Kansas City’s Black community has a vibrant history that includes triumphs as well as trauma.
During her time as a reporter for Flatland, Kansas City PBS’ digital journalism platform, Catherine Hoffman has worked to share the rich legacy of Black history in Kansas City by uncovering some of its most compelling stories. In a new documentary, compiled in honor of Black History Month, a selection of the Emmy Award-winning reporter’s stories of Black excellence, sacrifice and perseverance will be brought to life on Kansas City PBS. Featuring five topics and their historical impact on Kansas City, Preserving Our Past: Kansas City Stories of Black History focuses on the remembrance of Black history, contributions and culture.
“By stitching together these stories for broadcast, we’re creating a narrative and adding larger context to the originally published reports,” Hoffman said. These stories, and others like them, were originally published throughout 2020 and 2021 on FlatlandKC.org.
Through her storytelling, Hoffman has encountered the sagas of unsung heroes and the stories of tragic erasure. In Preserving Our Past, she uncovers the racial divide of midwifery, revisits the 1882 lynching of Levi Harrington in Kansas City, recounts the legacy of two women from Merriam, Kansas, who worked to integrate South Park Elementary, speaks with organizers of a local project focused on a systematic review of World War I veterans who were denied a Medal of Honor because of their race or religion, and explores the role and influence of the Black church.
“Just because Kansas City wasn’t in the Deep South doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen here in our own backyard,” said Hoffman of Harrington’s violent murder at the hands of a white mob. In 2020, a plaque commemorating his life by the Community Remembrance Project of Missouri was vandalized, ripped from its base and thrown over a nearby cliff in West Terrace Park.
“Kansas City has its own racist past to contend with,” Hoffman said.
These legacies — remembered in living rooms, local museums and places of worship — have long been left out of the retelling of our collective histories.
“It’s impossible to come to any sort of consensus as a neighborhood, city or country if we can’t agree upon where we come from,” Hoffman said. “What do we gain from forgetting or ignoring our darkest moments? I think people underestimate how much we need to fully grasp and reconcile with our history in order to move forward. Our history will always be relevant.”
To tell these stories is part of the reason she studied journalism and Black history in college.
“I want people to know about themselves,” said Hoffman. “I want us to know about each other. I hope these stories can maybe bring KC closer together and help remind us of our shared humanity.”
Preserving Our Past: Kansas City Stories of Black History will air Thursday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 19.1. It will also be available to stream on-demand, the same day, at kansascitypbs.org/preservingourpast.