Thursday, February 19, 2004

Women, Race & Kansas City

I had the opportunity this morning to attend a breakfast at which Sherry Lamb Schirmer, the author of A City Divided: The Racial Landscape of Kansas City, 1900-1960 delivered a sobering speech about how deeply race has divided our city, and how much the tradition of "Kansas City nice" has kept race from being addressed directly in our conversations. Duke Ellington was arrested in this city for riding in a convertible with a lighter-skinned woman. If a black man was seen by the police with a lighter-skinned woman, it was common for them to be brought into the police station for a "fingernail check", on the theory that black women do not have a halfmoon of white at the base of their fingernail. (Is this true? I've never heard of that, or noticed it.)

What is shocking to me is how recent this is. Ruth Margolin was at the breakfast, and spoke of needing to seek out opportunities for her children to interact with other races. During the lifetime of my parents, prostitution was shut down in the downtown red light district, but was allowed to flourish in the black areas, including the vicinity of Lincoln High School.


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