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James Westley Hurse
*James Wesley Hurse was born on this date in 1866. He was a Black minister.
Born in Colyerville, Tennessee, he spent his early years on a farm in nearby Mason, TN. He left home as a teenager and worked in Memphis at a variety of odd jobs before moving to Kansas City at the age of 21.
He enrolled at the Washington School of Correspondence while working as a day laborer. After six years of study, he earned a degree in divinity. In 1898, he began preaching in an area of Northeast Kansas City known both as “Bellevidere Hollow” and “Hell’s Half Acre.” Preaching under a tent and baptizing converts in the Missouri River, Hurse quickly developed a following in the mostly Black and Italian neighborhood, said to be one of the roughest in town.
Hurse formally organized St. Stephen Baptist Church in a tent at Independence Avenue and Charlotte Street. He and his congregation bought a church building at 604 Charlotte, but it burned down before they held their first service. The church was rebuilt, largely by members of the church, and opened in 1905. In 1921, the congregation moved to a church at 910 Harrison Street. He was also active in the National Baptist Convention and served the organization as vice president for eight years. He became president in 1929. Hurse contributed immeasurably to the economic, social, and cultural life of Kansas City, and spoke out on the importance of education, morals, and homeownership by Blacks. An ardent champion of the Black businessman, he encouraged his congregation to support Black-owned businesses in Kansas City. Hurse presided over St. Stephen until his death in 1935.
Missouri Valley Special Collections the Kansas City Public Library | 14 W. 10th St. | Kansas City, MO 64105 | 816.701.3427, Reference: by David Conrads
DeAngelo, Dory, and Jane Fifield Flynn. Kansas City Style: A Social and Cultural History of Kansas City as Seen Through Its Lost Architecture. Kansas City, Mo.: Fifield Publishing Co., 1992.
Gorham, Thelma Thurston, ed. Meeting the Challenge of Change: A Sixty-Year History of St. Stephen Baptist Church. Kansas City, Mo.: Grimes-Joyce Printing Co, 1964.
Young, William H., and Nathan B. Young Jr. Your Kansas City and Mine. Kansas City, Mo.