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Three Prized Possessions From Kansas City's Black Archives

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The Black Archives of Mid-America

The Black Archives of Mid-America has provided a place to learn about African-American history in Kansas City, Mo., for the past four decades.  

And during that time, it has amassed a vast collection of papers, photographs and even physical structures to show what life was like as a black Kansas Citian. 

As the organization celebrates its 40th anniversary this week, we wanted to know more about the types of materials in the collection that started in 1974, when Horace Peterson III founded the Black Archives.

See a timeline looking back at the organization's past 40 years.

We sat down with Michael Sweeney, the Black Archive’s collection librarian, to go over some of the organization's key finds that he's highlighted in a new exhibit on display in honor of the organization's 40th anniversary.

The week-long celebration is taking place at its building, at 1722 E. 17th Terrace in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District. For a schedule of events, see the Black Archives' website

Here are some of the most prominent pieces from the 40-year collection, according to Sweeney: 

Juneteenth 

Juneteenth celebrations commemorate on June 19, 1865, when the last slaves heard about the Emancipation Proclamation — two and a half years after it became law.

Although some people claim Kansas City’s celebrations began in 1980, Sweeney said the earliest evidence of the Black Archives' involvement that he could find is from 1982.

In the past, the Juneteenth festival has included a parade, live music and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. The activities usually centered around a theme like education, politics or health.

Lucy’s Cabin 

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The Black Archives of Mid-America

The group's founder acquired a former slave cabin from a genealogist in Trenton, Mo., in 1977. He took it apart and brought it back to the archives, where it became the centerpiece of the museum in 1981.

The cabin is one-fourth the size of the original because of the transfer.

Lucy Willis, a slave in Grundy County, lived in the cabin in the mid-1800s. Horace Peterson hosted a reunion of her descendants in 1987. 

“(The cabin) provides a way to talk about slavery in Missouri,” Sweeney said. “A lot of people don’t know that this was a slave state.”

Oral Histories 

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The Black Archives of Mid-America

As a part of the first research project the Black Archives conducted in 1975, researchers recorded oral histories of some of the community’s prominent black members. 

Most of the histories are available for listening at the Archives by appointment.

Some descriptions of the conversations are available online, however.

One history features James Anderson, a friend of Peterson who owned a shop that he advertised as “Kansas City’s Smallest Free Museum.”

When Anderson died, he left many of his store’s items to the Black Archives, which “formed the initial nucleus” of the collection, according to Sweeney.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost Avenue with KCUR

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