KC’s Black Archives of Mid-America is a living catalyst for black art, history and culture in the region

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Museum curator Taylor Jackson poses in front of the archive’s permanent gallery. // Photo by Emily Standlee

That Black Archives of Central America, near the 18th and Vine, in Kansas City, has a variety of permanent and rotating galleries to see. Under the direction of Executive Director Dr. Carmaletta Johnson and museum curator Taylor Jackson host the archive events and use the galleries to provide a platform for black art, history and culture.

One of the goals of the archive is to make artifacts and documents available to the public relating to “the social, economic, political, and cultural history of African-American people in the central United States, with a particular focus on the Kansas City, Missouri area.” . “

The galleries themselves are laid out in several well thought-out rooms. The north side of the building houses a permanent exhibition, With my eyes that are no longer blind, based on the poem “I look at the world” by Langston Hughes. The exhibition follows the various accounts of African Americans in Kansas City from the early days of Lewis and Clark to the 1990s when Emanuel Cleaver II was the first black mayor of Kansas City.

The exhibition is comprehensive: sorted chronologically and thematically, the illustrations and explanations shed light on the development of black-owned churches and schools and the influence on churches and schools, entertainment venues, companies and associations.

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Jugs of earth stand next to Levi Harrington’s plaque and honor the lives of the lynch victims. // Photo by Mary Henn

On the back of the exhibit, Jackson points to a plaque that pays tribute to the life of Levi Harrington.

Harrington was a young black man kidnapped from unlawful police custody on April 3, 1882, and killed by a white lynch mob. The next day, Harrington was found innocent.

Jackson explains that the marker manufactured by Missouri’s Community remembrance project (CRP) and the The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) – collaborative organizations that want to end racial inequality – was damaged in a hate crime in June 2020. Harrington’s memorial once stood in Case Park, Jackson says, but someone sawed through the marker’s metal rod and tossed it down a nearby hill. This responsible person or group has yet to be identified.

“The attack on the marker represents a violent denial of the truth and the exact right of the black communities and other colored communities to proclaim this,” it says in a comment from the CRP. “We mourn the terrible loss of Mr. Harrington to an agitated mob and the mob-like behavior that has stolen his story.”

Despite these actions, Harrington’s false imprisonment and death are not forgotten. That year, parishioners worked to prevent another historic obliteration by collecting soil from areas where Harrington and other victims of racial violence were killed. Next to Harrington’s memorial, the jugs of earth are on permanent display as part of the CRPs Exhibition on the soil collectionwhich was opened in the archive on April 10, 2021.

Accordingly research Harrington was carried out by the EJI and was one of over 4,400 lynchings in the United States between the Reconstruction and World War II.

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“The big three”, Felix Maull, acrylic on canvas. // Photo by Emily Standlee

On the south side of the galleries there is a temporary exhibition called People, which ends this afternoon, August 6th. It shows portraits by black artists such as George Mayfield, Robert Castillo, Adrian Halpern, Keyon Woods, Felix Maull and River Makenzie. That People Gallery serves as a continuation too Bravery!, a critically acclaimed Black History Month presentation honoring local black veterans that Jackson curated in February.

Jackson himself served in the Marine Corps.

“I incorporated this discipline into my endeavors and managed to produce a comedy show, appear in clubs, and star in three major theater productions – all while on active service,” says Jackson.

He worked with Mayor Quinton Lucas as an intern and campaigned where visits to the archives piqued his interest in designing art exhibitions.

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“Ancestral Nobility I”, Robert Castillo, oil and pastel on cold-pressed paper. // Photo by Emily Standlee

People is more of a statement, ”says Jackson. “It is an ignition based on my desire to get to know the world around me -[I’ve] worked with an eclectic group of artists whose styles are contrary to the traditional norm of previous exhibitions. “

As a matter of fact, People is emotional. No two works are exactly alike, but the collection has a dynamic quality that feels cohesive and whole.

“I wanted to experiment with my own creative tastes,” says Jackson. “I find that the human connection brings us together and breaks down all barriers.”

On the right side of the room hangs a bold piece by Robert Castillo entitled “The Bassist”, the theme of which is double bass playing in a field of colorful squares. The surrounding squares are a mix of black, white, and gray.

“Castillo is known for designing the streetcar terminal here in Kansas City,” says Jackson. “His work is complemented by George Mayfield, who introduces a number of Native African tribes.”

Works by Adrian Halpern, Keyon Woods and River Makenzie can also be seen in the gallery.

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Jackson watches as MP Michael Johnson moderates a discussion on mental health. // Photo by Emily Standlee

The galleries embody and publicize the Archives’ mission to celebrate and explore centuries of African American history and culture in the region. But beyond these exhibitions, too, her work lives, grows and looks to the future. Community members are given access to the archives as research or publication resources, and visitors are welcome for active discussions about black art and wellness.

For example, on July 24th, Missouri State representative Michael Johnson came to the archives to speak openly about his experiences with mental health and access to health care.

“They can Don’t be aware that you are traumatized, ”says Johnson, opening the space for story sharing. “It can affect you without you even realizing it.”

Jackson says Rep. Johnson was effective in starting the conversation about the need for transparency around mental health.

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Jackson and Dr. Johnson. // Photo by Emily Standlee

“I come from a community where there is evidence of the likelihood of mental illness,” he says. “While studying intersectionality can be overwhelming, understanding what a person’s risk factors are and why is important.”

Colored populations have long struggled with the repressing social and political systems, which Jackson compares to gaining a foothold despite the shaky foundations.

“In active duty, the common narrative was that weak men sought help when it was readily available,” says Jackson. “Various media such as music, the performing and visual arts, and STEM can improve a person’s mental health, especially in Kansas City. Anyone can repeat mental health policy to avoid the stigma, but vulnerability and transparency are what make the connection. “

A 2015 article by the American Psychological Association said that 86% of psychologists in the United States were white. A current piece in The Kansas City Beacon investigates the shortage of black therapists in the Kansas City area. Something has to change, and quickly.

“It starts with investing in mental health education in our schools,” says Jackson.

The potential for erased history is already great, and honest dialogue may be key to stopping it.

“One thing is certain,” says Jackson. “I’m in the middle of a chain reaction.”


People closes Friday 6th August. With my eyes that are no longer blind and CRPs Exhibition on the soil collection is permanently open.

Black Archives of Central America
1722 at 17. terrace
Kansas City, MO 64108

Follow the Equal Justice Initiative on Instagram @eji_org and Taylor Jackson @teesrampage.



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