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Kansas City leader continues to persevere after 91 years

Lucille Bluford

Kansas Citians know her as the matriarch, the conscience, of a community. Journalists know her as an influential leader, one of two Kansas City print journalists — the other is Ernest Hemingway — honored in the Newseum, a Washington, D.C. archive of the profession

She is Lucile Bluford, c'32, who celebrated her 91st birthday July 1 with little fanfare but widespread praise throughout her hometown. Bluford began her career as a reporter for The Kansas City Call in the 1930s; when publisher Chester A. Frankin died in 1955, Bluford succeeded him, guiding the newspaper as editor, publisher and part-owner for decades. Amid the struggles for civil rights and the rise of the African-American community, Bluford rallied and reassured readers — and led The Call to national prominence.

In 1990, the University, where Bluford became only the second African-American student to major in journalism, awarded her its Distinguished Service Citation, the highest honor bestowed by KU and the Alumni Association for service to humanity. She also has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Missouri, which years ago had refused to admit the young black woman as a student. In 1939, Bluford sued MU, boldly seeking to open the university to black students. Although she lost her case, her action began a series of legal challenges that ultimately abolished the "separate but equal" doctrine in education.

Bluford retired from The Call four years ago following a stroke, but she remains close to the newspaper and shares a home with managing editor Donna Stewart, who is in her 25th year at The Call. "She still likes to be informed. She reads the paper and listens to the news," says Stewart, who succinctly sums up the lessons she learned from Bluford: "She taught me how to persevere."

Stewart says Bluford has long held citywide respect during discussions of race relations in Kansas City, "an ongoing topic for many years now and many years to come."

In his birthday tribute to Bluford, former Kansas City mayor Emanuel Cleaver told The Kansas City Star, "Miss Bluford will go down in history as one of the most unparalleled African-American personalities in our city. At one time, we had no African-American council members or representatives. All we had was Miss Bluford."

A strong voice that never wavered.

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