KC civil rights leader Bluford dies at age 91

Sunday, June 15, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lucile Bluford, longtime editor and publisher of The Call newspaper and a civil rights champion in Kansas City, has died. She was 91.

Bluford, who suffered a stroke five years ago, had been hospitalized for several days with an infection before she died Friday.

Only the second black student to major in journalism at the University of Kansas, Bluford joined The Call as a reporter upon receiving her degree in 1932.

She became editor in 1955 following the death of Chester A. Franklin, who in 1919 had founded what would become one of the nation's largest black-owned weekly newspapers. She also served as part-owner and publisher, and retained her titles when relinquished her duties following her stroke.

"She was a hell of a lady," said Donna Stewart, managing editor of The Call. "A great teacher and a mentor."

In 1939, Bluford sued for the right to take graduate courses in journalism at the University of Missouri. She ultimately lost, but the case resulted in establishment of a journalism program was soon opened at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

In 1984, the University of Missouri awarded Bluford a Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, and added an honorary doctorate in 1989.

"She fought bigotry in her personal life, and then she forced Missouri to face it," former Kansas City mayor Emanuel Cleaver said.

And Cleaver remembered her once scolding presidential candidate Jesse Jackson before a crowd of 7,000 people for visiting Kansas City without first notifying the black media.

"I used to tell people that she was a woman who would ask anybody anything, and they would answer," said Dorothy Johnson, a member of The Call's news staff from 1937 to 1944.

"I don't know of many black people under 70 who called her Lucile," Cleaver said. "We called her Miss Bluford until the day she died."

Numerous awards were bestowed on Bluford in recent decades. In 1990, she received the Distinguished Service Citation, the highest honor awarded by the University of Kansas, and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce named her Kansas Citian of the Year in 2002. A branch of the Kansas City Public Library is named for her.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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