Missouri’s Civil Rights Stories: Lucile Bluford – the Conscious of Kansas City

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Credit: Hal Wells, Missourian Archives

The Civil Rights Movement was defined by individuals who used their voice and skills to call for equal treatment. Lucile Bluford used her passion for journalism to direct attention to the plight of Black citizens.

From a young age, Bluford had a talent for writing. Because Lincoln University, the only Black university in Missouri, did not have a journalism program, she earned a degree in journalism at the University of Kansas. The University of Missouri’s renowned journalism school in Columbia only accepted white students.

Throughout her college career, Bluford worked part time at The Kansas City Call, a popular Black newspaper. After graduation, she joined the staff at The Call as a full-time reporter and quickly became known for her work as a writer and an activist.

In 1939, she applied to the University of Missouri School of Journalism to pursue a graduate degree. Her application was initially accepted, but she was denied admission when the university discovered her race.

The NAACP supported a lawsuit against the university in an attempt to gain equality in education for all students. Bluford tried to enroll at the university 11 times, but each time she was denied. During that time, she filed several lawsuits against the school. In 1941, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in her favor and said the University of Missouri had to admit her because no “separate but equal” journalism program was offered at Lincoln University.

She won the lawsuit, but shortly after the ruling, the University of Missouri discontinued its graduate degree program in journalism.

Bluford documented her legal journey in articles she wrote for The Call. Her writing condemned discrimination in education, housing and employment and called on readers to actively work toward advancing the civil rights of Black citizens. She became known as the “Conscience of Kansas City.” She spent a total of 70 years at The Call – as a reporter, editor, publisher and part owner.

Fifty years after first applying to the University of Missouri, the school presented Bluford with an honorary doctorate degree.