A lifetime appointment to stop hate

By Ed Chasteen

NOTE: Ed Chasteen is a former professor at William Jewell College and founder of the Human Family Reunion, which will be held in two parts on May 1 and 2. For more information, go to http://www.hatebusters.com.

Community Studies it was called. Homer Wadsworth, Paul Bowman and Warren Peterson were its principals, though I would not know this until later. My eventual association with this place and these people was set in motion one winter afternoon in 1964 when Professor Robert Habenstein walked into my graduate student office at the University of Missouri in Columbia. “I’m here to offer you the biggest fellowship we have,” Hobby said. “We will need to go to Kansas City to work it out.”

Other than my high school senior trip to Houston, Kansas City was the biggest city I had ever been to. Hobby and I met Warren Peterson at the President Hotel where the Midwest Sociological Society was holding its annual convention. Hobby and Warren had been grad school friends at the University of Chicago, another fact I would later learn, and which, no doubt, played a part in my getting the fellowship. It was Community Studies giving the fellowship and the University of Missouri recommending the recipient.

So in the fall of 1964, my wife and I and our three small children moved to Kansas City. The fellowship would pay me enough to live on for a year while I did research on some issue of concern to Kansas City. I had read about the Public Accommodations vote in April of 1964 to decide if Negroes would be permitted to eat in department store lunch rooms, try on clothes before buying, attend movie theaters or make use of any other public convenience.

I had gone to high school in Huntsville, Texas, graduating in 1954, just days after the Supreme Court declared segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. I was 14 that Sunday morning a few years earlier when my pastor at the First Baptist Church preached another of his elegant and eloquent sermons about loving all people. Listening to him I just knew that come Monday morning in Huntsville everybody would love everybody.

That notion lasted less than a minute. As I walked out the church door two deacons stood talking. One said, “If them niggers try to come in this church, I’ll beat ‘em back with a baseball bat.” “Me, too,” said the other.

When I enrolled across town in our local college in the fall of 1954, I signed up for a class in the Sociology Department called Race Relations, hoping that maybe that class could help me understand how those deacons could say those things.

Ten years later when I came to Kansas City to get my doctorate in Sociology, I was still trying to understand. So I had no choice. I had to know who voted which way on Public Accommodations. And why.

Alvin Brooks, Lucile Bluford, Wallace Hartsfield were the first people I met. Roe Barttle, Chester Stovall and Ruth Kerford soon after. I got to know the Tavern Owner’s Association and the John Birch Society and the big five downtown department stores: Emery Byrd Thayer, Klines, Peck’s, Macy’s and the Jones Store. I learned the part all had played.

When my year was up and I had my doctorate, I was supposed to return to the Oklahoma college from which I had taken leave to get my degree. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I could go anywhere and teach from books. But my year of getting to know the people and problems of Kansas City would be wasted. When a job came open at William Jewell College—teaching Race Relations no less—I grabbed it, thinking I would stay a while but eventually return to Texas where our families all lived.

I discovered, though, that what was true at the end of my first year in Kansas City became more so as time went by. Five years into my teaching at Jewell I was offered a job at the Texas college Bobbie and I had always said would be the perfect place to live. We went to look. We both said no. We had found a home in Missouri, in a town fittingly named Liberty.

Forty-four years have now come and gone. All this time I have thought of myself as a family doctor. Not of the body. Of the spirit. Of the relations we have with each other. Greater Kansas City is my patient, though I have expanded the boundaries and call it Greater Liberty, for reasons I will explain. I left William Jewell some years back to devote full time to a project my Race Relations class started in 1988. We called it HateBusters. We’re now a 501 C-3 non-profit. We help people hurt by hate. We never say no when asked to help. We charge no fees.

Kansas City—Greater Liberty—has been good to me. I’ve tried to return the favor. I’m not through yet. Mine is a lifetime appointment.

1 Comment »

  1. Ed Chasteen said

    Michael, thanks for telling your readers abnout my mission. I’m grateful.

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