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StoryCorps In Kansas City — Sisters Remember Growing Up Poor, But Happy, In Leeds

Earline Bentley and Cheryl Looney remembered their childhoods growing up in Kansas City's Leeds neighborhood.

StoryCorps' MobileBooth is in Kansas Cityuntil September to collect the stories and memories of residents. This is one in a series of stories KCUR has chosen to highlight.

Today, Kansas City's Leeds neighborhood is an industrial area near the Truman Sports Complex. But back in the 1940s and '50s, it was a self-contained black community.

"Leeds was a place where people from the deep south come up to live with their relatives to start a new life," said Earline Bentley, who grew up in Leeds with her sister Cheryl Looney.

"Like the African proverb, 'It takes a village,' Leeds was a village," said Looney. "We had our own grocery store, our own schools."

The sisters grew up poor — they laughed at the memory of running to the outhouse in the snow — but they both remember their childhoods fondly.

"I had a really, really almost magical childhood," said Looney. "I didn't realize we were poor until someone told me we were poor."

Though they may not have had much money, the sisters remember how their mother, Gertrude Gladys Williams Gillham, was one of the best-dressed residents of Leeds.

"I remember she said, 'You may not have a penny in your purse, but don't go out of this house looking like you don't have anything,'" said Looney.

Earline Bentley and Cheryl Looney recorded their experiences at the StoryCorps MobileBooth in August. 

Matthew Long-Middleton is a community producer for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @MLMIndustries.

Cody Newill is an audience development specialist for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
Matthew Long-Middleton has been a talk-show producer, community producer, Media Training Manager and now the Community Engagement Manager at KCUR. You can reach him at Matthew@kcur.org, or on Twitter @MLMIndustries.
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