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Past and Present

Past and Present: Wichita's Black Entrepreneurs

Bonita Gooch

Compared to other major cities, Wichita has a relatively small African-American population.

Because of this large, black-owned commercial enterprises, such as insurance companies, never developed here. Nevertheless, there exists a strong tradition of smaller-scale African-American entrepreneurship in this city.

For instance, the preface of the Wichita Negro Year Book 1922-1923 included the following: “this book is presented to the public as proof that the Negro of Wichita, has a mind to do… and that his over-plus of imagination, ambition and pluck make him dare and take the long, careful… road of the business man.”

In looking at the history of African-American business in Wichita, four entrepreneurial accomplishments exemplify those Wichita Negro Year Book’s references to imagination, ambition and pluck.

  • Xavia Howard, who inherited the Citizens Funeral Home from her mother, Victoria Hightower, in 1942, was the first black woman in Kansas to hold a dual license as a funeral director and embalmer.
  • U.L. “Rip” Gooch’s Aero Services, Inc., a “fixed base operation” that provided charters, airline maintenance, and later distributed Moony aircraft, represented a pioneering enterprise in the aviation industry, starting in the 1950s.
  • Henry L. Wofford, one of a few African-Americans in the oil drilling business, ran his company for more than 25 years.
  • Charles F. McAfee, a world-renowned architect based in Wichita, has done award-winning work across the country.

These individuals, as well as other Wichita black entrepreneurs who are rarely recognized, represent an important part of this city’s business and economic history.