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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.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.