COLUMN: Editor, publisher Lucile Bluford promoted justice, equality

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:43 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In 1987 Congress expanded Women’s History week, and March is now National Women’s History Month. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Writing Women Back Into History.” The woman who is the subject of this column did that for herself during her lifetime. The late Lucile Bluford, former editor and publisher of the African American weekly newspaper, the Kansas City Call, was truly a legend in her own time.

Born in Salisbury, N.C., Bluford moved with her family to Kansas City when she was a young child. She was a student at Lincoln High School in Kansas City where her father taught science. She was working on the school’s newspaper and yearbook when she knew she had found her calling. She would become a journalist. Since Missouri’s schools were segregated by race and Lincoln University, the state’s black college did not have a journalism program, Bluford crossed the state line and pursued her studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. After securing a bachelor’s degree in 1932, she began her career in Atlanta, where she reported for the Daily Word, an African American newspaper.

When she returned to Kansas City, she took a job with the Kansas City American, which was also an African American newspaper in business during the 1930s. She later returned to the Kansas City Call, where she had worked during the summers while she attended college. This time she served as a cub and police reporter. After being first promoted to city editor, she advanced later to the position of managing editor. After the death of her boss, Chester A. Franklin, she became editor and publisher of the popular publication. In all, she worked for the Kansas City Call for 70 years.

While she accomplished great things at the newspaper, her desire to further her education resulted in a struggle that would ensure her a lofty place in the annals of Missouri’s racial history. In 1939, a year after a black man, Lloyd Gaines, had sued to gain admission to the University of Missouri’s School of Law, Lucile Bluford applied for admission to the Missouri School of Journalism. She was accepted at first, but when she appeared in person to register, she was turned down.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Gaines' favor, when Bluford filed a lawsuit seeking admission to the Missouri School of Journalism, she lost her case. Even with the assistance of the NAACP’s legal team, she failed in 11 attempts to be admitted to the university. In an effort to appease, a journalism department had been instituted at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. When, at last, in 1941, Missouri’s Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of her case, the Missouri School of Journalism eliminated its graduate program.

Long considered a pioneer in the fields of justice and equality for all people, Bluford worked tirelessly as a civil rights activist, using her skills as a journalist to break down the barriers that stood in the way of equal treatment for African Americans. She fought bigotry at every opportunity, especially in higher education. Her dedication and perseverance earned her numerous awards and honors including an Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1984. A Doctor of Humanities was presented to her in 1989.

Friends of Bluford established the Lucile Bluford Scholarship program for students wanting to study journalism at the University of Kansas when the Kansas City Call celebrated its 50th anniversary. A branch of the Kansas City Library was named in her honor and broke ground in 1987. Recently, the library reopened after being closed for a $1.3 million renovation. The library contains the Lucile H. Bluford exhibit that features a 10-glass-panel display highlighting memorabilia representing her life and contributions to the community. Its Neighborhood Notables exhibit is a 17-panel display, which details the lives and accomplishment of influential individuals who lived and worked in the east Kansas City community. The facility also houses 38,000 titles by black authors.

Lucile Bluford’s many affiliations not only reflected her commitment to social justice, but also her deep concern for the welfare of others. Truly one of Kansas City’s most distinguished citizens, she died on June 13, 2003, at the age of 91.

We remember her well.

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