History Faculty Publications and Presentations

W. B. Townsend and the Struggle against Racist Violence in Leavenworth

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2009


Among the truest men in the State of Kansas today, is that young man of Leavenworth W. B. Townsend,” proclaimed the Topeka Colored Citizen in 1878. “If he is spared to be a few years older,” it predicted, “he will be known as one of the leading colored men of the nation.” Upon learning of his death thirty-nine years later, the Topeka Plaindealer, a black weekly, recorded that Townsend had fulfilled these soaring expectations. “He was bold, brave and fearless and stood bravely for the rights of his people no matter how great the odds,” it remembered. “His good deeds will ever live in the memory of Kansas and Kansans.”1 Although his black contemporaries expressed conviction that Townsend’s works would long outlive him, this extraordinary Kansan has largely been forgotten. This study seeks to remedy in part that historical oversight, focusing as it does on Townsend’s struggle against racist violence in Leavenworth, Kansas, around the turn of the twentieth century. Drawing primarily on newspaper accounts, it addresses Townsend’s resistance against racist violence and his demand for justice on behalf of its victims, a campaign that drew upon his skills as journalist, politician, and attorney and thrust him into the role of militant. It also addresses the diverse responses of the white and black communities to Townsend’s campaign, both within Leavenworth and throughout the surrounding area.

Publication Title

Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains