Lewis Diuguid

Freedom Inc. survives, thrives despite new challenges long after its founders and officers have died

Five of the founding members of Freedom Inc. look over a map of the city's 14th Ward. The 14th, Freedom's home base, delivered a 97.8 percent majority for the 1964 public accommodations referendum, the highest of any ward. From left: Charles Moore, Fred Curls, Leon Jordan, Bruce Watkins and Howard Maupin.
Five of the founding members of Freedom Inc. look over a map of the city's 14th Ward. The 14th, Freedom's home base, delivered a 97.8 percent majority for the 1964 public accommodations referendum, the highest of any ward. From left: Charles Moore, Fred Curls, Leon Jordan, Bruce Watkins and Howard Maupin. PHOTO COURTESY OF FRED CURLS

Over the years people have pronounced last rites over Freedom Inc., a black political organization in the Kansas City area.

That would follow one of the founders dying or an officer in Freedom getting into political, legal or personal trouble. Each time some folks were ready to say Freedom was dead and gone, it would rise like Lazarus and be even stronger than before.

An African American official whom Freedom helped win an elected office explained that Freedom won’t ever die because it’s more than a political club in the black community. It’s an ideal built on the foundation of attaining constitutional and human rights through unity.

Fred Curls’ death on Friday at age 96 brought back that notion. In 1961 and 1962, Curls with a few other influential African Americans in Kansas City, including Leon Jordan and Bruce Watkins founded Freedom to give black people political strength and power in this town and throughout the state.

Freedom registered voters, backed civil rights efforts and elevated black candidates to elected office, including seats on the school board, City Council, Jackson County Legislature, Kansas City mayor, Missouri state House and Senate seats and Congress. Freedom has survived and thrived long after its founders have passed.

Integration, which Freedom helped achieve for African Americans, has been its biggest challenge. Black people have moved from densely packed neighborhoods that were segregated by law into areas that had been all white.

The dispersal of people from the 5th and 3rd districts in Kansas City has diffused Freedom’s voting strength. As more African Americans have left Kansas City altogether for the suburbs, Freedom, like black churches and the black press has grappled even more to maintain its political viability.

But it has managed to continue for the same reason that it was founded in the first place.

New people have stepped forward to maintain Freedom’s strength. They always will.

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