In 1950s Wichita, blacks and whites could not eat lunch at the same restaurants, and they couldn’t stay at the same hotels. They couldn’t even share the same restrooms or water fountains.
Curtis R. McClinton, the first African-American elected to the Kansas Senate, began to change that after he was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1956. He introduced public-accommodation laws calling for equal treatment for individuals, regardless of race, religion or national origin, that predated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Mr. McClinton died Wednesday in Wichita. He was 99.
“He had the passion for freedom and the passion for education and knowledge,” Curtis McClinton Jr. said of his father. “But he did not just care to get his foot wet in the pond of freedom. He wanted to get all of the sticks and rubbish out of it.”
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Mr. McClinton was born to William and Agnes Dad McClinton on March 22, 1913, in Braggs, Okla. Growing up in segregated Poteau, Okla., he attended political rallies and courtroom proceedings with his father.
“I think he just wanted us to be exposed” to what was happening in the community, Mr. McClinton said in a 2000 interview with The Eagle.
After getting his degree in education and a minor in business administration from Langston University in 1937, Mr. McClinton worked as a teacher, then ran a grocery store in Oklahoma. He moved to Wichita in the early 1940s.
In Wichita, Mr. McClinton opened a grocery store on East 12th Street and joined the NAACP. Then he made the move into politics.
In 1960, he became the state’s first black senator, serving two terms.
Curtis McClinton Jr. said he remembers his father as a “very focused and committed person” with great commitment to education.
“If he said something, he meant it – whether it was an order or a direction,” he said. “ My father always wanted his kids to get a good education. We’ve just always kind of matriculated toward that.”
Friends and peers of Mr. McClinton respected him and described him as modest but persistent.
Former state Sen. U.L. “Rip” Gooch was friends with Mr. McClinton, and they once opposed each other in a state Senate race. Gooch called Mr. McClinton honest, straightforward and a fighter.
“He did a lot for the city,” Gooch said. “(He was) not one to give up.”
State Rep. Melody McCray-Miller remembers the deep respect her late father, former state legislator Billy McCray, had for Mr. McClinton. She views Mr. McClinton as the forerunner for African-American officials elected after him.
“His long, committed life he lived speaks volumes to the person Sen. McClinton was and the legacy he left behind,” McCray-Miller said. “He was important.”
Mr. McClinton is survived by his son, Curtis McClinton Jr.; his daughter-in-law, Devonne McClinton; granddaughters Tobe McCay and Marguerite Mary McClinton; and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Mary Ella McGee McClinton; one brother and five sisters.
A service will be at 6 p.m. Friday at the Jackson Mortuary Chapel, 1125 E. 13th St.; the funeral will be at 10 a.m. July 7 at Calvary Baptist Church, 2653 N. Hillside.
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker; Eagle staff