Leonard Monroe

Leonard Monroe

Interviewed by Reta Cosby
Present: Sherrie Tucker, Virginia Hamm,
Bobby Kimball, and Nancy Hiebert
January 4, 2006

This is January 4, 2006. This is Reta Cosby, and I'm interviewing Mr. Leonard Monroe, a member of St. Luke AME Church.

MS. COSBY: Mr. Monroe, thank you for this interview. What is your full name, please?

MR. MONROE: Leonard Henry Monroe.

MS. COSBY: What is your birth date?

MR. MONROE: 6 September, 1931.

MS. COSBY: Mr. Monroe, where were you born?

MR. MONROE: Here in Lawrence, Kansas. Matter of fact, at 4th and Wisconsin, in the front bedroom.

MS. COSBY: So you've lived in Lawrence all of your life?

MR. MONROE: All my life.

MS. COSBY: How long has your family lived in Lawrence?

MR. MONROE: I know that my mother came from western Kansas, Lincoln County, Kansas in 1914, and they had a farm about six miles west of Lawrence.

MS. COSBY: Why did they come to Lawrence?

MR. MONROE: I really don't know exactly why they came to Lawrence, except they wanted to get away from Lincoln County. So they moved to Lawrence, which was a lot different than out there at Lincoln County, Kansas. My dad was here the whole time, in East Lawrence. That's where he grew up, in East Lawrence.

MS. COSBY: Do you have any good family stories?

MR. MONROE: What I remember is how Mom and Dad met. They had big gardens back in those days and they always had these tomatoes. So, they delivered some tomatoes out to my mom at 4th and Wisconsin, and I guess that was about the first time my dad saw my mom. He liked her, so they started hooking up, and Dad would always make up excuses to bring something else out to the house where he could see Mom. To make a long story short, after all that time, they finally got together and ended up getting married. But that's quite a story on that.

MS. COSBY: Were there any people in your family that weren't talked about?

MR. MONROE: Not that I know of.

MS. COSBY: What part of Lawrence do you or did you identify with most closely?

MR. MONROE: [Old] West Lawrence. That's where we grew up at is West Lawrence. Matter of fact, right there at 4th and Wisconsin. I lived there all the time until I was 19.

MS. COSBY: When you were younger, were there any parts of town that you were restricted from?

MR. MONROE: We couldn't eat in the restaurants or nothing like that. But we did have our own restaurants. We had the Blues Bucket Shop. We also had the Greenwood Inn. They were both on Vermont Street. And then we had the Green Gable, which was over on East Eighth in East Lawrence.

MS. COSBY: And while we're on businesses, what other businesses do you remember in Lawrence? Black businesses?

MR. MONROE: I vaguely remember that we did have a black doctor and a black attorney, but I can't really tell you anything about them, I was too young to really remember them. But I know they were here. I think one of the offices was on Mass, and I think the other office was on Kentucky I believe. And we used to have hairdressers, which I never went myself, but I'd go up there with my mama, I'd ride up there with them. My mom and my sister went to the hairdresser. It was also in the six-hundred block of Vermont.

MS. COSBY: Since we're talking about lawyers and doctors, does John Clark sound familiar to you?

MR. MONROE: Yeah, I remember that name.

MS. COSBY: You remember John Clark?

MR. MONROE: I do remember that name. Yes, I do.

MS. COSBY: And, as far as the doctors, Dr. Harvey? Cabell?

MR. MONROE: Well, I've heard those names, but I was too young to really know.

MS. COSBY: Kenner?

MR. MONROE: I don't know if I even saw them or not.

MS. COSBY: What topics were hushed or forbidden in family conversations when you were coming up?

MR. MONROE: I can't really say that there were any that were forbidden. I really can't.

MS. COSBY: Were there any births or deaths that were forbidden to be talked about?

MR. MONROE: No. But I do remember back in those days, like when my grandmother passed, I was about six or seven years old. And, back then, they would bring the body to the house. And, so, Grandma was in the front room, so to speak. And that was kind of weird, because you had to look at that casket with that dead person there. But that's what they did back in those days. They would stay there until the day of the funeral, and then the mortuary would take them to the church. We had the Bowser Mortuary back then. One of our relatives, he was really so close, I really don't know if he was a relative or not, but I know he was real close, lived in Atchison. Miles was the name, Miles Funeral Home. And I know he came down and actually did some of our work on the early deaths, like Grandma. Bowser was right here in Lawrence, but he would come down here.

MS. COSBY: Since we're talking about your grandmother, what was the grandmother's role when you were growing up?

MR. MONROE: She lived down from us, next door so to speak, and we'd be playing, because it was kind of a gully behind her house. We'd be out there climbing trees, swinging from tree to tree, just having a great time. But if we got over near her garden, man, she'd come out there and say, "You better not get in that garden. I'll come out and eat you blood raw." Man, we'd take off.

MS. COSBY: So that was one of those restricted places that you were forbidden to go to (laughter)?

MR. MONROE: She didn't want you around her garden.

MS. COSBY: What about your grandfather's role?

MR. MONROE: I don't remember my grandfather.

MS. COSBY: Did your family ever take in boarders?

MR. MONROE: Yes. As a matter of fact, we did. During World War II, we had two Jamaicans stay in our house. They stayed in the front bedroom. I'm trying to think of their names. I can't really recall their names now, but we had the two Jamaicans. They worked at the Sunflower Ordinance Plant. But they did. We had two boarders from Jamaica stayed with us during World War II.

MS. COSBY: How long did they stay with you?

MR. MONROE: I can't remember now, but I'm sure that they stayed at least until the war was over.

MS. COSBY: And the war began?

MR. MONROE: In 1941 and ended in 1945. But I do remember them.

MS. COSBY: What was that experience like?

MR. MONROE: Oh, it was great. I loved the way they talked (laughter). And they'd play cards, not with me, but with my parents and things, and they had a good time. They were enjoyable.

MS. COSBY: Were they in the service? Why were they boarding with you?

MR. MONROE: I guess they just come here, and there were not too many places that they could stay. Because they were actually black too. So they stayed with us.

MS. COSBY: Were they going to school?

MR. MONROE: No, they was just working at the Ordinance as far as I know.

MS. COSBY: Where did you attend elementary school, Mr. Monroe?

MR. MONROE: I went to Pinckney School.

MS. COSBY: How many grades were in the elementary school?

MR. MONROE: Six. And it was really neat. And some of those teachers back then, boy, they was something. I know that the math teacher was old lady Rutten. I mean, boy, you had to learn if you was in her class. But we had a music teacher and art teacher, named Mrs. West, and I loved to draw. I always liked to draw and, so, that was one of the classes I excelled in was art. But, then, she also was a music teacher. She tried to get us to sing all the time, which I didn't want to do, but she finally got me in the choir. But it was quite an experience down there.

MS. COSBY: Was this a segregated school?

MR. MONROE: No. I never went to a segregated school in elementary, junior high, or high school. And I think the teachers were fantastic. I think we got the same breaks as they did. It was all up to you, if you wanted to sit there and listen and learn, it was up to you. I don't think they held us back or nothing like that.

MS. COSBY: So, you didn't go to a segregated school, but were the athletic teams segregated?

MR. MONROE: That was in high school. Now Pinckney, we had a 'D'. If you look at the sidewalk, it's like a 'D'. And during recess and things like that, we played softball and run around that 'D', and couldn't no one ever beat me running around that 'D'. And, then, in junior high I went out for track, because it wasn't that many black athletes out for sports in junior high.

MS. COSBY: Where did you go to junior high?

MR. MONROE: At that time, there was three buildings at Ninth and Kentucky. It was Old High, Central, and Manual. Three buildings, and we had classes in all those buildings. And that was quite an experience because we had back then what they called traffic patrol. And that was first time you might say I got my first supervisory job. I was captain of the traffic patrol. And we wore this deal come across here and we had a sign, "Stop." We stopped the cars where the kids could cross between classes, because those buildings were on three different corners.

MS. COSBY: You were talking about your athletics when you were in junior high.

MR. MONROE: That was in high school. They could play football and run tack, but not basketball. So we had our own basketball team called the Promoters. It was a black team, and actually we turned out to be pretty good. And we could play football. As a matter of fact, I had a cartilage knocked loose in football. I had the cartilage removed my senior year, and I didn't actually go out for my senior year. But the coaches wanted me to come out, because of my speed. So they wanted somebody out there that could really run.

MS. COSBY: Were your coaches African American, or your teachers?

MR. MONROE: I never had no African American coaches or teachers. When I was going to graduate from high school, I was going to go to KU because they had the best track teams in the world. Matter of fact, in 1952 they won the NCAA National Championship in track. So, the coaches started asking me in my senior year what school I was going to go to. I said, "I'm going to go to KU." And they said, "Well, why don't you go to Washburn or K-State?" I said, "No, I want to go to KU. They got the best track teams." "Well, you out to think about, because I really think you ought to go to Washburn or K-State." So, I did enroll in KU. So it come time for track, I went to go out for track because, at that time, I was the second fastest quarter miler in the state of Kansas. But Bill Easton wouldn't give me a track uniform. Boy, you talk about big. That was the first big heart break I'd ever had in my life.

MS. COSBY: Who wouldn't give you a track uniform?

MR. MONROE: The KU coach, Bill Easton, track coach. So, I dropped out at KU because, at that time, all my buddies seemed to be in the military anyway. I dropped out at KU and joined the Air Force. But, in high school, I had some great experiences in high school though. As a matter of fact, I was even on the student council. And my senior year, I don't know why, I guess they thought I was going to be a teacher or something, because they sent me to a teacher's conference up at KU. And that's all in my red and black annual about that. Of course, I guess I fooled everybody, because I never did (laughter).

MS. COSBY: You said you played basketball with the Promoters?


MS. COSBY: This was a black basketball team. Did they have a black coach?

MR. MONROE: No. Guy Barnes and Doc Watson were the main coaches.

MS. COSBY: Your track coaches, they didn't support you when you tried to get on the KU track team?

MR. MONROE: It wasn't nothing they could do about that. I mean, that was high school, and that was university.

MS. COSBY: Do you think they were trying to hinder you from going to KU?

MR. MONROE: I think why they kept trying to tell me that and, as a matter of fact, I'll never forget Leonard Hossler. He was a history teacher and he tried to also convince me to go to Washburn or K-State. I guess they knew I wouldn't be able to go out for track. But, then on the other hand, they never told me that, because they thought being the second fastest quarter miler in the state of Kansas, maybe I would be able to go out. But it turned out I didn't.

MS. COSBY: Were any of the school administrators African American?


MS. COSBY: Were any of the class officers in high school African American?

MR. MONROE: I was on the student council myself, and I think there were. I think it was one of the black girls had some kind of office I think, I can't swear to that now. But I know I was on the student council.

MS. COSBY: Did you interact with Native Americans in Lawrence when you were growing up?

MR. MONROE: The only time I came in contact with them really at that time was at Haskell, because Lawrence played all their football games and had all of our track meets at Haskell. We also, back in those days, had what we called Haskell Night Relays. So I got to know quite a few of the Haskell Indians. Plus, Haskell at that time was also a high school; it wasn't a college like it is now. It was a high school.

MS. COSBY: Did the Native Americans live in the community?

MR. MONROE: I have no idea. I really don't. I think most of the ones we knew was going to Haskell.

MS. COSBY: So they stayed on campus?

MR. MONROE: Yes. As far as I know.

MS. COSBY: And you don't remember any Native Americans in the community?

MR. MONROE: No. Just the ones I met at Haskell through sports.

MS. COSBY: Did you graduate from high school?


MS. COSBY: Because you went to KU in?

MR. MONROE: 1950. And my last year they did integrate the basketball team. So all the sports were integrated then.

MS. COSBY: The last year of your graduation?

MR. MONROE: Yes. In 1950 they integrated the basketball team. So, as a matter of fact, I was one of the first black Lions you might say.

MS. COSBY: What is your overall opinion of your educational experience in Lawrence?

MR. MONROE: I think it was great. I really don't have no complaints about it at all. I think, as far as the teachers and the students, there wasn't a problem. Matter of fact, the first time I remember being filmed was some girls, Joyce Hemick and them, was filming me during the one of the track meets out at Haskell. So I never had no problems with none of the students or anything.

MS. COSBY: What did you do after high school?

MR. MONROE: I was going to start KU, but then when I couldn't go out for track, I dropped out and joined the Air Force.

MS. COSBY: Let's talk about your church. You're a member of St. Luke AME Church?

MR. MONROE: Uh-huh.

MS. COSBY: How long have you been a member here?

MR. MONROE: Sixty years.

MS. COSBY: Sixty years! That's a long time.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, I joined when I was 14. And, back then, we was kind of raised up so anything you did under 12, you wasn't responsible for, I mean as far as God was concerned you know. He'd forgive us.


MR. MONROE: And, so, 13 and then 14, and I was getting kind of nervous. So, what would happen, we all went to Ninth Street Baptist Church Sunday School. Me and my brothers and sisters. Dad-- he was Methodist, my mom was Baptist--would come down and drop Mama off at Ninth Street. When he did that, I'd get in the car, me and my brother, Raymond, and we'd come over here to St. Luke with Dad.

MS. COSBY: Was this before you had joined or became an official member?


MS. COSBY: So basically you've been going to the church how long?

MR. MONROE: Oh, quite awhile, but I've been a member for 60 years, because I joined when I was 14. And that morning I joined, because I had told Dad, "I'm going to join church." And he said, "Yeah, you do that." It really seemed like I was always in church. Anytime Dad had to meet, I'd come with him. They started calling me Preacher. That was my nickname because I was always in church and they thought I was going to be a preacher I guess. That morning I decided to join and, when it come to the invitation, Dad kind of nudged me. Then I looked at him, and I got a little bit shook up because I got to get up in front of all these people. Back then, the congregations were huge. And Daddy kept nudging me, so I finally got up and stood there. And actually I was shaking (laughter), because I was thinking the devil was going to get me. So I went up and that's when I first committed, and then I was baptized later. It was quite an experience to tell you the truth.

MS. COSBY: I know you are actively involved in the congregation. Can you tell us what parts you take in the church, what things you do?

MR. MONROE: I started when I was young. As far as I know, I was the youngest trustee ever in this church. You elect trustees, and they elected me trustee when I was eighteen.

MS. COSBY: Oh, wonderful!

MR. MONROE: Dad and everybody was so proud. Since then, I've been trustee; I did some ushering, I've been appointed steward and since then, I've been a steward for I don't know how many years now. And I've been district steward. I've represented the church at the congresses, and also the treasurer. I've been the treasurer for God knows how long too. So I've been real actively involved in the church. Plus, I sing in the choir. And the steward responsibility, besides the money and paying the preacher. If the preacher is absent, then the steward is supposed to maintain the pulpit. I've only had to do that twice though, where I had to give the message on a Sunday morning.

MS. COSBY: I'm not familiar with the AME religion as such, but is the steward or the trustee the same as the Baptist deacon? Do they play the same role, or do you have deacons?

MR. MONROE: I don't know what the deacons do, but the trustees are responsible for the upkeep of the building and all this. And the steward's responsibility is the monies, paying the pastor, and representing at conferences and things like this.

MS. COSBY: Do you have deacons in the AME church?

MR. MONROE: We call it stewards, which I think is the same thing as a Baptist deacon. But they do have deacons, but I don't know what responsibility or how you would define them in the Methodist church. Good question, I'll find that out.

MS. COSBY: You mentioned that you went to Sunday School at Ninth Street, and then you'd come to service here at St. Luke. Did St. Luke have Sunday School services?

MR. MONROE: Yeah, they did. But all my brothers and my sisters, all of us just went as a group to Sunday School over there. They did have it here though.

MS. COSBY: What memories of funerals do you have? I know you've probably attended a lot of funerals.

MR. MONROE: The Bowser, then Bowser-Lee was the funeral home up there on Vermont Street, the six-hundred block of Vermont.

MS. COSBY: Bowser and Bowser-Lee?

MR. MONROE: Yeah, there was Bowser, but Lee joined him later. That's where our funerals were. Bowser left Lawrence, because I guess there wasn't that much business. He went to Topeka. Most of the black folks here now use Warren-McElwain. What's the name of the one out there now? What do they call it?

MS. COSBY: Rumsey?

MR. MONROE: Rumsey's. But back in those early days, they were really prejudiced.

MS. COSBY: Rumsey's?

MR. MONROE: Right. They wouldn't bury a black person. I think that's why everybody started going to Warren-McElwain when they had to.

MS. COSBY: Were funerals typically segregated events?

MR. MONROE: No. I remember white folks being at our funerals. And we went to some of the white folks' funerals. But those would be in the churches. It didn't have nothing to do with the mortuaries.

MS. COSBY: What role has your church played in the Lawrence community?

MR. MONROE: It's played quite a big role. I understand the NAACP actually started right here at St. Luke.

MS. COSBY: And there's a history of the Underground Railroad?

MR. MONROE: Back in those days the Underground Railroad didn't have all those trees, and you could see Blue Mound. I understand that when it was safe to come in, they had signals which you could see from here to Blue Mound, and it was safe to come down. If you look on those pictures, that was the first church here. That was the St. Luke in the very beginning.

MS. COSBY: Was it at this location?

MR. MONROE: It was right there across the alley. They owned all that property back there, and that was the church then. That's where the Underground Railroad mainly was.

MS. COSBY: And when was this church built?

MR. MONROE: 1910 was when they built this church.

MS. COSBY: When did St. Luke originate? Do you know the date it originated?

MR. MONROE: Not the original date as far as St. Luke here in Lawrence, I can't tell you that. I know how it got started though. Bishop Allen, the one that started the Methodist AME Church, from Philadelphia. Did that because they could not pray in the church. They went to the white church, but they couldn't pray. They would either have to go upstairs, and a lot of times even run out of there. They couldn't get on their knees. So, Richard Allen left that and formed his own church and a blacksmith shop. That's why the anvil is part of our symbol for AME church, because the church was in the blacksmith shop. It's really grown from there.

MS. COSBY: Basically the history of the black church is that they were under the guardianship of a white church. After a while, probably just before the Civil War, the churches wanted to be on their own.

MR. MONROE: Yes. Dorthy [Pennington] has the history on all that: exactly when they started, the days, and the name of the church in Philadelphia and everything.

MS. COSBY: Do you remember Langston Hughes?

MR. MONROE: I remember hearing about him, but I never did know much until just a few years ago, when he became pretty public then. We got the books that he had written, some of the poetry he has written and, of course, we even got the picture. I got that picture they put up over there. But he did attend. I'm sure my dad and them all knew him, but I didn't know him as a person. The congregation was big then and I never knew all the people in the congregation anyway. Some of the names I do remember quite well. I just don't quite remember Langston Hughes though. But he was young then, too, when he was here going to this church, before my time. But growing up in the church in Lawrence was, I think, really quite something.

Like the businesses, my brother had one of them. He had a barber shop in West Lawrence. As a matter of fact, the shop is still there. My brother has passed, but the shop is still there at 532 Michigan. Inside it's really something because he's got all the pictures of all the black athletes that was really big in everything.

MS. COSBY: Are they still there?

MR. MONROE: They're still there. Wilt Chamberlain is one of the first pictures that he got in there. Wilt Chamberlain dunking a basketball. After he left KU, he went to the Harlem Globetrotters. Then after he came back to Lawrence, he came back to retire his number. But Wilt was back through here several times. But, any time he was coming through this area, he would always stop and go out to the barber shop and see my brother. My brother cut his hair all the time when he was going to KU. And I've even seen him down there a couple of times myself. We had a lot of fun talking, because I run around with Wilt when I was out of the service, when he was here going to KU. He was quite a guy. Bud's Barber Shop has got all these. His walls are just lined with black athletes that went to KU, especially the ones that really meant anything.

MS. COSBY: Did your brother go to St. Luke?

MR. MONROE: No, he went to Ninth Street.

MS. COSBY: He went to Ninth Street?

MR. MONROE: Yeah. My other brother, Raymond, came over here to St. Luke.

MS. COSBY: Is he still a member of St. Luke?

MR. MONROE: Oh, he's passed. In my family, mom was Baptist, dad was Methodist. Raymond and I ended up Methodist, but my sisters all and everyone else went Baptist.

MS. COSBY: You had mentioned businesses. I want to ask you about a few black businesses here in Lawrence. Do you remember Russell Brown?


MS. COSBY: How about Arthur Hill Laundry?

MR. MONROE: I've heard that, but I don't really remember that.

MS. COSBY: What about Arthur Hill and Frank Anderson's Ice Cream Parlor?

MR. MONROE: The only ice cream parlor I really remember is Varsity Velvet, and it was on Massachusetts. Of course, it was white owned. We could go in and buy all the ice cream we ever wanted, but we couldn't sit down and even lick off your ice cream cone. You had to go outside.

MS. COSBY: What about Fred Johnson, the auto mechanic?

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes. Matter of fact, he was a neighbor. When I first got out of the service in '55, I had all this schooling for electrician, because I was a flight-line electrician in the air force. I had the knowledge and everything to maintain these multi-billion-dollar bombers, but I could not get a job here in Lawrence, Kansas, when I got out. I couldn't get a job with the telephone or anything like that, or KP&L, because they just wouldn't hire blacks. The only job you could get around here as a black would be a cook or construction or janitor, custodian or something like that. I even went to electrical school on the GI bill in Kansas City when I first got out. Of course, I got more education, because they had these schools while I was in the air force. Diesel schools, electrical schools and things like that. Even after that, I still couldn't get a decent job. So I went to Denver and stayed for a year, and it was the same thing out there back then. So, in '58 I decided to go back in the Air Force. I went back to the Air Force and just stayed until I retired in '76.

MS. COSBY: What about Gleed's Poultry?

MR. MONROE: I didn't know anything about that. Elroy Washington knows all about that. He's a lot older than me though.

MS. COSBY: And Roger's Cleaners?

MR. MONROE: I do remember Roger's Cleaners. I remember hearing about it, I don't know if I used it or not, but back then I wouldn't have been the one taking the clothes to the cleaners any how.

MS. COSBY: Archie's Barbecue?

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes. That was across the street from my brother's barber shop.

MS. COSBY: The Blues Bucket?

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes. When we was going to junior high, Blues Bucket was in the eight-hundred block of Vermont, and the three high schools was there on Ninth and Kentucky. Sometimes during lunch hour we'd go down there and get a bowl of chili or a bowl of Navy beans, or something like that.

MS. COSBY: The Green Gable?

MR. MONROE: I didn't have much to do with that while I was in school.

MS. COSBY: And Greenwood Inn?

MR. MONROE: That was also on Vermont. Now that was north of Kentucky.

MS. COSBY: What kind of business was that?

MR. MONROE: It was a bar too. They had a pool table and things like that.

MS. COSBY: How did these businesses or did these businesses interact with the church in any way?

MR. MONROE: The Green Gable, they were Nelson and Dorothy Green, and they were members of Ninth Street, but they were there every Sunday. Even though he had the nightclub, he'd close up Saturday night, but they never failed to be at church on Sunday. Dorothy sang, but she also was a pianist over there at Ninth Street for awhile. Even the ones here at St. Luke that would go out, they'd still be at church on Sunday.

MS. COSBY: Did the businesses support the church in their activities in way? The way businesses do today?

MR. MONROE: I really can't say because I don't really know about that. I don't know if they were really asked to or not. I know that when we had our programs and things like that, they would come. Like Dorothy and Nelson, they'd come to our programs and donate money.

MS. COSBY: Did your family support any of these businesses that we've named?

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes, I'm sure they did.

MS. COSBY: Were you or any member of your family ever hospitalized at Lawrence hospital?

MR. MONROE: Yes. As matter of fact, I was, and I remember when my mother was in there. It was one Mother's Day. Of course, on Mother's Day we would go to church with Mama. So we was over at Ninth Street, and we came out of church and got in the car. Mom said, "Where'd I get this hat?" We said, "You got it for Mother's Day." "Well, what about this dress?" "You got it for Mother's Day." We didn't realize at that time she had had a stroke, and that's why she couldn't remember her hat or dress. So we took her home and we knew she was acting and talking real strange, so we got home and we called Dr. Reed. And, he came flying out to the house. Doctors did those things back then; they don't do those things anymore.

MS. COSBY: Was Dr. Reed black or white?

MR. MONROE: He was white. He came out to the house that night and told us, said, "She had a minor stroke." But the doctors we had were great as far as I'm concerned. When I had my cartilage knocked loose as a senior in high school, I had to have a cartilage taken out. Dr. Zimmer was a German. I had a stiff leg. He was the one that did that. Quite honestly, he was a great doctor.

MS. COSBY: Where was Dr. Reed's office located?

MR. MONROE: I not sure where Dr. Reed's office was located. I think it was down there on Main Street. But Dr. Zimmer was on West Eighth Street, across from where the fire department is.

MS. COSBY: Were African Americans allowed to attend movie theaters or performances?

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes. We went every Saturday to matinees. The Varsity, the Dickerson. The Dickerson now is what they call Liberty Hall. But the Varsity, and they also had the Patee Theater, which is in the eight-hundred block of Mass, on the east side. It was right where you can walk through that little alley. That was the Patee Theater. We could go to the theaters, but we had to sit upstairs in the balcony, which turned out, as far as I'm concerned, was the best seats in the place. If I go to the movie now, I still sit in the balcony (laughter).

MS. COSBY: So, you said the Dickerson is now the Liberty Theater?

MR. MONROE: That's Liberty Hall now. The Patee is gone completely, and the Varsity has turned into something else. I remember going up there on matinees. First we'd go out and cut yards, get a quarter an hour. I'd work so I'd get a dollar to go to the movie. The movie was ten or twelve cents. Back then, they used to have pictures and different things that you could get or buy, and I always got pictures of the Lone Ranger. He was my favorite cowboy back then. And they'd have Tom Mix and Gene Autry. As a matter of fact, Tom Mix came here. I saw him at the Varsity Theater. That's the only one I really remember seeing. But you could do all those things. With that dollar, we could go to the movie, you could get popcorn and soda, get a picture, and then after we came out of the movie, we'd go a little bit south of the Varsity Theater. There was Green's Candy Store, and that thing was just full of candy and comic books. Man, that place was something else. But I was able to get a comic book and some candy.

MS. COSBY: You talked about sitting in the balcony. Were the theaters always segregated?

MR. MONROE: As far as I know, up to that time.

MS. COSBY: Were African Americans in Lawrence allowed to eat in restaurants?

MR. MONROE: No. When we'd come back from out of town on athletic trips, the white kids could go eat in those cafes, if the coaches take them. But sometimes they might give us money where we could go to either the Blues Bucket Shop or Green Gable, where we could eat, but we couldn't eat with the team. I think that might be why they had box lunches after some of the events. They knew that we couldn't go eat with them, so we'd eat the box lunch on the way back home on the bus. When we were playing with the Promoters, my brother, Bud Monroe and Dean Harvey were our transportation. They had took us to all of our games in Atchison, Kansas City--wherever we played, they were our transportation.

MS. COSBY: Did St. Luke or the black churches in Lawrence take a role in eliminating the segregation within the City of Lawrence? What was their stance?

MR. MONROE: I'm sure they did. Once I dropped out of KU and joined the air force, when I first signed up, I was over there for two years. When I was young, I caddied a lot out at Lawrence Country Club. And that's where all your big wheels were at, they were all going to these country clubs. The Zimmermans, for example, owned and operated the Color Press here in Lawrence. When they found out what had happened to me--because they were really big fans of mine-- they raised a lot of cain about all that stuff. I understand even one of the coaches at KU even quit because of what happened to me. But I didn't know none of this until I came home, and my brother told me about all this stuff.

MS. COSBY: Was this through the school or the community or the church?

MR. MONROE: Those people that I was talking about were white, but they were big in the community, and I know they raised cain. Whether the church might have got involved, I wouldn't know because, like I said, I was in the military, so I don't know. When I came back, Bud told me all that in '53. When I left here then, I went to Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana, and that's where I started seeing all these signs, "Colored Only, White Only."

MS. COSBY: Were you here during the Civil Rights Movement?

MR. MONROE: I was either overseas or in other states. I wasn't here in Lawrence.

MS. COSBY: So, you don't know what role the church played during the Civil Rights Movement?

MR. MONROE: As far as I know, the NAACP started right here at St. Luke. I left Vietnam and went on assignment to Germany. I stopped here and picked my wife and my son. I only had one then. We had a newspaper called The Stars and Stripes. I picked up The Stars and Stripes one day, I looked at it, and I said, "Huh, that looks like the student union." Because I was familiar with all this stuff. I started reading the caption under the picture, it was the student union, burning (Iaughter). I was actually shocked when I saw that. I couldn't believe that. Here I just left Vietnam, and now we're in Germany, and we still don't have no rights at home. I mean, that's what was so sickening. I had been in the Korean conflict. I was not actually in Korea, but I was in the 20th Air Force, B29s bombed Korea. But people was getting killed. Amos Kizer was one of the first blacks to get killed over there in the Korean War.

MS. COSBY: Amos Kizer?

MR. MONROE: Yes. He got killed in 1950. I think he was killed before I even joined the Air Force, which I joined in April '51.

MS. COSBY: Was he from Lawrence?

MR. MONROE: Yes. The Kizer family. He was one of the first ones to get killed, and then a Scott that lived in North Lawrence got killed in Korea too. But it seemed so sad, all these sacrifices, and we come back home to Lawrence, Kansas, and we're still just like it was in the old days, segregated. Couldn't get a good job or nothing like that. You just wondered what you was fighting for.

MS. COSBY: And what was the church's attitude about that?

MR. MONROE: I think the church might have had a lot to do with some of the civil rights movements here. Of course, I wasn't here to testify about that though. But I'm sure they did have probably a lot to do with it. And, of course, kids was getting killed.

MS. COSBY: There was a case that went before the Topeka court that changed the school segregation.

MR. MONROE: The Board of Education.

MS. COSBY: Were you here when that event took place: Brown versus the [Topeka] Board of Education?

MR. MONROE: No, I wasn't actually here when that happened either.

MS. COSBY: Did you know the Browns?

MR. MONROE: I think my folks might have known them, but I didn't. I had some relatives in Topeka named Brown, but I don't know if they were connected with the same Browns or not.

MS. COSBY: Do you have anything else you want to add? Sherrie, do you want to ask something?

MRS. HIEBERT: Leonard, you've got six children that are really kids that you're proud of. Do you want to talk about them or anything?

MR. MONROE: I don't mind. As a matter of fact, I'm proud of all them. I got six children, two boys and four girls.

MS. COSBY: How many generations do you have in St. Luke?

MR. MONROE: Just me. They're Catholic. They're all Catholic.

MS. COSBY: So you're the second-generation member of St. Luke?


MS. COSBY: Your father went to St. Luke, and you're the second generation?

MR. MONROE: Yeah. I married a Catholic, so all the kids is Catholic. The main thing you had to go through all this training to, you had to keep getting these interviews from the priest, and he'd ask these questions, "Are you going to raise your kids Catholic?" You going to do this and do that. So I kept going to these little meetings, and I went one meeting and, like I said, I was getting tired of going to those meeting and answering all those questions anyway. So, he asked me about raising the kids Catholic, and I said, "Yeah, I'll raise all the kids Catholic." He said, "You mind eating fish on Fridays?" Because back then that what they did. I looked at him and said, I was tired of answering all those questions. When I looked at him, I said, "I'll eat it on Monday if she'll cook it."

AUDIENCE: (Laughter).

MR. MONROE: He didn't like that answer, but all the kids, Mike is the oldest and Lynette and Linda and Darrell and Doria, then Maria, and all of them are through college and all of them have their college degrees, and all of them are doing all right.

MS. COSBY: Did they ever ask why they couldn't go to St. Luke or why they had to be Catholic?

MR. MONROE: No. As a matter of fact, they all went to St. John's Elementary School. Of course, it was a Catholic school. And which I'm kind of glad they did, because they did have a few nuns then. You hardly ever see a nun up there now, but they did have some nuns then. And they were really strict and they were really teachers. I mean, they really taught the kids. Plus, they had a religious class. And that's unheard of in the public schools. You can't even pray in the public school, but they had a religious class and everything. And they got a lot of discipline. When they left St. John's, all of them went to West Junior High. Then all of them went to LHS except Maria, because Free State was built then. She was the only one that didn't go to LHS, she went to Free State. From St. John's and all the way through college, they were all honor students. a I still think that all really started at St. John's, because they had so much discipline and learned to study. Then they got procedures and things they got to go through, with their little white dresses and things like that, and boys in blue suits. But I'm real proud of them. They're all doing okay.

MS. COSBY: And you think this is because of their Catholic upbringing?

MR. MONROE: My wife is a teacher and she teaches in Topeka, and those kids in those elementary schools and junior high, some of them are just terrible. But, see, they couldn't do that in elementary school. We never did it when we went to elementary school, but everything has changed now. We didn't have TV and we didn't see all this stuff on TV. We had radio, which we listened to. We'd get home from school, and we'd turn on Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, the Lone Ranger and things like that. But we never saw this stuff. But they see all this stuff now. And I don't know if you had noticed or not, but most of your oriental students over here, whether they'd be from the Far East or wherever they're from. Have you noticed, how smart they are?


MR. MONROE: Because they're never allowed to watch TV growing up. All they do is study and work. Study, that's all they do. So that's one reason why, and I think that's one of the sad things. Our kids sit down and watch TV, and see all this stuff on TV and they figure they can do it, too, and get away with it. Just yesterday, a thing was on the news where these teenagers in Kansas City was just going around shooting people and things like that. It's ridiculous. But I think a lot of it is from TV personally.

MS. COSBY: And their upbringing in the public school system, do you think?

MR. MONROE: Uh-huh. Because they're not restricted.

MR. KIMBALL: Leonard, you talked about the strong influence St. Luke has had on the black community and helping out the black community in the past. Why do you feel there's been a strong drop off in black attendance in the church?

MR. MONROE: It's hard to really figure. I think now the people just don't have as much up here, so to speak, in the mind about religion anymore. Back then, when I was growing up in St. Luke, the congregation of people were here all the time. But, now, it seems like they got so many other things to do, and they just don't seem to go to church. I know that Ninth Street Baptist has a lot more, but a lot of them are students. It's right there by the University. That way, they don't have to walk all the way over here to St. Luke. And we have had some students in the past, and they were great. But I don't know why so many people feel so much different about pastors and everything now. I don't know why, but it never has bothered me. As a matter of fact, I love sports. And I've had people offer me tickets, even my son-in-law, they got season tickets to the Chiefs and any time KU might be playing or whatever, basketball, but I never deter. I'll always go to church rather than go to the sports events. Even meetings. I'll come to a meeting rather than go to a sports event. It's never bothered me, but that's just the way I feel.

MS. COSBY: Do you feel that the role that the church was fulfilling for the black people earlier, are they still fulfilling those needs today? Say, a family would move in and they didn't have food or clothing?

MR. MONROE: I know we had helped some families in that regard, and any time we happened to have a visitor--like last Sunday, we had a couple of visitors here--we always make it a point to greet them after the service, talk to them, hope they enjoyed the service, hope they come back. Lately, we've had about four different people even join St. Luke. I can't say why people don't come to church any more really, because I do. So, I can't see how they think any other way.

MS. COSBY: Do you think they depend on community organizations, like Ballard Center and SRS and other organizations, to fulfill their needs more now than the church?

MR. MONROE: I was on the Board of Directors for the Ballard Center for about six years in the '70s and early '80s, and I don't think they depend on that. Now, when they give the commodities away, yeah, they got certain people to give those to, but they got to be qualified to get those things anyway. So I don't really think that has anything to do with it. We serve LINK at St. Luke just like all the other organizations do.

MS. COSBY: When St. Luke was first established, it played a part in the Underground Railroad, as opposed to today?

MR. MONROE: People stuck together, because they had to depend on each other and they got things from each other. They used to have picnics, big dinners, and things like that. They actually had, what you might call now, a party so to speak. And they always turned out for things like that.

MS. COSBY: It was a social avenue?

MR. MONROE: Good food, good socializing, and things like that. It was really great. I even remember some of those when I was a kid. We'd have real good times.

MS. TUCKER: I have a question about when you were a kid and first started coming here. What was it that drew you to come to St. Luke?

MR. MONROE: I followed my dad. When they'd drop Mama off over at Ninth Street Baptist, I'd get in the car and I'd come over here. Me and my brother, Raymond, would come over here and go to church with Dad.

MS. COSBY: Was your dad highly religious?

MR. MONROE: As far as I knew, we didn't miss any Sundays.

MS. COSBY: What are some of your family religious practices, like when you sit down for a meal or go to bed?

MR. MONROE: We'd say prayers, and we might kid each other about the Baptists or the Methodists. When we was growing up, we also attended plays. They used to have Easter plays, Christmas plays, you had to get up and say a piece and things like this. They don't do none of those kind of things anymore. But, back then, it looked like everybody lived to do something with the church.

MS. COSBY: And you think that's changed?

MR. MONROE: It's changed tremendously. It really has. You don't have the young people. I remember when I going to church when I was young, there was a lot of young people, like Bobby and Charlotte. Everyone was raised up in St. Luke. But you don't see them anymore. You just don't see the kids in church anymore.

MS. COSBY: Do you think that's because, you said that you had made this promise or pledge to raise your kids Catholic, and that parents didn't just enforce that their kids go to church or to go to the church that they went to?

MR. MONROE: We didn't have to be forced because we all went, and every Sunday we'd all go, my brothers and my sisters, Methodist and Baptist. My children always went to Mass on Sunday, and they still do. They can go to Mass two or three different times a day. They're not restricted to one time. Like we got to go at 11, or we don't go. But they can go to Mass at 8 in the morning, at 11, 5 in the evening. They got different choices they can go to Mass. I'm not saying that that would help as far as we're concerned, but I just don't know why they don't go. I just don't know why they don't go to church like they used to. Of course, the socializing is nothing like it used to be. Everybody is doing their own thing now. And then your working environments.

MS. COSBY: So many different activities occupy a kid's time.

MR. MONROE: And the jobs. It's different things like that.

MRS. HIEBERT: One of the things I was going to mention is that the African American population as a percentage, the overall population I think has really gotten smaller over the years. Part of that probably is connected with the job situation.

MR. MONROE: The job market, yes.

MRS. HIEBERT: But, in addition to that—it's like this I think in the white community too—that you get all these little churches.

MR. MONROE: I've really been amazed at that ever since I've come back home from the service in '76. All these years since '76, seems like everywhere you look there's a little church. We didn't have that when we was growing up. We had St. Luke, Ninth Street Baptist, and First RM in North Lawrence is the main ones I remember. That's where all the blacks went. But over the years, a lot of people come up here from the South, and they've started so many churches, I can't even name all the black churches in Lawrence now. They're just all over the place. Of course, we had St. James, which is also a Methodist church in North Lawrence, but those are the two Methodist churches, and First RM was a Baptist church and Ninth Street was a Baptist church. But, now, they got all kinds of churches in Lawrence now. And I think that's really hurt everything too. I know we've lost some members to them.

MRS. HIEBERT: When you and St. James do things together, like choir things, and everybody seems to have a great time together

MR. MONROE: We have a great time when we do that.

MRS. HIEBERT: How do you decide to do one of those? Is it when a special program is sponsored?

MR. MONROE: A special dinner or they're having something, and they want us to join with them, or we have something and want them to join with us. And that reminds me of something else, too. A few years back, when we had a pastor, Reverend Stevenson, we started a choir. We called it the Heritage Choir, Heritage Christian Choir, and it got to be huge. It was organized right here at St. Luke. Since it was at St. Luke and we were always practicing at St. Luke, I was the president of the choir. The Heritage Choir. We even went to Chicago to sing. I mean it was really, really something. And, then when Reverend Stevenson got reassigned, like the way they do it in Methodist churches. He got reassigned, but the Heritage Choir didn't want to keep it up. No one would take the reins to do it, and so it just dissolved. But we had a great thing going. I mean, we sang. It was beautiful. The Heritage Christian Choir.

MS. TUCKER: How many members?

MR. MONROE: Oh, good grief! It must have been, before it was all over, maybe 30 or more. It was really nice. And the directors and things were great, and you actually sang alto, tenor, bass, soprano. And we'd sing those songs

MS. COSBY: I don't have any more questions, but there's one thing on my mind that I don't know whether to ask you about or not. But we'll talk about the past 25 years, before the past 25 years, were there any church conflicts that stand out in your mind?

MR. MONROE: Actually, I think they kind of got together on some occasions really. I don't remember any big turmoil or anything like that.

MS. COSBY: In the history of Ninth Street, there was a split and we talked about different churches. And, during that split, another church was formed, so you had two black churches.

MR. MONROE: That still happens. That just happened to St. James as a matter of fact. Just like the pastor in St. James: all of a sudden he just quit preaching at St. James and started his own church. He holds his services at the Holidome and calls it the Second Chance Church or something like that. But that's a shame when things like that happen. To me, it's not really being Christian. And that's another thing that kind of gets me. I come to church to hear the word of God and do my job, whatever it may be
—sing in the choir or whatever. I don't come to church to see what you're doing or to see what you're wearing. I come to hear the message and socialize. I love to see the people. Maybe that's one of my problems, but I like people. I think some people just go to criticize. I really do. If not you, the preacher; If not the preacher, me. And I don't know if people get envious, or I have no idea why they do things like that. Just like we have our annual men's banquet every year, and these are the men I'm talking about. And we have our annual fish fry. I don't know if people are envious of those type of things, because some of the members never attend them. They never attend the banquet, or they never buy a fish dinner. Don't ask me why, I just know that they don't.

MS. COSBY: I've heard about your fish dinners and I'm looking forward to the next one. I heard they're really good (laughter).

MR. MONROE: People ask me when we're going to have them.

MS. COSBY: When is the next one?

MR. MONROE: People ask me when we're going to have it, but our own members sometimes don't even participate. And it's always for the church anyway. And the money they make goes to the church, and they won't participate. Why, I cannot answer that. Can you answer that, Bobby?

MR. KIMBALL: No. But I did have a question along that line. Always in the past, Sunday has always been classified as the most segregated hour in the nation. Do you feel that, since we're all going to hear the word of God, do you think that pastors could move from one church to another on a given Sunday to preach the word of God and be accepted in this city?

MR. MONROE: You mean like Reverend Taylor?

MR. KIMBALL: They actually move around.

MR. MONROE: What do you mean move around? They're assigned.

MR. KIMBALL: Plymouth Congregation will come to St. Luke. Pastor Taylor go out to First Christian.

MR. MONROE: He shouldn't be able to do that though. He's assigned. He's a Methodist pastor. He's assigned to this church by the bishop, so he couldn't go preach in these other churches.

MR. KIMBALL: So, structure would prevent it in your opinion?

MR. MONROE: Right. In my opinion.

MS. COSBY: Not even one service?

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes. We do that. We've been to Atchison, where he has pastored. We've been to First RM, where he did the sermon. Yeah, we do that on programs.

MS. COSBY: Yeah, it wouldn't preclude him from doing his ministry duties here at the church. But I think that's what you're asking?


MR. MONROE: We've been to Atchison, Kansas City, Ottawa, Topeka, and he's had the sermon on the program. But it's not during our church time. Usually the programs are in the afternoon or evening. So he does. He's preached at all these other churches, but not during the regular church hour here.

MRS. HIEBERT: But I think, Bob, you're asking if like I think Randy Beeman, is the person at First Christian, came here to speak and Reverend Taylor went there?


MR. MONROE: Oh, they have done that too. But they've always I think been on a program. We've even had the pastor from this Indian church up here, he's been here to our church. He spoke at our church.

MS. COSBY: During regular services?

MR. MONROE: But it's always on program.

MS. COSBY: It's always a program, and I think that's what you're asking. Are we willing to disrupt our regular Sunday services? The segregated hour? What Bobby says is the most segregated hour?

MR. MONROE: If you check the paper, I think it's every Friday that's it in there: all the churches and the times for their services. And that's just the way it is, I guess.

MS. COSBY: Just like the rest of America, we get set in our ways, and they've just
become hard to change until somebody just comes and uproots or disrupts?

MR. MONROE: Personally I think that. Even back in the beginning, and even the Underground Railroad, I think the services was always held at a certain time.

MS. COSBY: As I've listened to some of the interviews and people like you and older than you, in reading through some of the interviews, they were saying, "Oh, it wasn't a problem. We just accepted it. We just accepted how things were going in the community. Oh, we didn't have any problems." But there was a problem. We just accepted it. And I think that that's what we're seeing in our services today. Churches are struggling with just accepting what has gone on all of these years, and not trying to change, not trying to come together. And, at Ninth Street, I think the pastor has put forth an effort to say, "This is not a black church. This is an integrated church. This is an integrated church. It's just that the majority is black."

MR. MONROE: We have white members right here. A white guy just joined our church a couple of weeks ago.

MS. COSBY: So, we're just trying to get out of the routine of things, the segregated hour that Bobby mentioned.

MR. MONROE: When we were growing up, it was just the way that it was, and we knew that's the way that it was. But once things started changing, then all hell broke loose and a lot of things changed, and it's still changing. But the way it was is the way you grew up and, like you say, that's just the way that it was. Services have always been 11 o'clock.

MS. COSBY: Could that be a reason for the drop off of the congregation?

MR. MONROE: I don't think so. If people leave the church or drop out of church, as far as I'm concerned, that's between them and their God. I have no idea why they do that.

MS. COSBY: I don't have anything else, unless you want to add something that you think would be relevant to this interview. It's been wonderful.

MR. MONROE: I just think God has been very good to St. Luke, and to myself and my family, and I really appreciate and thank God. There is a God.

MS. COSBY: Thank you, Mr. Monroe.

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