Parks department offers look back at local African American history

The parks department is offering a look back at local African American history this Sunday.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s, Kansas City was a heavily segregated town. African-Americans were limited even in which city facilities they could use and were permitted to have picnics at just one spot in Swope Park – at Shelter No. 5 – widely known as “Watermelon Hill,” the department says.

Local historian Joelouis Mattox discusses this era in the city’s racial past at this free seminar.

In an article Mattox wrote on Watermelon Hill that is posted on the parks department website, he says spot was controversial, seen by some as a throwback to Jim Crow, but it attracted crowds of as many as 1000 people who arrived each weekend by streetcar.

“The spot was called “Watermelon Hill” because families brought watermelons to the park in croker sacks, duffle bags and pillow cases. Fifty pounds of ice in washtubs kept the melons cold.  And, there were watermelon-eating contest.  Baseball and volleyball were favorite games for all ages,” Mattox wrote.

“Old men liked playing checkers and dominos on card tables or on the ground. Kids enjoyed flying kites. They loved sharing bottles of cold soda pop (the likes of grape, orange and strawberry) and making homemade ice-cream.”

Mattox also wrote that people dressed in bright colors, slow danced to down-home music, and enjoyed barbeque and cold beverages.


  • Sunday, November 3, 
2 p.m.

  • Southeast Community Center in Swope Park

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