The $74 million East Patrol police campus currently under construction will probably bear the name of the late civil rights leader Leon Jordan. The City Council will vote Thursday.
Restoring Jordan’s legacy is another matter. Something ugly stirred in many of the conversations about naming the new police campus after Jordan. It’s impossible to quickly summarize his 65 years of life, but the top markers are Jordan’s co-founding of the black political club Freedom Inc., his position as one of the city’s first African-American police detectives, his efforts to develop the police force in the West African nation of Liberia and his three terms in the Missouri House.
Numerous interpretations of Jordan’s life recently have referenced his “loose associations” with mob figures, most often when his 1970 murder is discussed.
Context, that’s what’s been missing. And details.
Before Freedom’s founding in 1962, black votes were often delivered, not cast. Black neighborhoods were told whom to vote for by ward bosses, who in turn were sometimes controlled by Italian mob influence.
So, of course, Jordan angered and knew many questionable characters of the day. But he was not in cahoots with the mob, nor with a group that called itself the Black Mafia but didn’t have anywhere near the same clout.
Control mattered, no matter whether it was a real estate deal, a job offer or who was elected. Jordan helped break that system and became powerful himself politically in ways that are difficult to imagine today.
Kansas City police believe Jordan was fatally shot in 1970 by James “Doc” Dearborn, who was part of the Black Mafia. Dearborn was murdered in 1985.
One of Jordan’s greatest shortcomings was not grasping the extent of Dearborn’s criminality until it was too late, said Robert Farnsworth, who has spent a decade chronicling Jordan’s life. Jordan did eventually distance himself when he was forced to confront Dearborn’s connections with drug dealing, which Jordan despised.
Jordan’s other downfall was his womanizing. That might have also been a factor in his death. And there is a significant thread of how he ran up against the influence of crime bosses as a state representative.
Who knows how long heavy-handed political patronage would have ruled if not for Jordan? For that, putting his name on a sign is appropriate. But Kansas Citians would be even better served if they understood the complicated history of this local legend.