Leon Jordan was one of Kansas City's most influential African Americans, a man whose career embraced law enforcement, bartending, and politics...and who was instrumental in founding one of the country's most important black civil rights organizations before being gunned down in a murder that remained a cold case until recently.
Biographer Robert Farnsworth discusses the life, death, and legacy of Leon Jordan on Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Jordan's life represents an all-American journey, a journey that might be viewed as ironic in light of the racial barriers he had to overcome.
Jordan joined the Kansas City Police Department in 1952, becoming the department's first African-American lieutenant. Beginning in 1947 he spent eight years training the police forces of Liberia.
In 1952 Jordan returned to Kansas City and the KCPD. Frustrated by the limited power afforded a black officer, he returned to Liberia. In the mid 1950s he came back to the Midwest and purchased the Green Duck Tavern at 25th and Prospect Avenue.
A Democratic Party committeeman, Jordan in 1962 co-founded Freedom, Inc., an organization advocating political awareness among the city's African Americans. Freedom organized massive voter registration drives and developed black political candidates. In 1963, Jordan was instrumental in the passage of an accommodations ordinance desegregating all public facilities in the city.
Jordan was three times elected to the Missouri House of Representatives and in 1970 was the most powerful black politician in the state when he was shot down in a gangland-style killing outside his tavern.
Jordan's murder was for decades one of the most notorious unsolved cases in the history of Kansas City crime. In 2010 reporters for the Kansas City Star uncovered evidence that the murder was committed as a favor to a rival political group under the influence of the Mafia.
Farnsworth is professor emeritus of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is the author of Leon Mercer Jordan, the Founder of Freedom, Inc.: Following in the Footsteps of His Father and Grandfather. Among his other books are Melvin B. Tolson: 1898-1966, Plain Talk and Poetic Prophecy and From Vagabond to Journalist: Edgar Snow in Asia, 1928-1941.
This event is co-sponsored by the UMKC Department of English.
Admission is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th & Baltimore.
This presentation is part of the Missouri Valley Sundays, a program of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Central Library. The series is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.