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Arts & Life

You'll soon be able to find more Black Kansas Citians on Wikipedia

People are gathered around a table, working on computers and editing Wikipedia articles for an edit-a-thon.
Kansas City Public Library
The public library is holding virtual edit-a-thons during the pandemic to allow contributors to edit a certain topic on Wikipedia together.

Wikipedia, which seemingly has an entry for everything, lacks information on historic Black Kansas Citians. The Kansas City Library is mobilizing a group of volunteers to fix that.

With the help of local volunteers, the Kansas City Public Library is working to add more information about historic Black Kansas Citians to Wikipedia, as part of a larger effort to close the site’s gap in representation.

The Kansas City Public Library, in partnership with the Black Archives of Mid-America, hosted an “edit-a-thon” on Saturday to write or improve articles about local Black figures to the online encyclopedia.

Junius Groves was born enslaved in Kentucky but made himself into the "Potato King" as a farmer in Edwardsville, Kansas.
Wikimedia Commons
Junius Groves was born enslaved in Kentucky but made himself into the "Potato King" as a farmer in Edwardsville, Kansas.

Carmaletta Williams, BAMA’s executive director, curated the list of potential entries based on information from the 2021 "Kansas City Black History" publication. That project was created by BAMA, the Local Investment Commission (LINC), and the Kansas City Public Library.

“We want to make sure that people feel themselves represented here," Williams said. "Same thing with Wikipedia, you want to make sure that as many people as possible feel that they're represented there."

Out of the 77 individuals included in the Black Archives project, 54% already had their own Wikipedia articles and 45% did not. But even the ones who did have articles may be lacking information.

At Saturday's online event, Williams presented two figures that she said are often slighted when it comes to Black history, saying she'd like to see them have “great, big, thick entries.”

One was Junius Groves, a farmer, landowner and businessman who was one of the wealthiest African Americans of the early 20th century. Born enslaved in Kentucky, Groves came to Kansas in 1879 to work as a farmhand.

Eventually known as “The Potato King of the World,” he found success in the 80 acres of land he purchased in Edwardsville and other financial ventures. His accomplishments were recognized by the Kansas Business Hall of Fame, who inducted him as a historical honoree this July.

Sarah Rector, who died in 1967 in Kansas City, was once known as the wealthiest Black girl in the world.
American Magazine, Jan-June 1915
Sarah Rector, who died in 1967 in Kansas City, was once known as the wealthiest Black girl in the world.

Williams noted that she’d also like editors to take a closer look into Groves’ wife, Matilda, whose backstory is not as well known.

“We know that he was an entrepreneur, agriculturalist, etc., but she has a story too,” Williams said.

Williams also highlighted Sarah Rector, who was known at one point as the richest Black woman in the country before settling in Kansas City. United Inner-City Services, a local nonprofit, is now trying to restore her home on 12th Street.

Miranda Pratt, the library's designated Wikipedian-In-Residence, said the online encyclopedia has a racial and gender bias, resulting in these gaps of content. Pratt said that’s in part because the majority of the site’s contributors are white and male.

Pratt said these volunteer-driven editing events are helping to fill that gap.

“These edit-a-thons will help people come together around topics that often close these content gaps or help close them and people can also learn more about local history or different topics at the same time,” Pratt said.

The "edit-a-thon" also taught volunteers the basics of making edits on Wikipedia, which can be a complicated process. Pratt said they were able to get a lot of work done during Saturday's event, but people will probably continue to edit entries over the next few days.

Volunteers can reconnect at the library’s first online “Wikipedia Meetup” this Tuesday, where they can ask questions and share what they’re working on.

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