Edgar Snow’s Midtown roots form lifelong Kansas City-Chinese bond

Edgar Snow's family lived at 3925 Charlotte while he attended Westport High School.

Edgar Snow’s family lived at 3925 Charlotte while he attended Westport High School.

This week a delegation from China will tour Midtown sites in the Volker, Valentine and Hyde Park neighborhoods – all part of an ongoing relationship between China and Kansas City created by the work of journalist Edgar Snow.

The Chinese dignitaries will be in Kansas City for the annual Edgar Snow Symposium. Kansas Citians Mary Clark and E. Diamond Gray founded the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation in 1974 to honor their friend, and the symposium, begun in 1984, alternates between Kansas City and Beijing. Its mission centers on “advancing the legacy of Edgar Snow by cultivating deeper and enduring relationships between the peoples of the U.S. and China through cultural, economic and educational collaboration.”

This year the symposium has invited residents from Snow’s neighborhoods to share a meal and conversation with the Chinese delegates. And it’s possible the Chinese visitors will know more about Snow than his former neighbors.

In China, Kansas City is well-known as the birthplace of Snow, the author of Red Star Over China, a 1937 account of the Chinese Communist movement from its foundation until the late 1930s. As Snow biographer John Maxwell Hamilton puts it in Snow’s biography, Snow “literally discovered the Chinese communists, cut off for nearly ten years from Western observers.” His account and other writings are now viewed as “essential reading,” Hamilton says.


Snow’s home at 3811 Mercier in the Volker neighborhood.

But Snow’s work was not only widely read in the United States. Hamilton called Red Star Over China “an event in modern Chinese history,” becoming a primary source that also introduced the lives of Mao Tse-tung and other Communist leaders, the Long March, and Communist guerrilla strategy to the Chinese people. Even today, the Chinese read Snow’s work in grade school.

But in Midtown, not nearly as many people realize that Snow was born and educated right here. His stay didn’t last all that long; by the time he entered college at the University of Missouri in Columbia, dropping out after a year to start his world adventures, Snow had no intention of coming back.

“I am determined to raise my head above the crowd and amount to something in a larger way than at present seems possible in Kansas City,” Hamilton quotes Snow as saying in a letter to his father around 1926.

But his biographer also credits his hometown with shaping Snow’s character, quoting another lifelong friend as saying Snow “was always from Kansas City, Missouri.”

Snow’s legacy in Midtown includes:

  • Snow’s birthplace: 3811 Mercier in the Volker neighborhood.
  • Snow’s high school home at 3925 Charlotte in Hyde Park. Hamilton says Snow’s mother, Anna, loved to cook in the home and her children enjoyed playing tennis on nearby courts and croquet in the back yard.
  • The Norman School in Valentine where Snow attended grade school. Snow stayed in touch with principal Lucy Smoot, “a tough taskmaster,” for years after he left Kansas City.
  • Westport High School, where Snow started a newspaper and attended dances and debates.  During those years, he also hung out listening to music with his friend, Buddy Rogers, who became a drummer, and even formed a musical group called the Blue Bell Jazz Band.

One Comment

  1. joan says:

    This is a good article introducing someone that is better known abroad than among his former neighbors.

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