Library, KCPT, and KSHB Team Up for Public Event Looking Back at the 1968 Riots

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Courtney Lewis
Library, KCPT, and KSHB Team Up for Public Event Looking Back at the 1968 Riots

Kansas City, MO – The Kansas City Public Library, in collaboration with KCPT-Kansas City PBS and KSHB-41 Action News, is hosting a two-pronged event marking 50 years since the deadly 1968 riot in Kansas City.

On Monday, March 26, 2018, the public is invited to attend Strife in the Streets: Kansas City Remembers 1968 at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St., at 6:30 p.m.

The event features the premiere screening of the new documentary short '68: The Kansas City Race Riots, Then and Now, co-produced by KSHB and KCPT. A subsequent panel discussion, featuring Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Mayor Sly James, and former city council member and longtime community activist Alvin Brooks, will address the lessons learned from the violent chapter of history, from the role of policing to the value of protest. 

Joining Cleaver and Brooks on the panel: Clarence Gibson, the last Kansas City police officer at the time of the unrest who remains on the force; Linda Spence, a Central High School student in 1968; and Southeast Missouri State University historian Joel Rhodes, who has extensively researched the episode. KCPT’s Nick Haines moderates.

This is a difficult but indelible chapter in our city’s history, and remembrance is vital. There are lessons that, we think, remain to be learned,” says Carrie Coogan, the library's Deputy Director for Public Affairs and Community Engagement. “The Kansas City Public Library takes pride in serving as place where the community comes together to have these kinds of conversations about our experiences, our differences, and how we can move forward together. Our signature programming, complemented by a traveling exhibit, will look further at race in Kansas City this year, and we hope that people will come, participate in the discussions, and help shape the road ahead.”

Frustrated with the slow pace of civil rights reforms and outraged at the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., protesters took to Kansas City’s streets on April 9, 1968. The four subsequent days of civil unrest shocked many in a city known for its lack of racial violence despite deep, underlying tensions. Six people – all African-Americans – died, some 20 more were hospitalized, and arrests totaled nearly 300. A three-block area of Prospect Avenue was bombed out and burned down.

The documentary includes remarkable footage from the disturbance, including a number of striking images from the LaBudde Special Collections at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Missouri State Archives. 

“Everyday,” says KCPT’s Haines, “I meet a new person with an interesting take on what happened. From why officials in Johnson County, Kansas, declared ‘a state of emergency’ as the riots played out across the state line to the distinguished Kansas Citian who is embarrassed to share how, as a young boy, he stole candy from one of the bombed-out stores.”

KSHB News Director Carrie Hoffman says she hopes the documentary screening will effectively mark an important milestone for Kansas City. “We wanted to give Kansas Citians a chance to reflect back on this challenging time and how it has impacted where the city is today and what still needs to evolve,” she says. “Almost 50 years later, we are having the same debates and the same problems in our community.” 

KCPT also will make its Storybooth available to patrons who want to share and record their recollections of the uprising in 1968 and the impact it had on their lives.

The event is free.