tv Kansas City Public Library Tom Pendergast Digital Collection CSPAN August 13, 2018 9:38pm-9:55pm EDT
>> robert pendergast was the control from 1925 to 1939. the political machine got its start by his older brother jim pendergast who came to kansas city in the 1880s and got started establishing this machine the first-quarter kansas city which was indian dust for the west down by the river and there is an irish community, an african-american community. it was very diverse, a lot of working class people and john pendergast but basically precinct to precinct building this machine basically helping
people get jobs in exchange for votes, helping people giving them loans. you'd have to get a formal bank loan and jim would loan money settling gambling bets, illegal money such as gambling and prostitution and when jim pendergast he was getting older and his health was failing and his younger brother tom pendergast got started in the machine around the 1900s. he was elected city alterman in charge of streets for a few years in the early 1900s and tom pendergast really was in a position to take over the machine by the time that jim died in 1911.
a political machine is basically a start to describe it but the act of doing favors in exchange for votes. when you boil it down to the base element that's what it amounted to. it's being tied into organized crime and other illicit act to these taking bribes and kickbacks. and using influence to make sure that your preferred candidates are elected. once you control the city government by 1925 the pendergast machine had full control over the city. they had city councilmembers hand-picked by tom pendergast. through the city council they appointed mcilroy city manager
and the city manager division was really more powerful than any other position in kansas city at the time and for henry mcavoy the manager was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city. reformers had hoped that the manager would be this professional who takes care of business and proper ways but since he was pendergast's man it was very improper. whenever they did city construction projects, mcilroy would make sure his contracts went to companies that were owned by tom pendergast. pendergast owns mostly construction companies that was basically everything from cement
there was a ready mixed company that is one of the big ones. he had insurance companies. he had liquor companies, of course which at least officially they change to beverage companies during prohibition of the time. so all of these city contracts went through mcilroy to pendergast and he gets the money and there's the circle of money and pendergast is always getting his cuts and people with elated with the machine were getting their cut and ask in exchange votes. election day they could pay people to vote. they could hire what they called ward healers to go precinct by precinct and intimidate voters or bring out their own voters. the election in 1934 for example there were four people killed at
polling sites but pendergast ward healers. the way they were able to do this, they could get away with it because after four people killed and 11 were injured people demanded that the governor call out the national guard and come and reestablish order in kansas city. who would do that packs the governor of missouri by part. park himself was at pendergast crony. the power actually went statewide by 1932 when he got guy paar collected. in the state of misery they had representation at the democratic national convention. in the 1930s the pendergast
selected truman to be senator from missouri. he was elected in the statewide vote but at this point through pendergast i believe the number that he could produce was about 70,000 fraudulent or goes to votes in any given election. it was the sheer number of votes that he could produce out of kansas city that would be tallied and they were official, whether they were real or not. he had the power to do this and he had plenty of support to the pendergast machine affiliates could win elections even without phony ballot boxes.
they gave people jobs. they build infrastructure. if you walk around the city today and see the courthouse is still there. the municipal auditorium is still there. the 1932 he is on top of the world and sending delegates to the democratic national convention. he has senators and the governor of missouri, big portion of the state legislature. pendergast also had a gambling addiction specifically horse racing. at some point he racked up several hundred thousand dollars and that's in the 1930s, the great depression era. several hundred thousand dollars in gambling debt. he needed to raise even more money than his corrupt machine could pay to pay off his gambling debts.
eventually in the late 30s, 1937, 38 he got involved in insurance backs. actually this game, it's not clear whether he broke the law with the scheme itself. i'm not a lawyer so i can explain that. but where he ran into trouble is he didn't report income tax on his tax returns. so just like al capone it was the irs that finally caught up with tom pendergast. in 1939 he went to jail at leavenworth. pendergast was nothing by this point, by 1945 and pendergast died of natural causes.
truman came to his funeral so truman who just became vice president came to the funeral of tom pendergast during wartime on a military plane. a bit of controversy and a week later roosevelt died and truman was present in the united states. so truman could never completely distance himself from his bed around with the machine. he owned it. he said that pendergast always kept his word and he wasn't going to end his friendship paid what we are trying to do is complicate that history. i've done a little bit of that
in this interview but we are building a web site that will include -- currently we have about 9500 scans of original documents. we have photographs letters written to one another back then i mentioned the court cases that unveiled voter fraud is a crime and an interactive web site that will combine the original documents with a new scholarship so we reached out in 2015 to 18 different professors who were young professionals or historians who have produced full-length articles. they would go in the book. there are new libraries and their topics that just haven't explored in any kind of depth
before this. we are taking web site versions of those to public audiences. those will go on the web site. everything is linked together so when you're reading an essay you can see the documents that support the research and you can go read the court case that put pendergast in jail. it's not as dry as a typical court case might sound when you think about everything that is going on at the time. basic way those are the elements of the web site. it will look something like this when the graphics are finished. we have eight or nine different categories of topics that we are covering. politics, organized crime,
economic boom, depression, recovery. labor and industry, race relations, community leadership, women's rights. the scope is focusing on pendergast and the machine and then exploring all of the implications of machine rule in kansas city especially in the 1920s and 30s when they were at their peak. so when we look at jazz we are mostly interested in jazz from the perspective of the machine. how does the machine and able a culture of nightclubs and joe called it the wide-open town at the time. kansas city was the original sin city basically.
so we are looking at that aspect , however king ties together. it makes sense to do this digital platform that you can do a lot of things on our web site that you can't do in the book. we are developing word maps. it's using google, showing the wards. you'll be able to click and find the first ward and that's where pendergast came from paid that's where they had their start. you can see the other machines and you'll be able to click and go back to the documents. it goes with documents to essays that to maps and timelines. we create a mind map that shows connections within the machine that visualize in an info graphic. it's really difficult to do any
booktv continues with another stop from the c-span cities tour. his next visit from lubbock texas includes author sean cunningham talking about post-world war ii politics in the american sunbelt. >> the american sunbelt is one of those labels that scholars historians and journalists have created over the years to try to understand this post-world war ii merger of the south and the west or maybe the south and the southwest. the short answer is that it's this merger of those two regions and into something that's more understandable in the modern sense. the less satisfying answers probably the sunbelt doesn't exist. it's an imagined creation. to try to understand what we have is his movement away of the american s
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