KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An old and largely forgotten part of Kansas City is taking the first steps to being put back on the map.
What used to be West 43rd Terrace is now Steptoe Street as a result from the work of Steptoe Lives, a collection of local organizations and individuals who are coming together to help remember the historic neighborhood.
“Right here on this corner is where I learned about life,” said Kenneth Stone Jr., sitting at the corner of Steptoe Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. “Life happened here on the corner.”
But all that’s left of the village that raised children like Stone is a falling down stoop. What started as a place for freed slaves to live in the 1800’s grew into a vibrant and predominantly Black community by the time Stone and Mark Turner were friends there.
“It was kind of like a utopia,” Turner said.
While racial strife happened outside its boundaries, Steptoe was different.
“It was a tight-knit neighborhood and no one went around here hungry,” Turner said.
St. Luke’s Hospital bought up the land over the years helping expand their services. Those moves resulted in the last remnants of the Steptoe neighborhood coming down.
“I’m not mad at St. Luke’s at all,” Stone said. “I don’t want to bash St. Luke’s. But I just miss the way it was. It’s just a shame the community couldn’t still be here.”
That’s when Steptoe Lives came together, pulling in organizations and residents like Stone and Turner to preserve the history.
“Sometimes I just want to stop someone and tell them, ‘Do you realize where you’re at? Do you realize what happened here,” Stone said.
Historical Kansas City Board Member Amelia McIntyre said Steptoe Lives is doing exactly that.
“These are small steps but renaming the street back to what it was in 1857, the changed street signs, and now we’re working on the blue and white tile,” McIntyre said.
Later this summer, tile in the sidewalk will tell people who walk by where they are. Within a year, McIntyre hopes to have historic plaques installed relaying some of the history that Stone and Turner can only relay in person.
“Nobody knows this was Miss June’s house, right next door was the Tally’s, right next door was Miss Ross, right next door was Roy Williams,” remembered Turner. “Nobody would have known all that, unless somebody tried to keep it alive.”
The KC Streetcar Extension Project will pass just a few blocks away from Steptoe, so McIntyre said the long-term goal is to have plaques reaching all the day down to Main Street to help draw Westport visitors into Steptoe.