Lucile Bluford

by Rhonda Cooksey

“Black women’s contributions to the American women’s rights movement and the efforts to recognize their distinctiveness in the struggle for gender equality have long been ignored primarily because of the social construction of race and gender.”  –– from Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice by Sheila Brooks and Clint C. Wilson II

In this Missourian archives file photo from Feb. 1, 1989, Lucile Bluford answers phones while working at the Kansas City Call.

Lucile Bluford was an iconic Kansas City journalist who fought for racial and gender equality on the national stage. As a black woman born in the North Carolina of 1911, she lived through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Working for seventy-one-years at the Kansas City Call, an African American newspaper founded in 1919, she served as reporter, editor, publisher, and, finally, owner. For more than seven decades, Bluford used her journalism to attack racism and sexism and replace them with tolerance and equality.

She had an interesting battle with the University of Missouri. When twenty-one-year-old Bluford became a reporter for the Kansas City Call in 1932, the paper was covering what her biographers call “one of the most significant civil rights cases of the 1930s” (6). Lloyd Gaines was denied admission to the University of Missouri School of Law in 1936 because of his race. He filed a lawsuit that challenged the separate but equal doctrine established by Plessy v Ferguson in 1896, arguing that there was no separate but equal law school for Blacks in the state of Missouri. He lost the court battle after the University of Missouri offered to pay his out-of-state tuition but took the case to the Supreme Court. The Court found in his favor but sent the case back to Missouri for a new state ruling that aligned with their decision. Lloyd Gaines never showed up for the rehearing of his case.

Brooks and Wilson point out that before the new hearing Bluford accompanied Gaines to Union Station to see him off to Chicago, where he was going to stay at the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity house for the summer. They quote her as saying, “But here’s the way he disappeared. He was staying at the Alpha house and one day he said to his landlady, ‘I’m going downtown. I’ll be back for dinner.’ And she said, ‘Well bring me’–I don’t know whether it was a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk, but something simple like that–’bring that when you come back.’ He said, ‘All right.’ But he never came back”  (7).  He never returned from Chicago and was never seen or heard from again. 

In 1939, Bluford applied to the University of Missouri School of Journalism to further test their Jim Crow policies, which she called “delaying tactics used to forestall racial integration” (8). Her biographers call her “undaunted in the face of institutional bigotry”  pointing out that she applied to Missouri’s journalism school eleven times and was denied admission every time (8).Throughout the struggle for civil rights, Bluford used the Kansas City Call to advocate for integrated schools, fair housing, and equal employment for women and Blacks. In 1984, The University of Missouri awarded Bluford an honorary doctorate and Honorary Medal for Distinguished Service to Journalism. 

Brooks, Sheila and Clint C. Wilson II. Lucile Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for social Justice, Lexington Books, 2018.