Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross remembers that he was a 16-year-old high school student in 1963 in deeply segregated Arkansas when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.
“I could relate to the dream more than some people,” Ross said. King worked defiantly to dismantle racism and segregation.
“He did not accept what was wrong,” said Ross, whose father worked at a saw mill. “He did it in a nonviolent way. It took courage.”
Ross is a former Missouri House Republican Whip, vice chairman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, a Blue Springs alderman and mayor pro tem. He has always identified with King’s resistance and the civil rights movement.
Ross resisted as a teen when he drank from a whites-only water fountain and used a whites-only restroom in Arkansas. He did work at white people’s homes and used the front door instead of the back.
“My attitude was I should be able to drink out of any fountain I want to drink from,” said Ross, who retired from Hallmark Cards after 39 years. “I was smart enough to know there was injustice.”
Education was Ross’ way to a better life. He spent two years at Arkansas AM&N College in Pine Bluff before following his brothers to Kansas City for work.
He got on at Hallmark Cards Inc. in 1966 as a stock handler. But then a draft notice came, resulting in two years in the Army and the Vietnam War.
“King was actually killed while I was in Vietnam,” said Ross, who joins others for this column series looking at 50 years of civil rights advances while sharing a vision for the next half-century. “To me he was one of the greatest in inspiring people who have affected my life. I can sit and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speeches all day without getting bored.
“A lot of that resonated. I am living Dr. King’s dream — of a person being judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin. I’m of the belief you can accomplish anything if you set your heart to it and work hard.”
When Ross returned from Vietnam, Hallmark offered him his old job back. But he told human resource officials if that’s the best they could do they could keep it.
He was given an administrative position. He also got his degree from Rockhurst College in 1977. He was first elected to the Blue Springs Board of Aldermen in 1981 and the Missouri House in 1988, serving until 2002 and then mayor in 2008.
Honesty, dedication and a spiritual commitment drive Ross. Those virtues keep him going, and they radiate far beyond the color of his skin.
People are attracted to him as the first black mayor of Blue Springs because he has the ability to get things done. The city was losing sales tax revenue to Lee’s Summit and Independence.
Under Ross, Adam’s Dairy Landing was built with other retail on Missouri 7 so people who lived in Blue Springs could shop in the city. Now Ross is planning an innovation campus so people in town can get good jobs near home.
He also is elevating African-Americans in town to seats on boards and commissions. Exposure is the key to eliminating biases, building a leadership core for the future and role models for young people.
The next half-century for African-Americans, Ross said, will be built on relationships like the ones King forged in the civil rights movement. Ross also said race won’t be a concern.
Continued increases in interracial relationships with multiracial children will make race irrelevant. By then people will know that fighting over race will impair the country’s global competitiveness.
King knew it decades ago. The rest of America will awaken to that fact by 2063.