Rosemary Smith Lowe and Lee Bohannon honored for social activism

Founding LINC Commissioner Rosemary Smith Lowe and LINC Community Organizer Lee Bohannon were recognized by the non-profit organization Communities Creating Opportunity with their Social Movement Activist & Advocate Award for 2019. The awards were presented at CCO’s Art of Movement annual event on October 10, 2019 at the Gem Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri.  

The award is presented to individuals who have fought for social, racial, and economic equity in Kansas City. Individuals who have been credible and compelling voices for justice on behalf of the unheard, and whose efforts have made a difference in the lives of many people in the metropolitan community.

Founded 1977 in the KCMO Blue Hills Neighborhood, CCO's initial purpose was to address racial "redlining" and "blockbusting." These practices excluded and exploited the black community of Kansas City. Since then, our focus has remained on neighborhood organizing, following our roots in social justice advocacy.

Rosemary Smith Lowe, LINC Founding Commissioner

Rosemary Lowe is a tireless community and neighborhood activist. Known for speaking her mind, “Mother Lowe,” as she is affectionately called, is well respected by law enforcement, dignitaries, politicians, and the community at large.

Rosemary Smith Lowe

Rosemary Smith Lowe

Rosemary Lowe worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help found the local political group Freedom Incorporated in 1961, and went on to become the first African-American Committeewoman in Kansas City, Missouri. She has served in various capacities in the community, including president of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Association, and a member of the board of directors of the KC Neighborhood Alliance, Missouri Board of Cosmetology, and the Local Investment Commission.

Her work has led to outcomes one could only describe as remarkable, such as drug dealers voluntarily cutting weeds and picking up trash in their communities. Overall, she has helped enable police officers and neighborhood residents in developing safe, economically sound, viable places to live.

Lowe has also been a volunteer throughout Kansas City, for organizations such as the American Red Cross at Menorah Hospital and the VA Hospital.

A native of Arkansas, she has numerous awards from various local organizations, which stands as a testimony to her commitment to Kansas City. As LINC Commissioner, she was awarded the Rev. Dr. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson Legacy Award during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Kansas City Chapter 2019 MLK Day Community Mass Celebration. Lowe was honored, via official resolution, by the city council of Kansas City in 2016. She received the Bruce R. Watkins Foundation Pioneer Award in July 2014, the Harry S Truman Award in 2004 from the Jackson County Democratic Committee, and even has a street named in her honor!

At an age when most people want to sit and talk about the good ol’ days, Lowe’s indefatigable spirit makes her talk about the future -- and when she talks, people listen.

Lee Bohannon, LINC Community Organizer

Lee Bohannon, LINC Community Organizer

Lee Bohannon, LINC Community Organizer

In April of 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain by an assassin’s bullet, sparking riots throughout the United States, including in Kansas City. From this upheaval, the Social Action Committee of Twenty (S.A.C.-20) was born. The distinguished Lee Bohannon is one of the surviving leaders.

The goal of the organization was to teach leadership skills to young African-Americans, who would lead positive efforts for social change going forward. Lee Bohannon, working under the visionary Bernard Powell and alongside eighteen others, helped bring various Kansas City groups together to take action on multiple fronts.

Thanks to Bohannon and his comrades, many initiatives were started. The first was the creation of a nine-point plan for trash clean up and beautification in neighborhoods affected by the riots. S.A.C.-20 made large trash barrels available, painted in their official colors of black and gold, throughout Kansas City. It would ultimately be the springboard for the city’s free trash bag distribution program.

With various national anti-poverty programs authorized by President Lyndon Johnson soon under way, Bohannon and the S.A.C. leadership took advantage of the Office of Economic Opportunity, “Model Cities,” and more to fight for economic justice in Kansas City. They began offering free breakfast to inner-city children, who might otherwise go to school hungry. This inspired similar federal and local efforts, like that of Kansas City’s Black Panthers.

Over time, S.A.C.-20 gained the attention of national civil rights leadership, and several higher profiles emerged to support the committee. Dick Gregory became its national spokesperson; Bernard Powell marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma; the Congress of Racial Equality came to Kansas City to establish a chapter. Unfortunately, Powell was assassinated in 1979, and the F.B.I. confiscated all of S.A.C.-20’s records. The group was ultimately disbanded. With what artifacts he has salvaged, Lee Bohannon has been able, over the years, to create an archive to document as much of the organization’s rich history as possible.

Other honorees were: Mamie Hughes, Rev. Wallace Hartsfield, and Rev. Sam Mann.

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