Celebrating Fellowship: Churches & Clubs

Families, schools, churches, and social organizations were the glue that held together Kansas City’s African American community during the early decades of the 20th century.

This important but often overlooked aspect of African American life is celebrated in the exhibit Celebrating Fellowship: Churches & Clubs on display Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through April 10, 2014.

Complementing one another, houses of worship and social clubs provided -- and continue to offer -- opportunities for spiritual sustenance, fellowship, and community spirit.

In his book Take Up the Black Man's Burden: Kansas City's African American Communities, 1865-1939, local historian Charles Coulter notes that by the end of the 1920s there were more than 40 African American churches in Kansas City, the majority adhering to the Baptist or African Methodist Episcopal faith.

Religious leaders such as the Rev. John Williams of St. Stephen Baptist Church and the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II of St. James Gregory United Methodist Church became not only leaders of their congregations but leaders in the community as well.

In addition there were many African American social clubs, including Greek organizations and fraternal orders. Women’s clubs challenged stereotypes of black womanhood in the early 20th Century. Some organizations, such as the Inter-City Dames and the Twin Citians, spanned both sides of the state line.

Among the highlights of the exhibit are a panoramic photograph of attendees to the 46th Annual Missionary Baptist Convention in 1937; photos from the Washington Photograph Collection illustrating the variety of African American religious experience during the 1950s; an alter cross from West Paseo Christian Church; hazing paddles used by local chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma, a Masonic sword, and a fez and collar.