City Stories

Kansas City, MO

kansas city black history kansas city ghetto

The Kansas City Ghetto: How a Midwest City became known as “Killa City”

A city with 29% of the city’s nearly 500,000 residents living mostly in the black community, the Kansas City ghetto and urban areas of the East Side and South Side has a story that must be told.

Kansas City Black History

Since the state of Missouri was a slave state, Kansas City black history has always been part of the region.

Many African-Americans would later come into the area with the idea of receiving employment within the railroads, stockyards, and other labor jobs.

The African-American population would contribute heavy towards the growth of Kansas City, through their local work.

Some of their first locations in Kansas City were in the West Bottoms section, together with other areas of the East and West Sides.

By the 1920s, the Kansas City black population had increased to more than 30,000, as more black families came to live in the city after the first World War.

One of Kansas City historic communities.

Most blacks began to live on Kansas City East Side during the 1920s and 1930s in the downtown community of Church Hill.

The 18th and Vine Street neighborhood would later become the main focus and business hub for the African- American community in Kansas City.

The racial dividing line in Kansas City was Troost Avenue, the legal separation of the white and black communities in the city.

Starting around the 1940s, the black community on Kansas City East Side and Kansas City South Side had begun to be established as blockbusting and redlining only allowed blacks to live east of Troost Avenue.


The Change in the Community

Kansas City East Side was originally a majority white community in the 1950s, but by the 1970s the East Side became predominantly black.

kansas city ghetto

Kansas City East Side

Many white families left the East Side as the interstate system and easy access to transportation helped families travel between the newer neighborhoods of the outskirts and the jobs in the city.

Employment declined in the city after the second World War, during the 1940s, the city experienced its biggest population increase between the 1950s to the 1960s.

kansas city ghetto

The rebuilt Guinotte Manor

During the population growth, the city began its housing authority that was originally for war veterans as the city built a number of housing projects during the 1950s and 60s, which was part of urban renewal and slum clearance of the neighborhoods that were near downtown.

The first housing project that was built was Riverview Gardens, followed by TB Watkins and Guinotte Manor.


‘Hoods & Communities

The most reputable neighborhood of the Kansas City ghetto was Wayne Minor, located around 12th Street on the East Side in the heart of the Kansas City ghetto until it was demolished during the late 1980s.

The low rise section of Wayne Minor

Wayne Minor, a 5 high rise building housing complex, was notorious and had an infamous reputation in the city with drugs, prostitution, violence, and bad living conditions.

After the demolishing of Wayne Minor, the 12th Street neighborhood was mostly made up of Parker Square and TB Watkins, and nearby CTP (Chouteau Court).

kansas city ghetto

Parker Square of 12th Street

Sometime around the 1980s and 1990s different gang affiliations like Bloods and Crips started in a new era of the streets of Kansas City.

Kansas City ‘hoods that would later gain reputations like the 5ace2 for 12th Street and 51st, 4 Block for blocks between 39th and Emanuel Cleaver Blvd., Twampside for the streets in the 20s, the Tra for the 30s number streets with the numbers in the 30s, FOG Town for 51st and the 50s or Swampside on the South Side between 75th Street and Meyer Blvd.

kansas city ghetto

Swampside neighborhood.

These days’ affiliations and neighborhoods often changed, as the new generation is taking over and the streets are entering into a new era.

Kansas City: Today

Even though segregation was years ago, Troost is still the dividing line between the two different societies of the Kansas City ghetto and the Kansas City upper class.

kansas city ghetto

Kansas City South Side

The East Side, which is slowly gentrifying and becoming more of a Hispanic community with Latinos living around Independence Avenue and 12th Street, is slowly losing its black population.

Many black families are moving further south into neighborhoods beyond interstates 435 and 470, as the vacant lots and houses are scattered throughout the older neighborhoods of the Kansas City ghetto.


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*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research.  Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.

Past History Sources of Kansas City:

Coulter, Charles E. “Take Up the Black Man’s Burden: Kansas City’s African American Communities….” University of Missouri Press. 2006.

Gotham, Kevin F. “Race, Real Estate, and Uneven Development, Second Edition: The Kansas City Experience, 1900–2010”. SUNY Press. 2014.