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DATE OF EVENT: Tuesday, April 7, 1964

DATE PUBLISHED: Wednesday, April 8, 1964, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: The Kansas City City Council approved an ordinance in 1963 banning segregation in places of public accommodation. In a few months, enough petitions had been filed that the council decided to hold a referendum on it. The measure narrowly survived, but its passage and victory marked unprecedented support by white leaders for desegregation.

The 1963 ordinance extending equal treatment to all citizens in places of public accommodation was upheld yesterday by a 1,743-vote majority in an election which saw a surprising outpouring of voters.

With all 240 precincts reporting a total of 89,209 votes, the issue carried, 45,476 to 43,733.

The election was made necessary by a petition calling for a public referendum on the ordinance passed last September by the city council, extending prohibitions against racial discrimination. Enforcement at first was held up by a petition of intent and then by the demand for a referendum election.

The new ordinance now is effective immediately. It bans discrimination on account of race, color or creed in taverns, trade schools and hospitals or clinics. These facilities were added by this ordinance to places where such discrimination already was prohibited, such as hotels, motels and restaurants.

The number of votes went beyond all predictions, and this total for a special election was only about 9,000 behind the record 98,483 voters who turned out for a school bond election in 1950. …

The closeness of the vote surprised most political observers. It was clear the outcome was set in four heavily Negro wards, where powerful margins went for public accommodations.

It had been supported by unusual backing from church and religious organizations, as well as varied and numerous civic groups.

The organized opposition to the ordinance was led by the Kansas City Tavern Owners association and a group of citizens organized as the Association for Freedom of Choice.

Frank Martin, chief election clerk, said there were between 500 and 700 absentee votes as yet uncounted, not enough to change the outcome. …

The big majorities for the proposal in the Negro wards that decided the outcome of the election were in the 2nd, 14th and 17th wards. It also carried by good margins in three other predominantly white wards and by a thin margin of only 63 votes in the all-white ninth ward.

A volunteer group of Negroes and whites in the second ward worked for weeks getting Negroes to register and then carrying voters to the polls. The group, called Operation Freedom, had 178 workers yesterday. It was sponsored by the Christian Inner City council, the Presbyterian Interracial council and the Presbyterian Neighborhood center.

The heaviest majority against public accommodations came from the 21st ward, which includes all of Clay and Platte Counties that are in the city.

The voting there went 4,862 against to 2,613 for. …

The effect of the public accommodations referendum was to extend a ban on racial discrimination in hotels, motels and restaurants voted by the city council in 1960. The proposal voted on yesterday would widen that ban to include businesses that advertise to the public in general, to taverns, to hospitals, trade schools, public transportation facilities, public meeting halls or places of amusement.

Specifically excluded would be businesses performing personal services, such as barber and beauty shops as well as rented or leased apartments and boarding houses or private homes where rooms are rented.