July 17, 1951 – Kansas City Underwater – Josephine Baker And Racism In A Restaurant.
July 17, 1951. The big news concerned the devastating floods sweeping over Kansas City, submerging some 2 million acres and causing an untold amount of damage and loss of life. On the day of this newscast, President Truman had finished a tour of the disaster area. He said it was “the worst this country has suffered from water”, and pledged some $25 million in recovery aid, which was quickly approved by Congress.
The drama began in May with the flood of the Big Creek, (a tributary of the Smoky Hill River) in Hays after eleven inches of rain in two hours. The creek overflowed, flooding Hays (the location of Fort Hays State University) to a depth of four feet in most locations inhabited by the coeds on campus, necessitating a midnight flight from the barracks (by families of the G.I. Bill) and dorms to the Stadium’s third floor, which was still dry. Dr. Charles F. Wiest, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religion, and his seven-year-old daughter perished when their home caved in with the weight of the water while he was saving prized texts in his basement. All records at the college were ruined and no graduation was held on the appointed date of May 23. Graduates were mailed their diplomas a month later.
At the time there were no warning sirens in Hays. Two police officers drove up and down the low riding streets with their sirens blaring shouting to evacuate. They are credited with saving many lives.
The flooding continued into June 1951 with heavy rains that month. The flooding reached its worst stages when between 8 and 16 inches fell on the region between July 9 and July 13. The flood levels reached their highest point since the Great Flood of 1844 and Flood of 1903. July 13 experienced the single greatest levels of flood and led to the greatest amount of destruction by flood experienced in the Midwest as of that date.
Other news regarding Congress and the goings-on in Capitol Hill had to do with the continuing fracas and debate over Price Controls. Dubbed “The Horsemeat Congress”, the question of Beef prices raised more than the average ruckus (and a song from one Congressman).
And finally, news from Los Angeles over a racial incident involving singer Josephine Baker and a diner at a local Hollywood eatery. Seems the diner, a White male from Dallas, made a few crude racist remarks about Ms. Baker, who in turn called the Police who said they couldn’t arrest him, but she could make a Citizens Arrest. The result was the diner was arrested by Ms. Baker and booked on being drunk and disorderly in public.
And so went this July day in 1951, as relayed by Don Hollenbeck, substituting for Edward R. Murrow and The News from CBS Radio.