Steptoe Lives Formed to Commemorate Vanishing African-American Neighborhood Near Westport
After the Civil War, the Steptoe neighborhood just south of Westport filled up with freed slaves who were allowed to own and rent property in this area. This photo from 1940 shows some of the homes between Summit and Wornall from W. 43rd to W. 44th Streets that made up Steptoe. While all but a handful of homes have now been destroyed, a new group called Steptoe Lives is working on ways to commemorate the neighborhood and its rich history.
Learn more about the history of Steptoe HERE.
Although most of the buildings in Midtown Kansas City’s former African American Steptoe neighborhood have been demolished, a newly-formed coalition of groups has come together to keep its memory alive.
The Steptoe Lives coalition is concerned about Steptoe’s vanishing history on the heels of the recent demolition of several more of its homes. The Steptoe neighborhood centered around 43rd Street Terrace and Pennsylvania Avenue just south of Westport. After the Civil War, it became a unique place in Kansas City where former slaves could live and buy property. A 1925 map of the area show about 80 structures in Steptoe, bounded by Broadway and Summit Street between W. 43rd and W. 44th. In addition to modest family homes, the neighborhood included two churches and the Penn School that served its residents.
The late local historian Joelouis Mattox began the effort to gather the legacy of the neighborhood almost two decades ago, and a documentary including interviews with former residents was filmed.
Today, less than a dozen structures remain. They have been replaced by the expansion of St. Luke’s Health Center, the retirement community Bishop Spencer Place, apartment buildings and parking lots. In June 2022, three more Steptoe buildings were demolished to make way for a surface parking lot and a few days later, another home was razed, creating new concern that the physical reminders of the area are being lost.
See HKC Letter HERE.
Steptoe Lives, which includes the Plaza Westport Neighborhood Association, Historic Kansas City, the Westport Presbyterian Church, the St. James Missionary Baptist Church, the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council and other individuals, is made up of people who lived in Steptoe, have ties to it, live in the neighborhood today, and others interested in keeping its memory alive.
Recognizing that there have been multiple attempts over the past several decades to document Steptoe history, Steptoe Lives says it wants to tie up the loose ends in documenting the neighborhood’s history and ensure there are tools to keep Steptoe’s story alive in the future.
Steptoe Lives has identified a number of short-term goals including: requesting that the city return W. 43rd Street Terrace to its original name, Steptoe; replacing markers that once pointed out the former location of the Penn School, the first school west of the Mississippi built for the express purpose of educating Black children; and creating physical historical markers to broaden awareness of Steptoe.
The Kansas City Historic Preservation Office has begun conducting a survey of Steptoe to see if it would qualify as a historic district.
One of the action steps identified by Steptoe Lives was to rename W. 43rd Terrace, from Jefferson Street, on the west, to Washington Street, on the east, to Steptoe Street which is the name that street bore when platted in 1857 as a part of Pate’s Addition, but Ordinance No. 3083, passed by the City Council on April 3,1933, took away that name as a part of a standardization of street names to numbered streets.
Ordinance No. 230029 authorizing the renaming of W. 43rd Terrace to Steptoe was introduced and was sponsored by Councilmembers Shields and Bunch. It was approved by the City Council on January 18
Renaming this portion of W. 43rd Terrace, from Jefferson to Washington, is not merely an “honorary” designation that can quickly vanish, but an actual renaming of the street, with those changes being made on official maps of the City.
Statements of support for the street renaming were provided by the St. James Missionary Baptist Church, Plaza Westport Neighborhood, Parkway Towers, St Luke’s Health System, and Historic Kansas City.
Watch the public hearing HERE. (first 24 minutes)
See Ordinance No. 230029 HERE.
Church Founded by Former Slaves Celebrates 152 Year Anniversary
Photo courtesy Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Valley Special Collections.