KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
The Black Archives of Mid-America will reopen Saturday at its new headquarters in the 18th and Vine District in Kansas City, after six years of financial trouble and concern about the condition of its collection.
The archives include thousands of artifacts, manuscripts and photographs chronicling the history of blacks in and around the Kansas City. The collection also includes items such as antique comic books, period baseball apparel and a former slave cabin.
The artifacts compliment a new permanent exhibit, “With My Eyes No Longer Blind,” which juxtaposes portraits of community leaders against a Kansas City skyline of buildings that were important in the area’s black history, The Kansas City Star reported.
The reopening of the archives will provide a more complete version of Kansas City’s history, said Doretha Williams, executive director of the archives.
“We have a narrative that needs to be told and that is why the Black Archives is important,” Williams said. “The African-American narrative cannot be removed from the overall narrative of Kansas City.”
Saturday’s opening caps a successful recovery for the archive, which closed in 2006 because of financial troubles. The collection was stored behind the closed doors of the archive’s former headquarters, putting it out of reach of researchers and leading to concern about possible deterioration.
Only a few items that suffered from mold issues have been sent to specialists for evaluation, Williams said.
“It’s pretty amazing that most of it has come through unscathed,” said collection librarian Jon Zwillenberg.
Horace Peterson, who began assembling the artifacts in the early 1970s, died in a 1992 drowning. By 2006, the archives were in trouble, with problems that included failure to pay property taxes or file necessary documents to remain a nonprofit corporation.
Current Gov. Jay Nixon, who was then the Missouri attorney general, intervened to lead an effort to save the collection, which eventually involved several institutions including the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Kansas City Public Library.
Most of the archives’ holdings were moved out of the firehouse to the new location in 2010. Since then, workers have been cataloging and processing the collection, Zwillenberg said.
Zwillenberg and others selected a variety of artifacts to display. They include a program from “50 Years of Freedom,” a musical revue from 1913 produced 50 years after the Emancipation Proclamation; a portrait of Ada Crogman Franklin, wife of Kansas City Call founder Chester Franklin; a photograph of Duke Ellington inscribed to the Franklins; and a program from a 1941 Ellington concert.
The artifacts will be rotated to complement the new permanent exhibit that will present black history along concurrent paths devoted to themes such as housing, health, education, labor and the professions, media and leisure.
Barbara Peterson, widow of Horace Peterson and archives board chairman, said the new location will give the archives a position within the Kansas City cultural community and make its collections more accessible.
“We are looking forward to being able to open our doors and have the community come in and take advantage of the materials there,” she said.
“I’m really pleased and happy at how it turned out,” Peterson said.