You may not know that the 17-acre Yvonne Starks Wilson Park, previously named Liberty Park, located at East 34th Terrace and Stadium Drive has a history that dates back 100 years.

Community members will have a chance to celebrate the long history of the park and Wilson’s impact on Kansas City during a 100-year park anniversary on June 18, beginning at 8 a.m.

The celebration, sponsored by the Leeds-Dunbar neighborhood, is also the neighborhood’s second annual neighborhood Juneteenth picnic.

There will be games, music, food and a chance to talk and learn about the park’s long history. Organizers are asking anyone who has a connection to the park to come by the celebration and bring their stories and pictures.

‘THE’ PARK IN THE MIDST OF SEGREGATION

In the early 1900s, African Americans in Kansas City had limited options for recreational activities. Swope Park was undesirable because almost all the park’s amenities were off limits to the Black community.

Meanwhile, the Leeds/Dunbar neighborhood, adjacent to the Blue River and between Cleaver II Boulevard and Stadium Drive, was growing. According to a 1920 census, more than 300 people lived in the Leeds neighborhood, with about 100 children. Those residents had a vision for a park where African Americans could participate in the same activities as those in White parks.

One-hundred years ago, in 1922, Liberty Park was opened to give the Black neighborhood a place for recreation, free from discrimination. The park had a merry-go-round, concession stands, playgrounds, a baseball diamond and featured radio concerts.

Local activist Alvin Brooks grew up in the Leeds neighborhood and told What’s Up Kansas City about his memories as a child of playing baseball in Liberty Park.

“Leeds today is not what it used to be. There were no vacant lots or illegal dumping, but the park has stayed beautiful,” Brooks told What’s Up Kansas City. “I’m hoping that when new housing comes, we’ll have more beautification around the park.”

Kathryn Persley, organizer of the 100th anniversary and Juneteenth picnic and president of the Heart of the City Neighborhood Association said the park was incredibly important in the community.

She added that the neighborhood association is working on a Leeds/ Dunbar exhibit that will be featured in the Kansas City Museum next year and the park will be featured prominently in the exhibit.

“We still have a tight-knit community, even though a lot of people don’t live there anymore,” she said. “The anniversary picnic will bring back people from multiple generations who used to live in the neighborhood.”

Persley said there are plans in the works to improve the park in the next couple of years, including a walking trail, exercise stations, a second shelter house and additional parking spots.

Yvonne Starks Wilson Park

In 2018, Liberty Park was renamed to honor a changemaker in the community: Yvonne Starks Wilson.

Yvonne Starks Wilson. 

Wilson was born in 1929, just a few blocks away from Liberty Park and attended Dunbar Elementary School, Lincoln High School and then Lincoln University. She spent more than 35 years in education: as a teacher, principal and administrator in Kansas City. She was even known for serving as a principal of three elementary schools at one time.

From 1999 to 2004, Wilson served in the Missouri House of Representatives and then in the Senate from 2005 to 2010.

“She was very personable and dedicated to her community,” said Persley.

The park’s renaming was the first time a park in Kansas City, MO, was named in honor of an African-American woman.

Wilson passed away soon after the dedication ceremony.

Jazzlyn Johnson

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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