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The State Historical Society of Missouri's Historic Missourians
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Lucile Bluford (1911 - 2003)



Lucile Bluford was a well-respected editor and publisher of the Kansas City Call, an important African American weekly newspaper. She was also a brave and persistent civil rights
Civil Rights refers to rights that all individuals in a society are guaranteed by their government in order to protect them from unfair treatment. In the United States, a citizen's civil rights are outlined in the first ten amendments of the Constitution, which are called the Bill of Rights.
activist. In both her personal life and her career, she refused to remain quiet about racial injustice.

Early Years

Lucile Bluford as a baby Lucile Bluford as a baby Lucile Bluford as a baby in North Carolina.

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Lucile Harris Bluford was born on July 1, 1911, in Salisbury, North Carolina. Her parents were John Henry Bluford, Sr.
John Henry Bluford, Sr. John Henry Bluford, Sr. (1880 – 1946)

John Henry Bluford, Sr. was born in Virginia in 1880. He was a professor at the Negro Agricultural and Technical College (later renamed North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College) in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1918 he accepted a position as a science teacher at Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri. Bluford taught high school science for 25 years.

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John Henry Bluford, Sr. Obituary for J. H. Bluford in the Kansas City Call, March 29, 1946

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and Viola Harris Bluford. She had two brothers, John Jr. and Guion. When Lucile was only four, her mother died. Her father later married Addie AlstonObituary for Addie Alston Bluford in the Kansas City Call, January 14, 1944

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, and in 1918 he accepted a position teaching science at Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri. Lucile moved with her family Kansas City Census Record, 1930.

Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, “Jackson County, Missouri,” National Archives Microfilm Publication T626, Roll 1199, p. 162, family #111.

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to Kansas City
Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri

View of Kansas City, Missouri, Grand Avenue, looking north from Twelfth Street, around 1917.

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Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City street scene, around 1912.

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Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri

View of Kansas City, Missouri, Grand Avenue, looking south from Eighth Street, around 1917.

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Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri

View of Kansas City, Missouri, Grand Avenue, looking north from Twelfth Street, around 1917.

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Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri

View of Kansas City, Missouri, Grand Avenue, looking south from Eighth Street, around 1917.

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when she was seven years old.
Wendell Phillips School Wendell Phillips School Wendell Phillips Elementary School, 1911.

Wendell Phillips Elementary School was named after Wendell Phillips (1811–1884), the famous abolitionist from Boston, Massachusetts.

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At this time in America, schools throughout the South and bordering states like Missouri had a “separate but equal” rule in education. This meant that children of different races could not go to school together. Black students attended schools that were supposed to be equal in quality to the white schools, but most of them did not have the same resources. Lucile attended Wendell Phillips Elementary. At age 13, she started Lincoln High School, where her father taught. Lucile was a very active and successful student. She wrote for the school newspaper and graduated first in her class in 1928.

Lincoln High School Lincoln High School Lincoln High School, 1911.

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Lucile discovered while working on the high school newspaper and yearbook that she wanted to become a journalist. She thought about where she could go to college to study journalism, but her choices were very limited. She knew she couldn’t attend the University of Missouri in Columbia, which had the oldest and most respected journalism school in the country. It wouldn’t admit African Americans. Black students were supposed to study at the historically black college, Lincoln University
Lincoln University is a traditionally black school located in Jefferson City, Missouri. It began as Lincoln Institute in 1866 and was conceived and supported by the black soldiers who served with the 62nd and 65th Regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops Infantry. In 1921 Lincoln Institute became Lincoln University, and in 1954 Lincoln opened its doors to students of all races.
, in Jefferson City, but it did not have a journalism program. So Lucile attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence instead. She graduated in 1932 with high honors.
The Kansas City Call The Kansas City Call The building in which the Kansas City Call was published during the 1920s, located on East Eighteenth Street.

[Kansas City Call]

Lucile Bluford began her journalism career in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was a reporter for the Daily World, an African American newspaper. Returning home, she worked at the Kansas City American and then at the Kansas City Call, both African American-owned newspapers. At the Call, Bluford worked for Chester A. Franklin
Chester Arthur Franklin Chester Arthur Franklin (1880 - 1955)

Chester Arthur Franklin was the publisher and editor of the Kansas City Call from 1919 to 1955. He published the first issue on May 6, 1919. He only hired journalists with college degrees and focused his paper on serious topics concerning African Americans—race issues and politics—rather than sensational headlines.

[Kansas City Call]
Chester A. Franklin Chester Arthur Franklin (1880 - 1955)

Franklin's paper prospered, and in 1931 he hired Lucile Bluford as a full-time news editor.

[Kansas City Call]
Chester A. Franklin Chester Arthur Franklin (1880 - 1955)

Letter from Chester A. Franklin to Frederick A. Middlebush, president of the University of Missouri-Columbia, regarding admitting African Americans to the university.

[University of Missouri, President's Office, Papers, 1892-1966, The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection–Columbia, MO]
and advanced from the position of reporter to city editor, managing editor, and finally to editor and publisher.

Testing an Unfair System

The University of Missouri School of Journalism The University of Missouri School of Journalism Missouri School of Journalism.

The School of Journalism at the University of Missouri was the world’s first school of journalism. It was founded in 1908 and directed by the journalist, Walter Williams (1864–1935). A Missouri native, Williams is considered the founder of journalism education and was the driving force behind the effort to give journalism schools professional standards and recognition. In the 1920s, Williams wrote the Journalist’s Creed, a widely accepted code of ethics for journalists.

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In 1939, Bluford applied to the University of Missouri School of Journalism to do graduate work. She was accepted into the program, but when she went to Columbia to enroll, she was turned away. University officials had not known that she was African American. Just the year before, Lloyd Gaines an honors student from Lincoln University, had sued the University of Missouri to be accepted into its School of Law. After his case went to the United States Supreme Court and the court ruled in his favor, Gaines mysteriously disappeared.
With the help of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Formed in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is an African American civil rights organization whose mission is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination."
, Bluford strove to break down the system of injustice against African Americans in higher education. She believed that education was the key to advancement and equal treatment in society. She tried eleven times to enter the University of Missouri. She filed the first of several lawsuits against the university on October 13, 1939. Bluford’s case was denied time and time again.
In 1941 the state supreme court finally ruled in Bluford’s favor. The University of Missouri had to admit her because no equal program existed at Lincoln University. In response, the School of Journalism closed its graduate program. It claimed that it could not operate properly because a majority of its professors and students were serving in World War II
World War II was a global conflict that began in Europe on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. In response, Britain and France declared war on Germany. War broke out between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Powers (Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). Japan invaded China, occupied the Philippines, and seized a number of islands throughout the Pacific, while Germany captured much of Europe and North Africa before invading the Soviet Union. Millions of civilians were killed; Jews were specifically singled out by the Germans for extermination, as were other minorities, such as those who were mentally ill, physically and mentally disabled, homosexual, or members of political and religious groups who opposed the Axis Powers.

The United States provided aid to the Allied Powers but remained neutral until Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The United States then declared war on Japan and, in turn, Germany declared war on the United States. The United States joined the Allied Powers and launched an enormous war effort at home and abroad. On the home front, civilians made important contributions by helping to produce military equipment, supplies, and food in record amounts. American military forces fought in Europe, North Africa, and throughout the Pacific against the Axis Powers. By the end of the war, over twelve million Americans had served in the armed forces.

On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered, bringing an end to the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific continued until the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in early August 1945. The Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945. By the end of the war, over 418,500 American servicemen were killed, and worldwide an estimated thirty-eight million people lost their lives during the war.
Honorary degree recipient Lucile Bluford Honorary degree recipient Lucile Bluford Honorary degree recipient Lucile Bluford.

[David Rees photograph]

Though Bluford ended her legal battle with the University of Missouri, she kept fighting racism. She became a leading voice in the civil rights movement in Kansas City and helped make the Call one of the largest and most important black newspapers in the nation. Eventually, the University of Missouri honored her. In 1984, a year after her nephew Guion S. Bluford, Jr. Guion Bluford was the first African American man to become an astronaut and orbit the earth in the NASA program. In 1983 he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. He made additional space flights in 1985, 1991, and 1992. He has logged over 688 hours in space.

[NASA/courtesy of]
became the first African American astronaut in space, Bluford received an Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the School of Journalism. In 1989 the university gave her an honorary doctorate. Bluford said that she accepted the degree “not only for myself, but for the thousands of black students” the university had discriminated against over the years.



Lucile Bluford Lucile Bluford Lucile Bluford (1911-2003).

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Through her bold stands, her determination to expose racism, and her clear and forceful journalistic writing, Lucile Bluford helped change the way African Americans are treated, especially in the area of higher education. She died in Kansas City on June 13, 2003, at the age of 91, having worked at the Call for seventy years. She is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City.

Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Karla Sue Wentzle and Jillian Hartke


References and Resources

For more information about Lucile Bluford's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Lucile Bluford in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • "Bluford Blazed Trail in Civil Rights; Former Editor of Newspaper Dead at 91.” Columbia Daily Tribune. June 15, 2003. p. 1.
    • Tammeus, Lisen. “Unlocking Segregation.” Columbia Missourian. February 28, 1993. pp. 1G–2G.
    • “Missouri Supreme Court Rules in Bluford Case.” Kansas City Call. July 18, 1941. p. 7.
    • “Ruled in Favor of Missouri Negress: Lucile Bluford is Entitled to Enroll at U. of M. School of Journalism.” The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune. July 8, 1941. p. 6.
  • Books & Articles
    • “11 Honor Medalists Named By School of Journalism.” Missouri Press News. v. 52, no. 4 (April 1984), pp. 11-12. [REF F565 m691]
    • Dains, Mary K., ed. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989. v. 1, pp. 140–41. [REF F508 Sh82]
    • “KC Call Observes 75th Anniversary.” Missouri Press News. v. 63, no. 1 (January 1995), p. 19. [REF F565 m691]
    • Kremer, Gary. “Segregated Education Gave Lincoln University Law and Journalism Schools.” Heartland History: Essays on the Cultural Heritage of the Central Missouri Region. St. Louis: G. Bradley Publishing. 2001. v. 2, pp. 28–30. [REF F626 K881]
    • The Lincolnian. Kansas City: Lincoln High School. Senior class, 1928. [H128.851 L638]
    • “Lucile Bluford: Editor and Activist.” Missouri Press News. v. 55, no. 7 (July 1987), p. 10. [REF F565 m691]
    • McCandless, Perry, and William E. Foley, eds. Missouri Then and Now. 3rd ed. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. p. 317. [F550 M126M 2001]
    • Trout, Carlynn. Notable Women of Missouri. Columbia, MO: Columbia, Missouri Branch of the American Association of University Women in partnership with Eugene Field Elementary School, Columbia, MO, 2005. [REF F508 T758 2005]
  • Manuscript Collection

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following websites:

Historic Missourians: Lucile Bluford
Lucile H. BlufordSenior portrait of Lucile H. Bluford, 1932.

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Lucile H. Bluford

Born: July 1, 1911
Died: June 13, 2003 (age 91)
Categories: Journalists, African Americans, Women
Region of Missouri: Kansas City
Missouri Hometown: Kansas City
Related Biographies: Lloyd Gaines
Bluford's Signature