Foundation wants KCI's future to involve preserving the past - | WBTV Charlotte

Foundation wants KCI's future to involve preserving the past


Southwest Airlines is the largest tenant at the Kansas City International Airport, and Tuesday morning, they weighed in on what a new airport design would mean for airlines and passengers.

The KCI Terminal Advisory Group is in charge of figuring out whether to redesign the airport to one terminal. Southwest representatives say the group should consider airlines' needs in the plan and how higher operating costs could mean passengers pay more.

"Airlines support the airports in this country as opposed to tax payers, and all the ingredients go in to drive the cost per passenger," said Bob Montgomery with Southwest Airlines.

The advisory group is considering a billion-dollar redesign of the airport that would take it from three terminals to one. Before any decisions are made about KCI, one local foundation is fighting to put some focus on preserving the airport's past.

There's not much left of the old Miller farm but the family cemetery in the shadows of KCI's control tower. A 2009 lawsuit protects it and three other Civil War-era cemeteries from future airport expansion, but other burial sites are not included.

"This was their final resting place. Let them rest in peace," said Shirley Kimsey, a historian.

Kimsey's family plot sits on airport grounds. She feels there are unmarked slave burial sites scattered across the 11,000 acres that still need protection.

The group that sat down with KCTV5's Eric Chaloux has connections to the slaves and plantation owners who lived and died on the property now designated as airport grounds. They want that history to be remembered in any possible expansion.

"Every plane that takes off and lands at KCI should pay tribute to the grounds, these people," said Warren Watkins, Jr.

Watkins knows his relatives, men and women who were not free, are buried on airport land.

"The people that broke ground in that area, should have some say, some ideas and some thoughts," he said.

Watkins wrote to the airport committee. The Watkins name is known for protecting early African American history in Kansas City.

"Nobody wants to stop development. It's not about stopping development, it's about preserving the history," he said.

He said it's been nearly a month with no reply from the committee as of last week.

Kimsey is against any plans for new construction at the airport.

"There are people that want their name on that new building. Well, they are not that important. The people that are buried out there are more important to me," she said.

"We have ideas to making this airport better," Watkins said.

If a new KCI takes flight, Watkins hopes it will pay tribute with a museum or exhibit to capture the spirits of those who wanted freedom.

"There's no airport in the world that's dedicated to freedom. That's what this, this is freedom around here," he said.

Tuesday the head of the airport committee said he reached out to the Watkins Foundation just this week to find out their story.

The KCI Terminal Advisory Group is expected to make their recommendations in April. Their decision may not carry as much weight, though, due to the fact that a petition drive got enough signatures to possibly put the issue to voters this year.

The story came as a tip to the KCTV5 Investigative Tip Hotline. If you have a tip for us, call 816 or 913-576-7555 or e-mail us at

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