DATE OF EVENT: Sept. 18, 1948
DATE PUBLISHED: No story was published
Editor’s note: The integration of the University of Kansas City, which would later become the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was accomplished quietly. In fact, it was done so quietly that The Kansas City Star carried no report of what was for the time a momentous decision.
Brian Burnes, a reporter for The Star, recently asserted in his master’s thesis that the omission was intentional and was the result of a secret agreement between The Star, The Kansas City Call, which largely served the African-American community, and leaders of the university.
Burnes’ thesis, “The Kansas City Star/Times and its Coverage of the Civil Rights Movement Through 1964,” was dated 1998 and submitted as part of his graduate work in history at the University of Kansas.
In it, he described the desegregation decision this way:
Like many institutions of higher learning, the university had no written policy of discrimination toward blacks. Several events, however, led to the change in the custom, chief among them the 1947 application to the university’s school of law by Harold Holliday, a black veteran and holder of a master’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan. After his admission was denied, students and faculty members protested. A vote of the faculty 65-5 in favor of integration helped prompt a meeting of the school’s board of trustees who on Sept. 18, 1948, voted 14-2 to admit African-Americans.
(Kansas City Star president Roy A.) Roberts was a member of the board. Documents on file today in the university’s archives indeed record his vote in favor of integration.
Several sources suggest that the Star/Times’ principal role in the school’s integration, however, was to keep a lid on the story, apparently at the request of those involved. “We do not think any public announcement of this policy need be made,” the university’s school council president wrote (Clarence) Decker (president of the university) on Dec. 15, 1947. A 1982 University of Missouri-Kansas City alumni bulletin account of the transition specifically stated that The Star held back on the story.
“The transition was indeed carried out quietly and without fanfare,” the article said. “The Kansas City Star was persuaded not to feature any articles on the subject.” Still another account, by former faculty member Hugh Speer, said the same. “It was decided to move quickly and The Star was persuaded to keep silent,” he wrote.
A 1950 report by Decker to his faculty confirmed the complicity of Kansas City’s print press. “No publicity was given to the trustees’ actions,” Decker wrote. He also cited a summer 1950 Star editorial as evidence of Star/Times support of the general trend of integration in higher education. …
Finally, a 1954 book written by Decker and his wife, Mary Bell Decker, A Place of Light, insisted that the university itself controlled the integration story. “In response to repeated requests, the University finally permitted the newspapers to tell the story,” the book reads.
Considered in the worst possible light, the Star/Times may have been guilty of failing to report the integration of the local university, which apparently was the first secular school to do so in the Midwest, according to later accounts. Seen another way, however, the Star/Times acted in concert with The Kansas City Call in taking a careful path to integration. The Call did not mention Holliday’s status at the university’s law school until February 1949, several months after he initially had been accepted.
The Call listed the members of the university’s Board of Trustees, including Roberts, and described the intentional lack of publicity following the board’s vote: “There was no public announcement of the decision,” the story read. “The 24-man board simply believed that such a step was necessary to the full growth and development of the institution.”