Star and Times opinion pages didn’t make a peep. Had your only source of news been the city’s big daily papers, you’d hardly have known any of it was going on.

The jointly owned afternoon Star and morning Times were late to the boycott story and gave it scant coverage throughout the entire struggle. Readers of the Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press learned about the protest five days before The Star published its first article: a four-paragraph story in the bottom left corner of a front page filled with more than a dozen other stories.

Read entire article at Kansas City Star