Black history has deep roots in Kansas. From our admittance to the Union as a free-state, to radical changes during the Civil Rights movement, to growing influential leaders, Kansas has been at the forefront of America's Black history.
Explore Nicodemus, the first (and only remaining) all-Black settlement west of the Mississippi. Or learn more about the Brown vs. Board National Historic Site, an official stop on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. This site tells the story of the 20 young children who fought for the desegregation of schools in the nation. Famed photographer, musician, author, and film director, Gordon Parks grew up in Ft. Scott. Today, the Gordon Parks Museum continues to tell his story. These stops are just the beginning. Plan an adventure below, from historic sites to Black-owned businesses in Kansas.
Director. Photographer. Poet. Writer. Musician. Composer. Artist. Kansan. Gordon Parks dedicated his life to combating racism and poverty through art. The lessons he learned on his family farm in Ft. Scott, Kansas helped him to become the first Black photojournalist on staff at LIFE magazine and the first African American to direct a major motion picture.
George Washington Carver moved around throughout his life but spent many of his years in Fort Scott, Olathe, and eventually finishing high school in Minneapolis. Carver discovered and advocated for newly improved farming methods and crop rotation strategies (mostly involving nitrogen restoration). Not only were his findings incredibly useful for the practice of agriculture, but they were also instrumental in our modern understanding of food, health, and nutrition.
Langston Hughes found himself moving around a lot as a child but was mainly raised in Lawrence. Known for his "jazz poetry", he also made headway as a playwright, columnist, novelist, and social activist. Hughes took a major leading role in a movement now known as the Harlem renaissance, where a surge in African American arts and literature flourished in the 1920s. Although a controversial figure to many, Hughes is still considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
Hattie McDaniel was born in 1893 in Wichita. She became the first Black actor to win an Oscar, for her portrayal of 'Mammy' in 'Gone With the Wind.' She continued to build a storied career in Hollywood as an actress, singer-songwriter and comedian.
Janelle Monáe Robinson was born in Kansas City in 1985. She is a singer-songwriter, rapper, and actress. Monáe is an eight-time Grammy nominee, and stars in films including 'Hidden Figures', 'Moonlight', 'Antebellum', 'Knives Out 2', and 'Harriet'.
1978 - Present
Terence Newman is a native of Salina and attended Salina Central High School. Newman was an outstanding multi-sport athlete and excelled in numerous positions within the sport of football. As one of the top in-state prospects for Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats, he eventually went on to win the Jim Thorpe award for top defensive back in the nation his senior season. Newman was highly sought after for the 2003 NFL draft and was selected 5th overall by the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent most of his professional career.
Born near Fort Scott in 1912. Became the first African-American photographer to work at magazines like Life and Vogue, and the first to work for the Office of War Information and the Farm Security Administration. Parks was also the first Black director and producer of major motion pictures, including 'The Learning Tree' and 'Shaft
Barry Sanders was born in Wichita and played high school football at Wichita North. He is considered by some to have been one of the most elusive and skilled running backs to have ever played professional football. His stellar college career for Oklahoma State earned him 34 newly set Division I FBS records, including the impressive 37 rushing touchdowns in a single season. Sanders went on to spend 9 seasons with the Detroit Lions, where, in that relatively short time frame accumulated over 15,000 rushing yards over his career.
Wayne Simien was born in Leavenworth. Simien grew up a big fan of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team in the nearby city of Lawrence. Simien was arguably one of the best high school basketball players in Kansas history and was impressively recruited to play for KU. His time at KU was well spent, having made two final fours and obtaining one national runner-up, Simien also managed to average a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds per game his senior season. Though his time in the NBA was short-lived due to injuries, Simien managed to claim an NBA title with the 2006 Miami Heat.
Darren Sproles is a former NFL running back and return specialist that grew up in Olathe and played high school football for Olathe North. Sproles was an excellent high school athlete and was recruited to play for the Kansas State Wildcats. He finished fifth in Heisman voting during his junior season after leading the FBS with just under 2000 rushing yards. Despite his shorter stature, Sproles was highly sought after by many NFL teams as he was drafted in the fourth round by the San Diego Chargers. He currently holds the record for most all-purpose yards in a single season with 2,696 and touchdowns caught by a person under 5'7" with 32.
Kevin Willmott grew up in Junction City and is an Academy Award Winning American film director and screenwriter. Willmott's films, such as Ninth Street, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, and Bunker Hill are known for focusing on black issues and struggles in the US. He also directed the movie Jayhawkers where he told the story of Wilt Chamberlain, Phog Allen, and the 1956-1957 KU men's basketball team. Kevin Wilmott is also a professor of film at the University of Kansas.
Lynette Woodard was born in Wichita and played high school basketball for Wichita North, where she helped her team win two state titles. She spent her college career at the University of Kansas and earned her place as one of the most respected KU basketball alumni. Woodard is also widely regarded as perhaps the greatest female college basketball player of all time. Her all-time scoring record of 3,649 points is still standing despite it not being official in the NCAA history books due to her career occurring before the NCAA sponsored women's athletics.