Dave Helling

Dave Helling: Remembering Joelouis Mattox

Remembering the military roles of African-Americans in World War I

More than 350,000 African-Americans served in the armed forces during World War I, defending democracy and rights they were denied at home. Army veterans Sidney Malone and Joe Mattox, members of the American Legion Wayne Miner Post 149 in Kansas C
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More than 350,000 African-Americans served in the armed forces during World War I, defending democracy and rights they were denied at home. Army veterans Sidney Malone and Joe Mattox, members of the American Legion Wayne Miner Post 149 in Kansas C

I first met Joelouis Mattox in 2010. He wanted to name the Troost Bridge at Brush Creek for two icons of Kansas City, broadcaster Walt Bodine and former Kansas City Councilman Alvin Brooks.

“Troost has historically been the racial dividing line,” he said. “Two people who have worked over the years to improve race relations have been Walt Bodine and Alvin Brooks.”

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Both said they were honored by the effort. Yet for reasons that remain mysterious, the renaming plan never took off.

The two men should be remembered. For now, though, I’ve got a better name for the structure: the Joelouis Mattox Bridge.

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Mattox died this week. He was Kansas City’s historian of race and class, working tirelessly to find a path here for everyone.

He often could be found at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center, teaching visitors about the tangled past of area race relations.

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“Keep a level head when you hear racists on the radio and television,” he once wrote. “If you’re African American, become a banker, doctor, educator, entrepreneur, lawmaker, writer or a community organizer.”

The Troost Bridge should stand as a monument to Joelouis Mattox, who tried to bridge our differences.

Dave Helling, dhelling@kcstar.com

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