Letters from the week of November 12

Feature: “Historian in Chief,” October 29

History’s Historians

Perhaps it was just a sloppy headline, but to say one person can “reshape” the rich heritage of the black experience in Kansas City does those who have spent a lifetime preserving that heritage a grave disservice.

Thanks to people such as Jane Flynn, who, with the Historic Kansas City Foundation, saved the very buildings described in the article; Elvis “Sonny” Gibson, who produced the book Mecca of the New Negro, which depicts a total community picture, from images of the religious history to information and articles that only he possesses; jazzman Eddie Baker, who made this city sit up and take notice of the international reach of the blues-based Kansas City style that defines an entire era of American classical; and let us not forget Horace Peterson, founder of the Black Archives, who was the definitive historian of this community. His insistence on archiving the roles of African-Americans (when many thought the information had no “value”) in the Midwest is unequaled by anyone in this city’s existence to date.

I applaud Professor McDaniels for his realization that we are more than jazz and baseball, but we are on the maps of the world because those who played that game and that music had jobs as teachers, city workers, mailmen, cooks and all sorts of professions which made up the “city within a city” that was the black community of Kansas City.

Professor McDaniels, welcome to the heights of success that can only be achieved by standing upon the shoulders of those who came before you. I can only hope that you will research them and apply their contributions to a better Kansas City. For as long as The Pitch has been reporting on the district’s main tenants, I am disappointed that it would neglect the importance of giving credit where it is due.

Anita J. Dixon
Kansas City, Missouri

Major Props

Thank you so much for Casey Lyons’ wonderful article on Professor McDaniels. I am a history major at UMKC. While I have never had a formal class with Dr. McDaniels, I have learned so much from him outside the classroom — about history, critical thinking, writing, life and so much more. On a campus where the history department is all but forgotten, it is nice to see that someone is paying attention to the vast amount of talented professors we have. While there is no doubt that Dr. McDaniels is an academic rock star, he is in good company, as we have a wealth of talented and amazing people in the department, and now at least Kansas City has had the opportunity to meet one of them.

Kathleen Sisil
Kansas City, Missouri

Textbook Cases

The same conversation could be had here in Toronto. Baseball and jazz were here at the same time. History for black North Americans is only being pieced together now. It’s amazing that the history books I’ve collected from the 1960s talk about unification and prosperity, but how I’ve collected them is interesting: from garage sales and from the garbage.

History was written but discarded when education shifted from a book to electronic media. If it didn’t fit on a disk, it was discarded. The worst part is that discs at the time had small capacity. So now only a fraction is actually heard or seen, with cutting-room casualties leading to Japan never invading China and slavery being a passing fad.

Turning 55 and being a great, great, great, great-uncle by 45 taught me to get on and keep pressing my nieces and nephews to know the truth and the lie about anything. When they were young, they looked at me knowing not to ask a question because they’d get more than a few wise words. Now that they’re in high school and college, they realize old Uncle Johnie wasn’t just rambling.

I liked the article because it made me think about my past and what was passed on to me and why I will hammer the same thing into their young heads over and over that life is an adventure. Of course, if you peek at the map of the past, it’s easier to know what to expect where you’re going. Thanks for making me think.

Johnie Chase
Toronto, Ontario

Art: “People are Strange,” November 5

Oxford Americans

Thanks for the coverage of our exhibit, The Oxford Project, at the Belger Arts Center. C.J. Janovy got it, and that’s always rewarding. Two little things: I take exception to the use of the word “freaks” to describe our subjects. Someone once asked Diane Arbus why she chose to photograph freaks. Her response was that we’re all freaks. My response would have been that none of us are freaks.

The other thing is a small but important misread. Blanche Smith, the foster mother of Brianne Leckness, was not the religious fanatic mother. That came after Bobby Jo (her name as a child) had to leave Blanche’s house.

These are little things but important to me that they be clear. Thanks again for your review.

Peter Feldstein
Oxford, Iowa

Figure Studies

I enjoyed your sensitive, well-written review of The Oxford Project. I am the director of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ Project Art/Medical Museum, and we have 16 of the photographs in our collection. They move me every time I study them.

Adrienne Drapkin
Iowa City, Iowa

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