Experiencing Kansas City through the lens of Black figures from the past is just a bus ride away.
For the past 15 years, Erik Stafford, a local historian and the owner of the Kansas City Tour Company, has provided bus and walking tours that explore the daily lives of local Black historical figures and their contributions to the city.
Each tour incorporates significant landmarks, lesser-known sites, and personal stories to paint a picture of early life in Kansas City’s Black communities.
There are currently five different guided tours that can be customized for group participation. Costs range from $20 to $30+ per person, and for select tours minors 17 and under are free when accompanied by one paid adult, limit two minors per adult.
Tours can be booked at BlackHistoryKC.com and for those who don’t see the tour of their choice on their preferred day of the week, they can use the website’s contact page to request a specific date and time.
The larger Kansas City Black History Bus Tour is not offered every week but is available for individual bookings with customized pricing based on group size. This is also the most popular tour Erik leads.
“The reason I think the Black History Bus Tour is the most popular is because it can either go from Quindaro or over to Independence, MO, and there is a lot of Black history in Independence that people don’t know about,” Stafford said. “It’s comfortable and it’s a great way to see and learn about the city.”
KC Tour Company: From Idea to Reality
Not only is the Black History Tour the most popular, it is also the tour Stafford launched his business with.
As a KCMO native, Erik naturally had an interest in the city’s history. However, the spark for the Black History Tour entered his mind in the mid-1990s when he was gathering field experience for his studies at the University of Central Missouri.
During that time he was housed in the Genesis School, which offered hip-hop tours as a way to teach Black history to students. Erik went on to teach social studies at the school and added on to the curriculum by including info about local history and its impact.
He finished his assignment at the school in 1996 and pursued other career opportunities before launching the Kansas City Tour Company in 2008.
For the past 15 years, Stafford has shared the city’s Black heritage with schools, corporations, and tourists.
Over the years, he’s added to the tour mix as a way to give visitors a different perspective of Black life in the city, including the new Swope Park Blue River Underground Railroad Trek.
This trek is a carefully curated tour through Swope Park’s Woodchuck Run trail, which has smooth and rocky sections. In addition to learning about the Underground Railroad stops, trekkers can also get in some cardio during the three-mile, intermediate-level route along the trail.
“[The trek] gives you the opportunity to connect with nature, it’s meditative … and it’s good for your mental wellbeing as well. There are so many benefits to connecting with nature and learning your history at the same time. I think it’s an invaluable experience.”
Some of the other tours offered are less strenuous but still allow participants to stretch their legs.
Learn more about Black History Tour dates and times below.
The 1.5-mile BeBop & Beyond Tour takes visitors through the 18th & Vine Jazz District.
The Mafia Tour starts at 3rd and Grand and combines the fun of the KC Streetcar plus a half-mile walk. The tour takes participants through KC Crossroads to see Tom Pendergast’s offices, Union Station to learn about the Kansas City Massacre, and River Market District to learn about KC’s underworld and notorious criminals.
Among the walking tours with a connection to KCK is the Penn School Westport Walking Tour. This tour shares the story of Steptoe, a Black enclave that flourished in the Westport area after slavery, in part due to the nearby Penn School, the first school west of the Mississippi River created to solely educate black children.
In response to growing demand, the tour offerings for 2024 are expanding.
“I see us doing more field trips and expanding the [bus] tour,” Erik said. “I plan on expanding to St. Louis and Chicago … so [the tour] would be over a few days. I’m still working out the logistics.”
Catch A Kansas City Tour Company Themed Tour
- The Swope Park Blue River Underground Railroad Trek – Sun. at 10 a.m. and Mon. at 6 p.m.
- The Streetcar KC River City Mafia Tour – Tue. and Wed. at 6 p.m.
- The Penn School Westport Walking Tour – Wed. at 6 p.m.
- The Streetcar KC River City Civil Rights Tour – Thu. at 6 p.m. and Sun. at 10 a.m.
- The BeBop & Beyond Walking Tour of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz and Baseball District – Fri. at 4 p.m.; Sat. at 6 p.m.; and Sun. at 2:30 p.m.