Published August 2nd, 2021 at 1:05 PM
The streets, schools, buildings, parks, fountains and even benches around us are often memorialized in the names of people who made a profound impact on their community — or paid a lot of money.
One curiousKC reader reached out wanting to know more about the name Holmes here in Kansas City. The Rev. D.A. Holmes, that is.
For starters, this isn’t the family name remembered locally by Holmes Road. This Holmes was a Baptist preacher and civic leader of the city’s past, once called the community’s “Black Moses.”
So, who was D.A. Holmes and why was the former school at 3004 Benton Blvd. named in his honor?
Daniel Arthur Holmes was born in Randolph County, Missouri, in 1876. The son of enslaved people, Holmes’ family moved to Macon, Missouri, when his parents were freed following the end of the Civil War.
As a teen, Holmes rejected the idea of following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps to become a preacher. He worked as a street paver and farm hand. Then at age 15, Holmes ran away from home for a job in the St. David, Illinois, coal mines.
After only a few years in the mine, Holmes was low on cash and unable to afford a formal education. A serious injury in the mines also left Holmes questioning if would ever walk again. The future giant in Kansas City’s fight for racial justice credited his eventual recovery to “the help of the Lord, his abiding belief in the power of prayer.”
A 1948 news clipping, courtesy of The Back Archives Mid-America, shares a portion of Holmes’ origin story.
The account details a moment a few years later, during one of Holmes’ impromptu sermons at the First Baptist Church in St. David. A neighboring pastor stumbled upon the young man of faith speaking to the congregation.
The pastor was so moved that he asked his church members to round up the necessary funds to sponsor Holmes and send him off to college.
Holmes enrolled at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where he earned one of his three college degrees, answered the call to faith and committed to becoming a third-generation Holmes pastor.
Holmes was ordained in 1901 and moved to Kansas City in 1914, following formative years working as a young pastor in Davenport and Fort Madison, Iowa. During that time, Holmes became the Negro State Baptist Convention’s official representative to the white convention. The position made Holmes responsible for instituting a financial plan to assist Black Baptists in the state.
He later recounted that his early career in Iowa was the foundation of experience that led to success in his pivotal role in communicating with white city and church leaders throughout his life.
After a brief period leading the congregation at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas, Holmes hopped over to the Missouri side. He became the pastor at the Vine Baptist Church that once stood at 1835 Vine St. and was later moved to its current location at 25th Street and The Paseo and renamed Paseo Baptist Church.
The move and construction of Paseo Baptist Church came with a $250,000 price tag. It was an attainable number for the fiery preacher and one of the first of many successful efforts from the youthful pastor, who was able to stir financial support from his congregation to erect the church and educational facility.
Holmes was quoted on the 39th anniversary of the church saying, “I never was much of a man to preach in second-hand churches.”
Holmes was committed to the Paseo Baptist Church for life, serving as the community’s pastor for 46 years until his retirement in 1967.
Outside of the church, Holmes is remembered as a “towering figure” in the Black community and otherwise as a leader who took on police brutality, civil rights issues and shady politics in City Hall head on, especially during the days of the Pendergast political machine bribing Black communities during the 1930s.
Holmes’ involvement aside from preaching the good word amounts to a lengthy list of president, executive and board positions held across multiple offices and groups.
To name a few, Holmes was elected as the first Black president of the General Ministerial Alliance of Kansas City in 1947, was the founder of the Carver Neighborhood Center, presided over the Missouri Baptist State Convention, served as the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Western Seminary, was an executive member of the NAACP, the Kansas CIty Research Academy, City Recreation Commission, Budget Committee and Council of Social Agencies.
In many of these roles, Holmes often served as the contact point when white business leaders or politicians would connect to the city’s Black community.
“They (the white community) would always check with him — whatever was involved,” Judge Lewis Clymer recalled in a 1986 interview. “They would check with him to see what they thought about it.”
Holmes continually pushed for improved education opportunities for Black people. He was heavily involved with the push to integrate the University of Missouri in Columbia and went to bat with the Kansas City School Board for a new Lincoln High School at 21st and Woodland streets, which was one a few Black students were able to attend at the time.
On Jan. 23, 1955, the 78-year-old Holmes was celebrated by a crowd of more than 400 people as the former Benton School was renamed D.A. Homes School in honor of the pastor’s efforts in rooting out corruption, fighting for racial justice and looking out for the city’s youth.
That same year, the school was converted to a segregated all-Black school. At the time, the D.A. Holmes School was the first and only school to bear the name of a Black person.
Rabbi Samuel Mayerberg, a close friend and fellow man of faith, spoke to the crowd and newspaper reporters.
“When this city was in the hands of corrupt leaders, Dr. Holmes rose in his pulpit and on street corners to preach against those who were dipping into the city treasury,” Mayerberg said. “His mighty effort took force until the citizens of Kansas City joined Dr. Holmes in sweeping this city clean.”
“I don’t know whether I deserve it or not, but I like it,” Holmes said to the school board members, students, faculty and guests present, according to newspaper accounts. “After hearing all these nice speeches this afternoon, I feel my funeral has already been preached.”
The D.A. Holmes School closed its doors for good in 1997. Today, the building is a senior living facility and still bears the Holmes name.
Holmes died in 1972 at age 96 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Newspaper accounts throughout the 20th century provide first-hand accounts of the minister’s impact on his counterparts and community members.
“For many Kansas Citians today, Dr. Holmes is the yardstick by which Black leadership is measured.” – Mack Alexander (Kansas City Star, 1975)
“Wherever you find him, you find a champion of brotherhood, justice and decency. You have in him a man of dignity and honor who can appear with any group … Dr. Holmes cannot be said to belong to you alone. He belongs to the community as a whole.” – Rabbi Samuel Mayerberg of the Congregation of B’nai Jehudah, addressing the Paseo Baptist Church audience in celebration of Rev. Holmes’ 25 years in the ministry in 1947. (Kansas City Star, 1975)
“He was a person who could think on his feet. If he felt something should be said, he’d say it.” – Rev. Charles Briscoe, former pastor at Paseo Baptist, 1986 (Kansas City Times, 1986)
“The Paseo church, with its more than 1,000 members, its beautiful auditorium elegantly furnished, its fine pipe organ and its four-story educational building is a fitting memorial to this man’s heroic efforts. He is a great pastor and they are a great people.” – Unknown, 1946 (The World and Way, Black Archives of Mid-America)
“Although we know the pen and spoken word are mightier than the club, please accept this as a token of our recognition from the Kansas City police force.” – Police Chief Bernard Brannon upon gifting a club to Rev. Holmes, celebrating 58 years in the ministry. (Kansas City Times, 1957)
“He did have the power to touch people. And he could get the press with him. What he said was covered. So he could get a lot of things accomplished that other people couldn’t who didn’t know the power structure.” – Judge Lewis Clymer (Kansas City Star, 1975)
“My reaction to this is the passage by our Lord Jesus to His Disciples. He that would be great among you, let him be your servant. Service and humility, these two put together, is the answer to all the honors that have come to me through my life as a minister and public servant.” – Dr. Holmes, 1948
For more on Rev. D.A. Holmes and the Black leaders who shaped Kansas City, visit the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.