Kansas City – not a part of Kansas: a historical look on the ups and downs of a great American town

Kansas City embraces a warm sunset. A mixture of the new and the historic, the city has been rejuvenated by a Super Bowl victory (Getty Images)

Sighs permeate through rooms again. Americans look to their phones, having seen the latest Tweet from embattled President Donald Trump. On the proud nation’s crowning day in sport, Trump has managed to stuff up once more.

Breaking a half-century drought by clinching a comeback Super Bowl title, the American President has mistakenly labelled Kansas City as a part of the state of Kansas, instead of the actual state of Missouri in which it resides. If an American President can misplace the geography of Missouri’s largest city, then maybe it’s time we investigate the history of a city that is currently celebrating in full force.

Previously known as just Kansas, the city formed its identity after being an epicentre for Civil War battles. In the eye of the storm as Confederates fought for control of Missouri against Union soldiers, Kansas was quickly evacuated by the majority of civillians. Following America’s victory and its new identity, Kansas also had the chance to reform. Ditching its Southern ties, Kansas set itself on a new path as it sought to cater for the influx of people flocking into the city.

In the 1800s Kansas Territory was established. The only issue was that Kansas City lay just outside of the borders, creating a conflict between a city called Kansas that actually sat a Patrick Mahomes-throw away from the state of Kansas. The solution saw the city renamed as Kansas City, differentiating it from the state that neighboured it.

Chosen as the destination for a new bridge that encouraged people to flock into the city, Kansas City’s transport technology saw it rise to be Missouri’s largest city. With the 20th century heralding both above-ground and underground streetcar systems that were some of the largest in the country, developed a reputation as a city known for its jazz music and steak barbeque.

But WWII and the racial conflicts that erupted afterwards throughout America impacted Kansas City. The economic troubles that hit Kansas City in the aftermath of WWII meant richer civillians soon left, choosing to reside in other Kansas counties or search for prosperous land further north of the Missouri River.

Following this loss of affluence, the 1960s race conflict shook Kansas City deeply. With over 12 per cent of residents being African-American, the picturesque streetcars and jazz culture was soon discarded for the dividing wall that was Troost Avenue. Once a road referred to as ‘Millionaires’ Row’ throughout the city’s boom in the late 1800s, almost a century later it was used as a socioeconomic and racial dividing line between black and white, rich and poor. Buying into cheap land just east of the street meant the violent tensions between different ethnicities usually spilt out onto the neutral zone of Troost Avenue.

A 1954 photo of the Kansas City Blues Parade on Troost Avenue (Kansas City Public Library – Missouri Valley Special Collections)

Chaos erupted in Kansas City. Harking back to its Southern roots, the city prohibited people of colour moving east of the avenue, causing the city to suffer from one of the highest murder rates in the country. In 1968 the city experienced riots over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Out of these fires is how the Kansas City Chiefs were formed.

Initially created in 1960 as the Dallas Texans, the Kansas City Chiefs came to the fore in 1963 when they joined the American Football League. Despite the degradation of society in the city, the football team excelled, making it to the first ever Super Bowl and clinching their first title in 1970 (Super Bowl IV). The foundations were laid for a team that has grown to be adored and ardently followed by its civillians.

What followed after this initial boom is emblematic of the city itself. Much like the evolution of the streetcar and resultant economic boosts, the Chiefs flew into popularity in its initial years in the American Football League. However, in the years that followed, a city needing to reinstate its identity after racial tensions slowly began to decrease experienced a loss in fortunes in regards to its football team.

Now one of the biggest American cities in relation to soccer following, Kansas City began to expand its sporting borders. With the football team slipping into a long patch of miserly performances while other powerhouses in the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers won title after title, baseball, athletics and soccer rose to prominence.

Until the arrival of Andy Reid. Involved in the NFL since 1992, Reid’s lengthy coaching experience saw him land at Kansas City with only one thing on his mind – success. More specifically; success in the form of a glistening Lombardi Trophy for a mid-American city yearning for their football team to come full circle.

In the years since Kansas City’s social fall, the idyllic town has begun to rebuild. Skyscrapers adorn the skyline. Gorgeous monuments from centuries gone by still give the city a picturesque feel. Streetcar skeletons still hang around the city without use. Troost Avenue is steadily being shed of its racist skin. The city isn’t perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than it was. It still stands as the only American city with a UNESCO City of Music title due to its heavy involvement in the transition of swing, jazz and blues music.

Patrick Mahomes with the Lamar Hunt Trophy after his Kansas City Chiefs won their AFC Divisional match. Fast-forward a month and he’d be holding up a trophy that signified Kansas City’s return to Super Bowl stardom (Tom Pennington/ Getty Images)

And now, it has another Super Bowl title to show for it. If the Chiefs are symbols of the city’s fabric itself, then Patrick Mahomes’ inspirational effort to come from behind and defeat San Francisco 31-20 perhaps gives Kansas City its biggest endorsement yet. The city, much like the football team, started off strong before suffering from years of gloom and doom. Now, with its steak barbeques whacked on at full sizzle, and a prized young quarterback who loves Kansas City, the Missouri town has given its best indication yet of returning to former glory.

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