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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Waldo's Santa Fe Hills: An Exclusive Indian Village with Layers of History

Treasures lie in the midst of housing developments, hidden within modern structures and under paved roads. As Kansas City grew, subdivisions to the south were platted by professional real estate developers and amateur speculators looking for a quick profit.

1877 plat map for the area shows the location
of the Boone farm; current-day roads have
been marked for reference. Click image for
full view.
But before there were subdivisions, hundreds of acres were held by various pioneer families. Sometimes those pioneers are remembered in the chosen name of a subdivision. Just south of 89th St. where I bought my first house and live today, Boone Hills was platted on land once owned by the descendants of the national folk hero, Daniel Boone.

There were Boones everywhere. 

The first Boone to settle on this side of the state was Daniel Morgan Boone (1769-1839), the son of the famous frontiersman. He, along with twelve children, came to the area around 1825 when he was given a job as a farm instructor for the Kaw Indians. 

In 1831, he patented acreage and built a log house at 63rd and Holmes. Known as "Morg" to friends, he sold part of his land to his nephew, Boone Hays shortly before his death.

On that land was what locals called the "Boone-Hays Graveyard," and when Morg died of cholera in 1839, he was buried there in an unmarked grave. In 1850, his wife was put to rest next to him.

With a family of this size... why? No one thought to mark the spot with a proper headstone??

The little two acre cemetery was used by people of the area to bury their loved ones for generations. Over the years, stones disappeared and next to nothing was left. In 1934, the Daughters of the American Revolution counted nine headstones, but it was known that dozens of others were buried there.

All stones were gone shortly after.

With the help of the Native Sons of Kansas City, fifteen acres of this farmland between Prospect and The Paseo (including the old cemetery) was donated to the city. In 2005, the Boone-Hays Cemetery was marked along with Morg and his wife's graves at 63rd and Euclid. 

Morg's son, Daniel Morgan Boone, Jr. settled a bit further south of this spot.

Today, nestled in the middle of winding roads in Santa Fe Hills, stands the remnants of a pioneer homestead that has layers of history.

Simply stating the Boone family had an impact on Missouri is an understatement, and the image of Daniel Boone (1734-1829) as a folk hero with a coonskin cap is etched in our memory. This national legend was the grandfather of Daniel Morgan Boone (1809-1880) who came to Jackson County with his family in 1826 and settled later on land he purchased just south of current-day Waldo off the Santa Fe Trail (now Wornall Rd.). 

Napoleon, James, and Edward Boone followed by patenting their own acreage south of 83rd St. Because of the influx of Boone family members, pioneers called the area “Boonetown.”
Daniel Morgan Boone's surviving boys, taken after 1880
Standing: James (b. 1862), John (b. 1856) and Daniel IV (b. 1846);
Sitting: Theodore (b. 1844), Napoleon (b. 1842), and Nathan (b. 1852)

Sometimes, it feels like everyone in Missouri is related to Daniel Boone- and I mean that.

Daniel Morgan Boone and his wife, Mary Constance Philibert (1814-1904) had twelve children between 1833 and 1862. They raised all their children while living on their Jackson County farm.

Around 1838, Daniel built a three-section clapboard house that developed into a two-story frame dwelling south of current-day 85th St. just east of the Santa Fe Trail. Over time, additions were added to the home as they further expanded. On the northeast corner of the property, the Boones used the creek passing through their land and added a pond.

The little Boone children recalled that during the Battle of Westport in October 1864, General Sterling Price’s Confederate troops fled south and were followed by Union soldiers. While hiding, they heard shots being fired near their home as the Confederate troops retreated to the town of New Santa Fe at current-day 122nd and State Line.

Daniel Morgan Boone's surviving daughters & wife,
taken after 1880. 
L-R: Sarah (b. 1854),  Mary Frances (b. 1838),
Mary Constance Philibert-Boone (wife; b. 1812), 
& Cassandra (b. 1849).
A one-room country school at the corner near current day Sweeney Blvd. and Maiden Lane was built in 1868 on land purchased from the Boones and became known as Boone School. In 1929, a four-room brick school at 89th and Wornall replaced earlier structures and was named Boone Elementary. It stands today.

After Daniel Morgan Boone’s death in 1880, his youngest son, Nathan (1852-1926) maintained the old homestead and continued farming the land. As he advanced in age, he opted to sell off much of his land.  Nathan Boone didn’t marry until 1901 and had no children of his own. He stayed nearby at 85th and McGee where he lived out the rest of his life. The original Boone homestead passed along to one of Kansas City’s most prominent citizens who was looking for a quiet country life just outside the city. 

Cue the rich newspaper man of notoriety!

William Rockhill Nelson (1841-1915)
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections,
William Rockhill Nelson (1841-1915) is best known in Kansas City as a real estate developer and owner of the Kansas City Star. His primary residence, Oak Hall, was donated after his death and was torn down to make way for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Nelson always held an interest in livestock, and it was his hope to raise cattle on a large farm. In the 1880s, Nelson purchased the old Boone farm and hundreds of acres surrounding it and quickly made upgrades to the simple home. 

Adjoining the original house, he built a large two-story lodge with a wide front porch overlooking Indian Creek. He often would take his friends from the city out to his lodge and entertain them.

Although his new residence and acreage was convenient to his primary residence at Oak Hall, he found he didn’t have enough acreage for his cattle. In 1901, he sold the property to the LaForce family.

In 1912, Nelson purchased his perfect farm (over 1,700 acres) just south of Grain Valley, Mo. and called it “Sni-a-Bar Farms” after the creek that ran nearby. There, he was able to raise shorthorn cattle and experiment with new breeding techniques until his death in 1915. In his will, he allowed for the breeding operations to continue for thirty years after his death.

The Boone-Nelson home was to be converted into the clubhouse in 1923. The largest addition to the left was built by Nelson
sometime in the 1880s; the original Boone home can be seen as three different additions added at different times.
The only original Boone structure that survives today is the middle two-story structure; the two to the right
have since been removed. Image courtesy Kansas City Public Library.
On a side note, the City of Grain Valley has now purchased part of old Sni-a-Bar Farms with the hopes of saving the old farmhouse and using the land for a municipal office complex.

The LaForce family kept the land south of 85th purchased from Nelson until 1919 when it was sold to a self-made millionaire with a mission. Emory J. Sweeney picked up 180 acres for $205,000.

This story wouldn’t be the same without the influence of this incredible man.

Emory J. Sweeney
Image courtesy of Kansas City Public Library
Born in 1883, Emory J. Sweeney came to Kansas City from Chicago at the age of seven with his parents. His father worked in the stockyards, and E.J. Sweeney followed at first in his father’s footsteps. Living in Kansas City, he attended Catholic grade school and fell in love with one of the neighborhood girls, Mary Smith. After one year of high school, he started buying and selling cattle.

Before he asked for his childhood sweetheart’s hand in marriage, Emory purchased a small four-room frame house in Kansas City, Ks. and worked on weekends to fix it up as best he could. Every week, he saved as much money as he could and purchased a piece of furniture that was stored in his soon-to-be father-in-law’s attic. In 1905, he married his sweetheart, Mary and started a family while continuing to trade in the cattle business. Unfortunately, he lost everything and had to start over.

Looking for a new business venture, Sweeney headed to the library with the hopes of checking out a few books about the chicken industry. The chicken industry, he figured, wasn’t as risky as cattle. While in the library, a book about automobiles caught his attention. He thumbed through the pages that detailed the mechanics of vehicles. He later told the Kansas City Star, “I took this book home instead of the chicken book, and read it and decided to be an automobile man.”

He picked up a job as a mechanic and earned $25 a week fixing automobiles. Before long, Sweeney was an expert mechanic and began training others. The growing automobile industry needed well-trained mechanics, and E.J. Sweeney came up with an idea: he could hands-on train men on how to fix vehicles.

Sweeney Auto and Tractor School was built in 1917 and was the site of the
school until 1930.  It is located across from 
Union Station at 215 W. Pershing
and is on the National 
Register of Historic Places today.
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL
In 1908, he founded Sweeney Auto and Tractor School, one of the first vocational schools in the nation. He advertised far and wide and became nationally known. In a short time, he had thousands of students coming to Kansas City to be trained. During WWI, the government put 5,400 men into his school for instruction and was able to use this financial windfall to expand his operations.

In 1917, Sweeney built a ten-story building across from Union Station for the school. The building included rooms for students to live in and even had a pool and a movie theater. The building still stands today.

As his professional career was making him a millionaire, his personal life took an unfortunate turn when his wife, Mary- the mother of his nine children- unexpectedly passed away. After her death, he married a 20-year-old woman named Virginia Cassuth in 1918 and had one more child.

The 1918 flu pandemic gravely impacted Sweeney School (to read more about the 1918 flu in Kansas City, click here!). When the second wave hit in January 1919, 2,700 students were enrolled. Within three days, 1,100 of them were sick. Sweeney felt personally responsible for these men, so he borrowed money so he could pay their hospital bills. He told the Kansas City Star, “I took care of the sick boys, though I was paid only to teach them. Influenza became the country’s problem, but I made the boys my own problem.”

The mansion at 5921 Ward Parkway built by Emory Sweeney for his new wife and children. 
His school was so popular that he decided to add an aviation school in 1919. In that same year, Sweeney built a sprawling 33-room mansion at 5921 Ward Parkway. The nine-bedroom home was built to be kid-friendly.

Sweeney and his new wife, Virginia along with several servants and his first wife’s mother moved into the massive property. He had bought an additional lot next door to the property on Ward Parkway for $50,000, enlarging the property to five acres; he had plans to build a personal art museum on the land. He did begin collecting art, and Sweeney served on the Kansas City Art Institute’s Board of Directors.

The nine Sweeney children born to Emory and his first wife, Mary. From L-R: Anthony (b.1905), Madeline (b. 1907),
Rose (b. 1908), Catherine (b. 1909), Mary (b. 1910), Josephine (b. 1914), Theodotta (b. 1914), Emory, Jr. (b. 1916)
and Louis (b. 1917). Photo taken about 1919. His tenth child, John, was born in 1921. Courtesy of the Sweeney family.
The incredible property featured a large fountain designed in 1922 by Jorgen E. Dreyer that was meant to not only be beautiful but act also as a swimming pool for his children.

This fountain and water feature sure was fancier than your average backyard pool.
The fountain on the Sweeney property on Ward Parkway
served also as a pool for his children.
Photo courtesy of the Sweeney family.

I could adapt to this lifestyle.

This “red-cheeked, jovial Irishman” told the Kansas City Star, "I've been lucky in my two wives and ten children.  It was pure good luck that I got two such wonderful wives.  The first one helped me make my fortune, inspired me, advised me.  After she died, the second wife stepped in and raised the nine children of my first wife and gave me a tenth child, and made me a home that is a heaven on earth.”

Life had been good for self-starting Mr. Sweeney. 

In 1922, WHB Radio was founded inside Sweeney’s school with financial help from Sweeney himself. As Sweeney’s financial success seemed inevitable, he continued to invest in projects that interested him. It is said that he ran speakers into public parks so that the nightly radio show could be played as people took their nightly strolls.

With everything working out so perfectly for Emory, it’s really no surprise that he decided to take more risks. 

A portrait of Virginia Sweeney was commissioned by
her husband and featured in the newspaper in 1920.
In 1919, he purchased 180 acres outside the city limits that held the original Boone farmhouse and an impressive addition by William Rockhill Nelson. The land bordered 85th St. on the north, 89th St. on the south, Wornall Rd. on the west, and Holmes on the east. The Dodson streetcar line reached the edge of the property.

His plan was to use the land for his aviation school- and those plans were vast. A $1.5 million dollar idea to build a self-sufficient school for his boys was the original hope.

The Kansas City Star reported that the new Sweeney School would “embrace mechanical and agricultural courses ranging from aviation to poultry raising.” 

Apparently he went back to the library and got that chicken book.

This new school was supposed to house 2,500 students. 65 acres of the land would be set aside for an aviation field. He hired architects to design two-story structures covered with stucco and topped with tiled roofs to work as dormitories and classrooms.

The old Boone home that was enlarged by Nelson was to become a clubhouse and a library for students. His plan was to move the entire school operation out south by 1920 and repurpose his building across from Union Station into a 550 room hotel called “The Sweeney Hotel” – set to be the largest hotel in the entire city.

Why this didn’t happen is still a mystery. He chose to open his aviation school in Kansas City, Ks. You may know of the old site, as it later became Fairfax Airport.

Sweeney thought of another idea for use of his land at 85th and Wornall.

The cover of the 32-page booklet
Sweeney printed as promotional material
for his subdivision. The sketches following
all come from this booklet.
Courtesy Kansas City Public Library
He wanted to build “a small city” in the middle of the country- a new community built “for the man of moderate means- the man who wisely lives within his earning power- and to give to such economists an opportunity to have a real home.”

For whatever the reason, Sweeney saw opportunity when he looked harder at the investment he had made. In the center of this was a sturdy farmhouse, built originally by Boone and expanded by Nelson. For the first few years, Sweeney used the property as a place to take his second wife, Virginia and his ten children. Apparently, his mansion at 59th and Ward Parkway wasn’t “removed” enough from the bustle of Kansas City.

The 180 acres of land acquired could have stayed a farm, but Sweeney had envisioned something greater for the property. Although father to the north and to the east, subdivisions were surfacing on the outskirts of the city. And, a plus for homebuyers was that subdivisions south also didn’t have city taxes attached to the purchase.

With a beautiful home in the center of his land, Emory J. Sweeney had an idea as to how to profit.  

Sweeney was about to enter the residential real estate business.

In 1923, E.J. Sweeney announced his impressive plans for a new subdivision he coined “Indian Village.” He chose the name “because this district will be populated by real Americans.” Just to the east of Sweeney’s new subdivision was Ivanhoe Country Club which had been organized in 1921. The private par-three course bordered the eastern side of Sweeney’s land and had a steady stream of golfers coming in from the city.

* Click on image for full view *
The overview of Indian Village Country Club subdivision, platted in 1923. The Boone pond in the NE corner was repurposed
as an "open air theater;" the Boone-Nelson home became the clubhouse; the old barn was transformed into a "Town Hall;"
the entrance in the NW corner at 85th and Wornall featured the Dutch Windmill. Courtesy Kansas City Public Library.
Hoping to “make a beautiful home a possibility for the average wage earner,” Sweeney enlisted renowned landscape architects Hare & Hare (who had designed part of The Paseo and the grounds of his home on Ward Parkway) to design the winding streets. 550 homes were carefully planned on streets paying homage to Native American history and folklore. 

The Dutch Mill on the property was one of the first
things seen when entering at the main entrance
at 85th and Wornall. It served as the real estate office.
Pocahontas, Minnehaha, and Hiawatha are just some of the names chosen for Indian Village. Other streets such as Daniel Boone Rd. and Sweeney Blvd. were named for the original owner of the land and its developer. Virginia Lane was named after Sweeney’s second wife. Street signs were displayed on painted ceramic totem poles imported from Mexico.

I can’t make this stuff up!

This wasn’t your typical subdivision; it was built to be a thriving, self-sufficient community in the country. At the main entrance for “motor cars” at 85th and Wornall, Sweeney built a large Dutch mill that housed the real estate office after you entered the main gates. The choice of a Dutch mill may seem strange, but Sweeney insisted it made sense because the Dutch first established trading posts with Native Americans.

He even commissioned 68 street lamps to be on top of terra cotta totem poles that towered 18 feet high. At the entrance, a one-hundred foot “chime tower” with tubular chimes was placed to sound every fifteen minutes to alert residents of Indian Village of the time.

1940 tax photo shows the property after it was converted back
as a single-family home. Image courtesy State Historical
Society of Missouri.
The old farmhouse built by Boone and enlarged by Nelson was to be the subdivision’s exclusive clubhouse. A peace pipe was hung above the mantel and hickory furniture was accompanied by Navajo rugs on the wood floors. A restaurant and even a daycare would be offered in the clubhouse for residents of Indian Village. The dining room- a part of the original Boone home- could be rented out to residents who wanted to host large parties.

Athletic amenities, including a football field, baseball diamond and running track would be available to Indian Village residents directly behind Boone School. Just to the east of the clubhouse, Sweeney built a fire station and a playground. The grounds already included an old barn, so Sweeney repurposed it to be the Town Hall. 

Sweeney ran hundreds of ads in the newspaper with hopes
of enticing potential buyers with live music performed by
musicians featured on WHB. This ad appeared in 1923 in
the Kansas City Star.
Near the Dodson streetcar line on the northeast corner of the property and close to what was then called Ivanhoe Country Club was a lake dug and filled by the Boone family. It was to be concreted and used as a swimming pool along with an “open air theatre.” Electric lights for “color effects” would be installed on the stage so that plays and WHB concerts were possible.

Advertisements printed in the paper urged homebuyers, “Be a good Indian and give your children a chance.” It was clear that Sweeney had envisioned a paradise inside Indian Village.

The first house for sale was built across the street from the country club (the old Boone-Nelson home) at 8734 Virginia Lane and was called “the Love Nest.” It was Spanish mission in style, a design quite new to the area and still, to this day, a bit out of place in the neighborhood. It was said that at the time, the “exterior stucco” was “in the cream, blue and orange coloring of the hacienda.”  In front of the Love Nest and for a span of several homes, an ornate stone wall was built to give additional character to the budding neighborhood. Today, the remnants of this wall can be seen while traveling the winding streets of Virginia Lane.  

The "Love Nest" at 8734 Virginia Lane was the first home built in the subdivision. Courtesy Kansas City Public Library.
A “demonstration house” furnished by the Jones Store was on the market for $6,000. Sweeney’s marketing was top-notch for his new neighborhood; he even had advertisements following the fictitious “Jack and Mary Jackson” as they went on their journey to find the perfect home. The actors chosen were Jones Store employees who worked with the developer to record short films as they pretended to find their dream home and establish themselves in Indian Village.

The "demonstration home" that staged the factitious Jackson
family featured in advertisements. The home sits at 8525
Hiawatha Road and has been added onto many times since it
was built in 1923.
The recorded films were advertised in the newspaper and everyone was invited nightly to the clubhouse at 7:30 to view “Jack and Mary” on their journey to the perfect Americana lifestyle. The film was shown as the Sweeney Radio Orchestra from WHB played live music as a soundtrack.

Lots were sold from $1800 to $4000, and Sweeney sweetened the pot by offering zero-interest loans for ten years to homebuyers.

His advertisements were so frequent that E.J. Sweeney even published a “census of Indian Village” in 1923 that proclaimed there were 374 married couples, two “eligible bachelors,” seven women (also “eligible”), and four widows.

The extensiveness of advertising was a big seller in Indian Village. E.J. Sweeney offered a free 32-page booklet to be sent to potential homeowners to sell Kansas Citians on the beauty of Indian Village. In truth, Sweeney went with what he knew; he had built his school with creative advertising throughout the nation. His gamble on Indian Village was gauged on his vision- he had to ensure it worked.
The "Open Air Theatre" was in the northeast corner of the property and also
served as a swimming pool for the subdivision. This was the original site of
the Boone pond. Courtesy Kansas City Public Library.

Sweeney proposed cutting off his winding roads in Indian Village from traffic to further entice the middle-class families to settle into his little subdivision. Anyone entering Indian Village to visit would be given a pass.

By the end of the 1920s, Sweeney had sold an impressive amount of the lots; however, not many people had built houses on the land. . .

And a financial mess what on its way.

Troubles began for Sweeney in 1928 when he was upside down in his various business interests. He opted to sell his 33-room home on Ward Parkway to lumberman Harry Dierks, and Sweeney “downgraded” to the Dierks 15-room home at 3727 Forest.

In March 1929 on the eve of the Depression, foreclosure proceedings on the south 99 acres of Indian Village had started due to default interest payments. Sweeney said the land was worth one million- but he owed $165,000.

Virginia Cassuck Sweeney,
namesake of Virginia Lane.
“Big, aggressive, red-haired and robust,” E.J. Sweeney wasn’t about to go down without a fight. The government took away his radio license and were threatening to condemn his ten-story school building across from Union Station- a building he owned outright. Even though he had to liquidate his assets, Sweeney told the Kansas City Star, “I want you to tell the people who bought home sites from me in Indian Village that they won’t lose a dollar.”

Emory J. Sweeney was a self-made man whose willingness to take a risk worked – some of the time. Sweeney Automotive and Tractor School had brought thousands of young men from across the nation to the city, and the lack of the city’s help to continue its success was a thorn in Sweeney’s side.

Sweeney told Mayor Cowgill that there were two types of people who lived in Kansas City- those who lived off the city and those that made the city.

The city had been after Sweeney for his property across from Union Station because it had hindered their plans to build a municipal center between the station and the newly-built Liberty Memorial.

Due to so much financial loss, Sweeney was forced to sell Indian Village to an investment company financed by W.T. Kemper. By 1932, Sweeney was bankrupt and had personal assets of $775. He moved to Wichita to operate a branch of his automotive school and retired in 1951.

A 1938 advertisement in the Kansas City Star notes the
name change to Santa Fe Hills.
The new development company had to simplify Sweeney’s lofty plans for Indian Village. In 1935, the development announced that the “club format” of Indian Village had ended -including private roads. There would be no private entries, exits or buildings within the subdivision.

By 1938, the original vision of Sweeney’s faded further when the totem poles, the windmill, and the stone pillars were removed. The original lake, playground, and athletic fields were eliminated and made into lots to be sold. The new developers scrapped the name “Indian Village” and renamed the community “Santa Fe Hills” as homage to the old Santa Fe Trail that crossed nearby. Ivanhoe Country Club followed suit in 1945 and renamed their 56-acre golf course “Santa Fe Country Club.” The Kansas City Star reported, “The original developer is given credit for an attractive street layout. Trees have matured in the passing years to add their share of natural beauty.”

Even though the subdivision lost its original name, the street names within the community stayed intact.

The old clubhouse, the site of the Boone farmhouse and Nelson’s summer retreat, was rezoned to be sold as a private family home.

The south side of the Boone-Nelson home at 26 Porte Cimi Pas today; the front side has a large fence around it.
The only Boone structure that remains is the far right side of the home. 
In the early 1940s, homes, “some cooled by refrigeration,” were advertised and enticed families to “live out in the country.” The housing boom after World War II helped fill most of the subdivision’s lots and ranch-style bungalows were built. Even though the “club” lifestyle was rejected, the character of Sweeney's dream remained.

This unique subdivision’s history explains why there are so many different styles of homes with very few looking identical to their neighbor. Some were built in the 1920s, and many weren’t constructed until the 1950s.

The subdivision wasn’t annexed to Kansas City until 1958.

Emory J. Sweeney lost almost everything in 1930- including his second wife, Virginia. He remarried for a final time and moved to Wichita to continue his school there. In a final twist of fate, he left Wichita and opted to spend his final years as a resident of his old subdivision. He purchased the two-bedroom Spanish-style home he had coined “the Love Nest” years earlier at 8734 Virginia Lane – the very first house built in his master plan of suburbia living.

Top: the 1940 tax photo shows the old barn that was made into the
Town Hall when Indian Village was developed. Bottom: the same
structure was later repurposed as a residence at 8702 Rainbow Ln.
That means his third wife lived on Virginia Lane- a street named after his second wife - and he was apparently proud of his creation enough to return to it years later.

I had the pleasure of talking to his grandson, Emory “Jack” Sweeney III on the phone, and he recalled some of those prized memories that one cannot find in newspaper clippings, booklets and official records kept in courthouses. Jack would ride his bicycle from his home at 75th and Walnut in order to visit his grandfather.

. . . Back in the days where the only bounds you had were how fast you could peddle a bicycle or move your feet.

That “Spanish-style house” that was one of the bright, beautiful showcases of the subdivision was his home after he was forced to surrender his interest in Indian Village- yet he moved back to the neighborhood. Even his grandson is surprised he chose to go back to the place that cost him so much.

Emory Sweeney's final quiet years were spent surrounded by his large Irish Catholic family. 

In 1953 at the age of 69, Emory passed away of complications from heart disease at his home in Santa Fe Hills. His occupation at his time of death was not listed as an “auto mechanic”. . . He is listed as being a retired real estate broker.

The town listed on his death certificate is Santa Fe Hills.

The Sweeney family owned the “Love Nest” in the subdivision until 1962. 

The Daniel Boone-William Rockhill Nelson home-turned-clubhouse at 26 Porte Cimi Pas was used as a group home and was later sold. Today, part of the original Boone house has been removed from the structure and is a private residence.

The lake at Santa Fe Hills Country Club. In the distance to
the west, Santa Fe Hills subdivision can be seen.
Photo taken in 1964 by Bob Bliss.
The Town Hall Sweeney had converted from an old barn was repurposed as a single-family home and stands today at 8702 Rainbow Lane. Santa Fe Hills Country Club to the east of the subdivision was sold in 1967 and the land was used to build apartments that stand today. The pond that was part of the old golf course is still found behind the apartments.

Although Sweeney’s vision for an affordable, exclusive subdivision didn’t come to fruition, portions of his original plan can still be seen throughout the winding streets of Santa Fe Hills. Pre-Civil War history along the old Santa Fe Trail is a part of the charm of this established neighborhood that was settled by the Boone family, improved by Nelson, and was repurposed by entrepreneur E.J. Sweeney.

Traveling through Indian Village- or Santa Fe Hills- is a trip through thousands of architectural plans. There is no such thing as cookie-cutter homes in the subdivision- and this has to do with the strange yet interesting history that encapsulates its very existence.

If this ground could talk, it would have stories that include many layers of Kansas City history.

I would like to dedicate this story to the Sweeney family and my friends, Kent Dicus and Sam Davidson who called Santa Fe Hills their childhood homes.

This story was originally published in the Martin City Telegraph in two parts and was expanded for this blog. 

* * * * * 

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Dissecting the Troost Divide and Racial Segregation in Kansas City

A long overdue conversation about systemic racism has ignited across the nation, perpetuated from the pain of witnessing on camera the killing of George Floyd. What followed were protests and genuine cries for change in our city. 

Inequality etched our landscape after the Civil War and Reconstruction. Systems put into place nationwide trickled into Kansas City, forever transforming the community into segregation. Into the 1890s, the city wasn’t as racially divided as you’d think. There were several factors that changed this, and one of note recently due to the call to rename J.C. Nichols Parkway was his use of racial covenants in the growing suburbs. 

Country Club District sign off of Brookside Blvd.
J.C. Nichols was the king in Kansas City of residential development, and his vision of the first outdoor shopping mall, the Country Club Plaza, was mimicked across the nation due to its ingenuity (to read more about its creation, click here!)

J.C. Nichols and other real estate developers such as Fletcher Cowherd and the Kroh Brothers of Leawood used covenants as a tool to create a white paradise outside the confines of the urban core.

These racial restrictions weren’t solely the idea of one man in one city but were common practices supported by the federal government across the nation. Residential segregation, according to Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, is “an unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.”
Deed from the Greenway Fields Neighborhood, developed by J.C. Nichols in Brookside. Image courtesy of homeowner.
What drove segregation in Kansas City included blockbusting, racial covenants, real estate practices (including the federal government’s lending programs that refused to insure mortgages in African American neighborhoods), and the Kansas City Public Schools.

It was the Kansas City School Board that created what we know as the “Troost Wall” or “Troost Divide” in our city.  It’s time to focus on the  lesser-discussed failure of the School Board to desegregate the schools- a failure that has left our city with lasting scars still yet to fully heal.

Students at Lincoln School.
Courtesy Black Archives of Mid-America
After the Civil War, the African American population in Kansas City was scattered between many neighborhoods. Hell’s Half Acre, a neighborhood in the West Bottoms, was one area chosen for Black settlement due to its location near the railroads and stockyards. The neighborhood consisted of people from many different ethnic backgrounds. 

Church Hill, in between 8th and 12th St. between Holmes and Troost was originally “the core of Kansas City’s Black community.” Located inside this area was a subdivision called Perry Place where Kersey Coates (1823-1887) only sold to African Americans until 1870. Coates was a Quaker from Pennsylvania who developed Union Hill and founded the Board of Trade. The Coates House Hotel (built in 1886) at 10th and Broadway still bears his name. His allocation of land for African Americans allowed for the creation of several churches and the area’s first Black school.

Benoist Troost (1786-1859)
In 1867, the first school for African Americans on the Missouri side opened. It was called Lincoln School, and it was originally located inside a church in the heart of the city at 10th and McGee. Segregated schools were actually required in the Missouri constitution- it was a criminal offense to have integrated schools. For almost 40 years, Lincoln School was the only place for people of color to get an education.

The railroads and stockyards had people from all over flocking to Kansas City for work. At the same time, thousands of African Americans fled the South due to mounting racial tensions. Many chose to settle in Wyandotte Co. in the Quindaro neighborhood. In Kansas City, Mo., the Black population by 1885 had quadrupled. 

When Kansas City was at its peak of growth in the 1880s, city planners and leaders thought residential development was moving to the east. This can be seen by looking at the early Parks and Boulevard maps. The grandest of all the boulevards, The Paseo, began construction in 1893 and hosted some of the most beautiful residences of the day.

Even before The Paseo was constructed, another neighborhood had been coined one of the richest in the city and featured some of the most beautiful mansions of its time-  and they fell right on Troost Ave. between 24th St. and Linwood Blvd.

A drawing of the Porter Plantation appeared in the Kansas
City Times.
In 1834, Tennessee-born Rev. James Porter (1786-1851), the first Methodist preacher in Kansas City, patented 365 acres at what would become Troost Ave. and employed at least forty slaves on his plantation.

By 1886, the Porter family began to sell off lots. Porter’s own granddaughter tore down the original plantation house and built a mansion on what would be coined “Millionaire’s Row.” What once was the Porter Plantation now encompasses many of Kansas City neighborhoods including Longfellow Heights, Mount Hope, and Beacon Hill. 

Troost Ave. had been named for Kansas City’s first doctor, Benoist Troost (1786-1859), and when the streetcar made it to Troost Ave. in 1889, residents could see tremendous value for selling off their large lots.

Up until 1912, Troost was considered the place to be seen until the commercial real estate market overwhelmed the street. Within twenty years, Troost Ave. became a center of commercial development and the mansions then disappeared.

L.V. Harkness's mansion at 3115 Troost Ave., built around 1888. The house was sold in 1920 and became a hotel,
offices and shops and was later demolished for more retail space.
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL.

What was once a plantation turned into a street of commercial distinction. Within a few decades, that street would become the dividing line of Kansas City.

The African-American population in 1880.
Published in "Kansas City and How It Grew."
Click image for larger view.
The Church Hill neighborhood near Quality Hill became limited in housing options due to commercial expansion, thus the residents in this area sought different housing outside of it. In 1900, African Americans were distributed throughout the city, but three main neighborhoods were settled more heavily. Belvidere centered around land north of Independence Ave. on the east and west side of Troost. Hick’s Hollow was just east of Belvidere and west of Prospect, and the Bowery was just east of Troost and west of Prospect.

The population boom in the 1880s caused overdevelopment of inexpensive, affordable housing on Kansas City’s east side. The financial crisis of 1890 created even more housing inventory. James Shortridge, author of Kansas City and How it Grew, stated, “With exclusionary laws still in the future, location [of Blacks] remained primarily a matter of affordability.” This along with good access to public transportation may have been the driving force behind the east side’s growing Black population. 

Mirroring the Quality Hill neighborhood on the west side of town, well-to-do African Americans began to move from the West Bottoms and into an area just east of The Paseo near 24th St. This neighborhood quickly became known as “Negro Quality Hill.”

African American neighborhoods in 1910. Each dot
represents "eight Negro families." From Shortridge's book
"Kansas City and How it Grew." Click for full view.
Lincoln School opened the area’s first Black high school at 19th and Tracy in 1890, and its creation likely fueled even more settlement on the east side. Slowly but surely, Black churches started to relocate to this area as well. By the 1920s, the area also boasted the scene of late-night entertainment in the 18th and Vine neighborhood, a place still iconic for its culture and music traditions.

Early Civil Rights activist W.E.B. DuBois strongly believed in the importance of education and stated, “Education and work are the levers to uplift a people.” The growing African American population in Kansas City was stimulated by this desire to educate the next generation.

In 1900, the Black population was evenly distributed throughout  Jackson, Cass and Platte Counties, but if you wanted to have access to education, you had to travel to Kansas City. This created pressure for parents to either move to the area or make their children travel long distances to school. 

According to Kevin Fox Gotham, professor of sociology at Tulane University and author of Race, Real Estate and Uneven Development, between World War I and 1954, “Only six of 61 African American settlements in Jackson, Clay, and Platte Counties provided elementary schools for African American children.” In fact, until 1954, Lincoln was the only African American secondary school in all three counties.

Because of the systems in place, families who decided to relocate to Kansas City lived in racially segregated places where children went to racially segregated schools. 
Cir. 1890 photo of Lincoln School (right) and Lincoln High (left). Lincoln
School was on the northwest corner of 11th and Campbell.
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL.

As the city grew in size and the motor car created mobility, the suburbs became desirable and catered to the notion of “white flight.” The creation of Attucks School at 19th and Woodland in 1907 gave even more educational opportunities to the Black community in the area.

Racial covenants in new neighborhoods prohibited Blacks from living within them. In other well-established white neighborhoods in the city that bordered on areas with an African American population, HOA’s conveniently added covenants to restrict Blacks from moving into their space.

Kansas City's African-American population in 1940
published in James Shortridge's book "Kansas City and How It Grew"
Click image for larger view.
As the divide became more pronounced along Troost Ave., whites living east of the division moved out of the area and further segregated the school system and neighborhoods. Real estate “blockbusters” such as Bob Wood profited from white flight by buying a home and selling it to minorities. As part of a chain reaction, whites in the neighborhood would sell their homes to people like Bob Wood below market value “on the implied threat of future devaluation during minority integration of previously segregated neighborhoods.” 

Within a short period of time, African Americans were pigeonholed to the east side of Kansas City. James Shortridge explained, “Restrictive covenants in new subdivisions didn’t cause the overcrowding on the east side directly. Instead, they initiated a chain reaction.”

According to NPR, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) “furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods- a policy known as redlining.”

These “security maps” created by the New Deal agency called the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), “recruited mortgage lenders, developers, and real estate appraisers in nearly 250 cities to create maps that color-coded credit worthiness and risk on neighborhood and metropolitan levels.” In addition, the FHA was subsidizing builders who would ensure that no homes would be sold to Blacks.  According to Richard Rothstein, these practices created nationwide ghettos “surrounded by white suburbs.”

By 1920, 75% of the population on the east side was African American. The lines were beginning to be drawn. 

That redline wouldn't be stopped by the Supreme Court.

This chart shows the racial breakdown of the area's Black
population 1900-1954 first published by Kevin Fox Gotham.
Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 ruled that segregation of schools was unconstitutional, but it didn’t stop Kansas City from continuing their practice of segregation. The state left it up to the school districts to decide whether it even happened.  The Kansas City School District (KCSD) started to quickly decline when all public schools were ordered to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the Kansas City School Board took pen to paper and redrew the boundaries to ensure schools stayed segregated. Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends Are Black, wrote, “Starting in 1955, the city announced that school enrollment would be based on neighborhood attendance zones- neighborhoods that just happened to be all white or all Black.” With the move of the boundaries, there was significant gerrymandering that quickly coded one neighborhood or another- depending on where it fell along Troost.

The “attendance zones” drawn by the School Board redlined the community along Troost Ave.

According to Kevin Fox Gotham, “Into the 1970s, the School Board made frequent shifts in attendance areas of its schools, typically removing white areas from the western-most portions of its racially transitional zones and attaching them to all-white zones further west.” 

The division at Troost Ave. coupled with blockbusting evoked a mass exodus of white families to communities outside of the Kansas City district and into areas such as Johnson County, South Kansas City and Raytown.  Suburban areas began to grow at alarming speeds and became a haven for post-war families. 

From a pamphlet warning residents about blockbusting
The decision to desegregate schools accelerated Johnson County, Ks. growth as families looked for alternatives. The population of Johnson Co., Ks. more than doubled between 1950 and 1960. The creation of subdivisions sprinkled with small, convenient shopping centers in locations such as Raytown, Ruskin Heights, Hickman Mills, and Grandview supplied white suburbanites other places to settle down. White flight from the Kansas City School District had begun.

While whites moved out, the all-white Kansas City school board over the next two decades constantly shifted attendance boundaries. Between 1954 and 1973, the four high schools east of Troost changed from three all-white schools and one all-Black (Lincoln) to a 97% Black enrollment in all four schools.

Dr. Derald Davis, Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Inclusion and Innovation with KCPS stated, “The legacy of racism and classism in Kansas City, Missouri has left a permanent stain in the culture, traditions, and policies of our city.” 

In 1954, Central High School was 100% white. Six years later, the school was 90% Black. Paseo High School was 100% white in 1954, and by 1970, Paseo was 99% Black. Schools west of Troost remained to have a high population of whites while schools east of it were overcrowded and underfunded. James Shortridge explained, “The city grew by nearly 220 square miles throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but the school district stayed the same size.” 

Snapshots of the yearbook photos from Central High School (L-R)- 1954, 1957, and 1960.
The change in demographics due to the attendance boundary shifts at Troost is easily visible.
In the 1960s, Central High School was bursting at the seams, and the School District set out to shift the boundary lines once again. On June 27, 1963, the Kansas City Times reported the Board’s findings on what to do with overpopulation on the east side. They stated, “The board recognizes that the discussion of solving overcrowded conditions at Central High School is occurring at a time when racial tensions are increasing across the country. The Kansas City schools have a respectable record of integration.”

They shifted the attendance boundaries once again, and this further reinforced neighborhood segregation despite their denial of a problem. In 1969, the School Board asked for a tax increase to support public schools, but it didn’t pass. According to Kevin Fox Gotham, “Nineteen additional proposals for school support would appear on the ballot for the next two decades, but none of them passed.”

After World War II, many soldiers returned home, got married, and started a family. Affordable housing wasn’t the only concern for these young couples- they wanted to ensure the place where they called home also had quality schools. Builders threw up housing as quickly as possible. In Ruskin Heights south of the city, the first tract housing development was built. Grandview saw substantial growth due to its location near Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base. Raytown offered affordable housing and newly-built schools. 

James Shortridge, author of Kansas City and How it Grew explains, “These schools [in the suburbs] were established as alternatives to the troubled Kansas City system, and minority students were scarce before the late 1980s.” As the suburbs exploded in the 1950s and 1960s, Kansas City’s schools were facing serious problems. As the district was forced to integrate, there was a white exodus to the suburbs. 

Schools in Kansas City were in disrepair. Quality teachers left for suburban districts, and within a short amount of time, test scores began to fall.

Kansas City continued to be one of the most segregated (and underfunded) school systems in the nation into the 1970s with its line falling at Troost. “Once a thriving commercial artery, Troost turned into the frontline of a long and bitter turf war in which both armies retreated and turned their backs on it,” Tanner Colby explained.

Troost was an endless dividing line between Black and white schools, neighborhoods, wealth, and development opportunities that began with the School District’s decision to segregate through attendance zones. 
Blockbusting story published in the Sunday Evening Post

In the 1970s, Kansas City remained to be one of the most segregated school systems in the nation. The school district was under scrutiny by the NAACP and other organizations because of the startling segregation that still existed within the schools. 

In 1973, a lawsuit was filed by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) demanding desegregation in the high schools. The school board responded by adopting an integration plan that affected only 17 of the district’s 98 schools. The district bused about 700 of the district’s 65,000 students. To no surprise, the plan failed. 

In 1975, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) launched a federal investigation and found that the school district was illegally segregating schools by continuously moving the attendance boundaries- with the line falling at Troost Ave. 

A drawing in the May 15, 1977 Kansas City Star
noting the busing controversy
HEW used money to force change on the school district- if KCPS didn’t solve this inherent segregation within the schools, they would lose federal funding. The school district tried to bus students to ensure schools were at least 30% African-American, but the plan was unsuccessful.

Kevin Fox Gotham, author of Race, Real Estate and Uneven Development wrote, “In 1977, eight out of ten African-American children in the district attended schools that were 90% Black while the majority of white students attended schools that were more than 90% white.”

Part of the problem of integrating schools was the declining number of white students within the district. White families had moved at alarming speeds to the suburbs.

Anomalies in the heart of the communities built by J.C. Nichols such as the Country Club District can still be seen. The people living in these neighborhoods- predominately white- pay taxes into KCPS but choose to send their students to five conveniently located private schools: Barstow, Notre Dame de Sion, Pembroke Hill, Rockhurst, and St. Teresa’s.

Out of solutions within its boundaries, the Kansas City School District filed a lawsuit in 1977 on behalf of its students against the state of Kansas, Missouri, and the eighteen suburban districts in the metropolitan area. The KCSD alleged it was the joint responsibility of the states and the suburban districts to be part of the solution to desegregate public schools in Kansas City. In that same year, the school district hired their first Black superintendent, Robert R. Wheeler.

Headline in the Kansas City Times May 5, 1977
In 1957, Missouri House Bill 171 barred school district boundaries from automatically growing when Kansas City annexed land. Through annexations, Kansas City grew by nearly 220 square miles throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but the school district remained the same size. White flight from the urban core crippled the number of white students as families left for outlying Kansas City communities such as Hickman Mills, Raytown, Independence, Grandview, and Ruskin Heights. KCSD thought a viable plan for desegregation of schools was to merge these schools and create one large metropolitan district. 
Central High School
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL

The state of Kansas was eventually dismissed from the lawsuit, but the battle continued in court for eight years.  By 1981, 72.6% of Kansas City’s students were non-white. While the KCSD alleged racial discrimination was at play in the decisions of suburban districts against merging, the U.S. District Court of Western Missouri ruled in 1984 that there were not signs of overt or intentional discrimination. 

In 1985, Federal Judge Russell G. Clark ruled against the idea of a metropolitan school district, noting that the suburban districts “were not responsible for Kansas City’s problem.” It was ordered that the KCSD come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the funds to pay for it. Desegregation, it appeared, fell onto the state of Missouri and the school district- a district with a 73% minority population. James Shortridge wrote, “One federal judge who became involved with the issue said that he had never seen a prison in such bad shape as the Kansas City schools of the 1980s.”

The problem was there weren’t that many white students, and it’s hard to integrate schools when there is no one to integrate with. 

The hope in the 1980s was to build one of the best school districts in the nation. Fifteen brand-new buildings were constructed while 54 old ones were remodeled. They created nearly five dozen magnet schools which concentrated on subjects such as computer science, foreign languages, and classical Greek athletics.  James Shortridge explains, “If the quality of instruction was high, the buildings modern, and the programs innovative, students from all over the region would want to attend."

Because the plan would cost a lot to execute and schools were already in disrepair, the court ordered that property taxes be raised and the state needed to fund the rest. Thus, an extra $200 million dollars per year was funneled into the district’s budget.

Money clearly was no object. Schools featured amenities such as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, a robotics lab, a film studio, theaters, a mock court, and a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability. Central High School had computers for every student.

At one point, 44% of the entire state budget for education was going to just nine percent of the state’s students in St. Louis and Kansas City. The state was spending more on desegregation than it was spending on prisons, courts, the highway patrol, and the state fire marshal combined.

The hope with all of these new facilities and advancements was to attract 5,000 to 10,000 white students back to the district, but the plan failed. The largest number of white students ever enrolled was 1,500 - and most returned to their old schools after one year. Test scores continued to fall.

Lack of student performance was likely the main reason for the failure of KCSD in the 1980s and 1990s. James Shortridge points to the quality of instruction as a serious issue. Shortridge wrote, “It is a sad story, but Kansas City people sacrificed quality of education to the shorter-term goals of integration and job retention.”
The Troost Wall or Troost Divide can be clearly seen in this racial map.

By the 1990s, over $2 billion dollars had been invested into the school system. Even with the extra funding, the city remained deeply divided racially, economically and geographically as ever.

As Kansas City schools fought to revitalize with funding, many middle-class Black families left the district for bordering communities. Communities such as Raytown had openly used racial profiling in the 1960s and 1970s, but by the 1980s, Black families moved into the area seeking better opportunities.

Students at Ruskin High School in 1968
Ironically, many of the white community members in Raytown resisting this change had much in common with them. A generation before, white flight had moved this group to the suburbs, and African-Americans were doing the same in the name of opportunity- especially as it pertained to schools. 

By 1980, Raytown’s western and northern sections were 25% Black. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Hickman Mills school district was booming with a population of 13,000. In 1968, there were only two non-white students in the district. By 1990, Hickman Mills and Ruskin Heights was 37% African-American- the highest outside of KCPS. As more Black families moved in, whites left for schools in other districts. Aging housing stock in the neighborhoods and a shift in demographics had housing prices dropping. By 2011, the Hickman Mills school district had shrunk to less than half its size in the 1960s.

31st and Troost in 1954 versus today
In the past two decades, Kansas City, according to an Urban League report, has moved to being a district of “education choice” due to the addition of charter schools in the last twenty years. The 2019 report proclaims KCPS “is more segregated today than in the 1990s” and found that charter schools aren’t opening in neighborhoods that need better schools; rather, charter schools tend to exist and thrive in middle-class neighborhoods.

Even though the district is still predominantly Black and is now 25% Latino, families are leaving the city for educational opportunities in other districts. The Urban League Report states, “Hickman Mills had become predominantly African-American . . . and Raytown- once an epicenter of racial exclusion - served a sizable Black population.” 

There have been extensive efforts to erase the line of Black versus white- rich versus poor- that you can still see along Troost Ave. Before white flight virtually crippled the once-thriving commercial shopping district along 31st and Troost, the area was an epicenter for shopping. Ten years ago, the area was crippled with crime, dilapidated buildings, and basic neglect of a historic area so many left behind as they packed their bags for the suburbs.

Today, Midtown Redevelopment Partners are transforming several of these buildings into offices and retail. The old Tycor Building will boast even further culture being cultivated in the blossoming neighborhood by housing the Midwest American Indian Museum of the Plains.

Troost Ave. also saw a needed boost with the launch of Troost Market Collective, a non-profit set on creating opportunities for creative entrepreneurs in the neighborhood. Starting in 2018, they launched Troostapalooza, a free, family-friendly event between 30th and 31st on Troost Ave. that drew community members far and wide.

Images from Troostapalooza, courtesy
People do care about the future of Troost Ave. and are working to unpack the systemic problems that created the division between east and west - a division that, without a doubt, still exists.

The systemic problems within Kansas City schools started with the invisible line drawn at Troost Ave. in the 1950s. This continued into the 1980s, and it could be argued that it still- at least in racial makeup and housing prices- exists today. Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends are Black, wrote, “Still today, nearly every zip code, every census tract, every voting ward - and for a long time, every school district- all split along Troost.”

This redline isn’t unique to Kansas City. “Most every city in America has a Troost,” Tanner Colby stated. Kansas City’s systemic problem has continued to exist after so many attempts to solve it. Consolidation efforts failed, remodeling the schools, and extensive funding didn’t draw white students back to the district. Today, with a population of 10% white within the district, desegregation of the schools is next to impossible.

In our current climate, fingers are pointing toward figures such as J.C. Nichols as the fundamental reason Kansas City’s cultural geography is the way it is today. In truth, there were many factors that led to racial segregation, and one of the most predominate is the red line that still can be seen along Troost Ave. 

James Shortridge wrote of the Troost Divide, “Its persistence more than a generation later as a major cultural divide is evidence that Kansas City never dealt successfully with segregated schools” and this “explains much of the community’s cultural geography.”

Dr. Derald Davis, Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Inclusion and Innovation with Kansas City Public Schools commented, “Now is the time to dismantle systems of racism that have kept some neighborhoods, and many schools, under-resourced and disenfranchised for decades.” 

This problem has persisted since the 1950s and still desperately needs a solution.
* * *
This piece was written by Diane Euston with contributing historian Tim Reidy. Reidy is an Archivist and Kansas City History Instructor at Rockhurst High School and works as an independent researcher. He wrote Crossroads of America: A Thematic History of Kansas City ,an electronic textbook for use in his History of Kansas City courses. He holds an MEd. in Secondary Social Studies from the University of  Notre Dame and a BA in History and American Studies from the University of Kansas.

Recommended Reading:
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
Kansas City and How It Grew by James R. Shortridge
Race, Real Estate and Uneven Development by Kevin Fox Gotham
Some of My Best Friends Are Black by Tanner Colby

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