Latest news

What matters when it comes to history? It all depends on whom you ask

The president of the United States read the history articles in The Kansas City Star, and he had a few recollections, corrections and opinions.

“Dear Roy,” Harry Truman wrote to Roy Roberts, then president of The Star. It was June 1950, and the newspaper had recently published a series of stories about Kansas City turning 100.

“I wish you’d had somebody talk to me about some of the events mentioned and the some of the pictures displayed,” Truman wrote, and then he ticked off about a dozen events and historic sidelights he thought were worthy of more attention. After all, these things happened during his childhood; they must have mattered.

Indeed, if news is whatever happens close to us, then that must be true of history, too.

So, how to sort out what matters?

In this look back at the times and events since the newspaper’s founding in 1880, the mission was to chronicle the major moments of greater Kansas City through stories as presented in The Star and it’s former sister paper, The Kansas City Times.

Selecting the stories

Accounts of more than 250 news events were compiled from history books, academic theses, Web sites and archives of The Kansas City Star. A panel of area residents agreed to review the story capsules and cut them to 125.

Panelists were drawn from many walks of life, an array of neighborhoods, and were of differing occupations and ages. Some were historians; most weren’t. (Brief profiles of the participants appear on F-63.)

Their cuts and suggestions shaped the final 125, which editors divided into five categories.

That’s when yesterday’s news met today’s technology.

The list was published on KansasCity.com and in The Star on July 24.

Readers were asked to weigh in, selecting five stories in each category. Hundreds of readers did so.

The results appear today.

About the stories

Abridged versions of the top stories are included. Those stories are designated as #1, #2 or #3. The next seven stories in each category also are listed.

The abridged stories were edited for typographical errors and length. Otherwise, they appear as written and under the original headlines.

There were gaps in the list of 125, of course.

Anytime a compendium of 250 stories is reduced by half, inevitably something notable is left on the cutting-room floor. Of course, the top three stories could never paint a fully rounded picture of the last century and a quarter — partly because the stories are few, partly because they were chosen by reader-voters, like you, who view historic events through the 21st-century lens of our lives. Other stories, features and top-of-the-page glimpses (designers call those “balconies”) help patch a few holes in the historic record.

Words of warning

The language of the stories is that of their era, and readers may find some phrases insensitive, especially racial references.

Also, occasionally you will be baffled, as editors were.

For example, the attack on Pearl Harbor is reported in that story as occurring at “7:35 a.m. Hawaiian time, or 12:05 p.m., Kansas City time,” as if time zones did not exist. The discrepancy stands, a testament to a day of shock and chaos.

On the other hand, the account of Super Bowl I no longer makes its first reference to the Chiefs’ rivals as “the Green Pay Packers.” That was changed for this section — but not before the reporter who wrote the story 38 years ago was queried to make sure the “Pay” wasn’t some play on words that sports fans of the era would have understood.

Finally, The Star lived in a segregated world until the 1950s.

Except when it came to crime, scant coverage was given to African Americans or their neighborhoods. Those who relied solely on The Star for news would know little or nothing of the life of Chester A. Franklin, who in 1919 started the Kansas City Call, or the remarkable Thomas C. Unthank, a physician who, with little financial or civic support, founded two hospitals before World War I.

And then there was jazz.

Little can be found in The Star about Kansas City’s music scene until the 1950s. Before then, the newspaper seemed to have its favorites, notably Cab Calloway of “Minnie the Moocher” fame, and in the ’20s and ’30s would write about jazz bands scheduled to appear on its radio station, WDAF. Otherwise, there’s not much, as scholars have documented.

The neglect was no doubt due in part to racial bias, but cultural myopia figured in. The rise of white rock ’n’ roll, too, was not seen as newsworthy in the 1950s.

On the Web

Beyond the material printed here, there’s much more at KansasCity.com. There you’ll find the transcripts of all 125 notable local stories and the top ten national and international stories. To read them, and to see other unique content and photographs, go to www.kansascity.com/starhistory.

  Comments