Leon Mercer Jordan (May 6, 1905, Kansas City, Missouri – July 15, 1970, Kansas City, Missouri) was an American police officer, politician and civil rights leader who was assassinated on July 15, 1970. He was “one of the most influential African Americans in Kansas City’s history” and, at the time of his death, the “state’s most powerful black politician”.
Jordan attended Lincoln High School in Kansas City, served in the U.S. Army, and graduated from Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio in 1932. He married fellow Wilberforce student Orchid Irene Ramsey on August 10, 1932. After graduation, he worked as a school teacher.
Jordan joined the Kansas City Police Department in 1938, became a detective, and in 1952, became the first African-American police lieutenant in that department’s history. He took a leave of absence in 1947, and spent eight years training the police forces of Liberia. A pilot, he flew his own plane around the country. In 1948, he helped coordinate the rescue of the French High Commissioner of West Africa and 16 other French officials after their plane made a forced landing. He was awarded the Chevalier of the Star of Africa by Liberian President William Tubman in 1948.
In 1951, Jordan became a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He returned to Kansas City in February, 1952, and was promoted to police lieutenant. However, he discovered that he had little power, so he resigned and went back to Liberia for three years. He returned to Kansas City for good in the mid-1950s, and purchased the Green Duck Tavern.
Civil rights and politics
In 1958, Jordan became a Democratic Party committeeman for the 14th Ward of Kansas City. In 1962, Jordan co-founded Freedom, Inc. along with Bruce R. Watkins. The organization advocated political awareness among African-Americans in Kansas City, organized a massive voter registration drive, and developed African-American political candidates. In 1963, Jordan and Watkins helped pass an accommodations ordinance, desegregating all public facilities in the city.
In 1964, Freedom, Inc. put forward eight candidates for office, and seven of them won. Among them was Jordan, who was elected to the first of three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives. He was campaigning for a fourth term at the time he was murdered. Shortly before his death, he described himself as a “radical”, adding “I’m not a conformist but there are bounds of reason.”
At about 1:00 a.m. on July 15, 1970, he was killed just outside his Green Duck Tavern by three shotgun blasts. Eyewitnesses reported that the three killers were African-American. The shotgun had been stolen, and was abandoned immediately. When it was recovered, it was traced to a burglary five years earlier in Independence, Missouri.
Three men were arrested for the murder, at least one of whom affiliated with a criminal group called the “Black Mafia”. One was acquitted, and charges were dropped against the other two.
Jordan was killed by a Remington 12-gauge Wingmaster shotgun, which was among several guns that had been stolen from a hardware store in Independence, Missouri in 1965. A January, 1966 report on the burglary by the Independence Police Department stated that the guns had later been sold through a “North End Italian fence.” This report was not discovered in the initial investigation of Jordan’s murder, but was uncovered by investigative journalists working for the Kansas City Star in 2010. When the reporters asked the Kansas City Police Department about the gun, they were told that it had been lost in 1973. The gun may have been sold in a police surplus auction. Some time later, the police purchased the used shotgun from a gun store, and did not check the serial number. The gun was refurbished and placed into police service.
On November 5, 1997, a police officer used the shotgun to shoot and wound an armed suspect in North Kansas City, Missouri. The gun was analyzed by the crime lab, who failed to identify it as the Jordan murder weapon, and it was returned to police service the following year. Only when the Kansas City Star asked questions about the missing shotgun in 2010 did a crime lab technician run a computer check that located the gun, which was recovered from the trunk of a police car and then returned to the evidence room.
In 2010, reporters with the Kansas City Star began investigating the assassination while preparing for coverage of the 40th anniversary of Jordan’s death. This led to discovery of the missing murder weapon and some old fingerprint cards, and that motivated the Kansas City Police Department to re-open the official investigation of the department’s oldest cold case. Civil rights leader Alvin Sykes pressed the department for a complete investigation. In trying to determine who was responsible for the assassination, the newspaper reported that Jordan and his Freedom, Inc. political movement had been opposed to the “North End” faction in Kansas City politics, a group under the influence of La Cosa Nostra, and which had previously controlled black voting blocs. In 1965, Jordan had punched Frank Mazzuca, a fellow state legislator who was alleged to have supported mob interests in Jefferson City, Missouri, and death threats against Jordan were reported in the aftermath.
The newspaper reported that police informants associated with the Black Mafia had described the killing as a favor to North End mob interests, and that it was organized by “Shotgun Joe” Centimano, owner of a local liquor store. The informants said that Centimano had supplied the murder weapon and recruited the killers. The newspaper reported that one informant said the assassination had elements of both a “contract killing” and a “revenge killing”, and that another said it was “all about politics.” News coverage said that a 900-page police report finished in 2011 had concluded that mob boss Nick Civella had given his “blessing” to Jordan’s assassination. No one was indicted because all of the main players were dead by then.
Main article: Orchid I. Jordan
Jordan’s widow, Orchid, became a candidate for his legislative seat when her husband was killed. She won the election, and served for 16 years in the Missouri House of Representatives. She died on December 25, 1995 at the age of 85.
A statue and park memorializing Jordan was dedicated May 17, 1975. More recently, a plaque commemorating Freedom, Inc. was placed on the back of the statue’s base.
The Leon M. Jordan Memorial Park, located at 31st Street and Benton Boulevard in Kansas City, features a statue of Jordan and the following text on a plaque on the front of its base:
LEON MERCER JORDAN
Leon Mercer Jordan was a leader, a true and gifted servant of his people.He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.A. during an era when he was, solely by reason of his race and color, generally excluded from the society of other so-called civilized folk because of policies and practices of racial segregation, discrimination and exclusion which were firmly embedded in the laws of this land and were clothed with every legal sanction. Early in life he began to apply his vision, wisdom and iron will to a dissolution of the restraints which were imposed upon him and his people at the time of his birth. At the time of his death, every legal sanction for racial segregation and discrimination had been eradicated, and he had founded and forged into an instrument of tremendous political force and power an organization called Freedom, Inc., and through Freedom Inc., Leon Mercer Jordan accomplished the political liberation of black folk in this town and state, he was a Lieutenant of police, Chief of the Constabulary of the Republic of Liberia, a member of the House of Representatives of Missouri, but he is remembered here by this mass of stone and bronze because he was “the Leader” whose work and efforts contributed significantly toward the realization of justice, equality and freedom, for all.
His papers, including extensive documentation of his service in Liberia, are collected in the library of the University of Missouri-Kansas City