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Cordell Meeks, Sr. family papers

Call Number: RH MS 1150


The Cordell Meeks, Sr. family papers are those of a native Kansas family, the head of which, Cordell D. Meeks, Sr., was Kansas' first African American District Court judge. His son, Cordell D. Meeks, Jr., also became a judge and he and his wife, Mary Ann, were active in their community and local politics.


  • Creation: 1935 - 2010


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

History of the Meeks family

Cordell D. Meeks was born 25 September 1914 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Reverend and Mrs. C. A. Meeks. After the family moved to Kansas City, Kansas, Meeks attended that city's public schools (Garrison, Douglass, Northeast Junior High, and Sumner High). He then went on to the University of Kansas, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 1937 and, in 1940, a Juris Doctorate.

After graduating, Meeks worked in a private law practice in Kansas City, Kansas, opening his own office there in 1941. From 1947 to 1951, Meeks was an assistant District Attorney; seven years later, in 1958, he became a senior partner in the firm of Meeks, Gray, Franklin, Smith, and Whyte.

In 1972, Meeks, Sr. was elected Wyandotte County District Court judge, a position he held until his 1 January 1981 retirement. His election to the position made him the first African American elected to a Kansas District Court. In 1971, he was recommended for the Kansas State Supreme Court.

In 1950, Meeks, Sr. was elected Wyandotte County Commissioner; he served in that position for 24 years. He was elected Chairman of the Board in 1965. Meeks was also highly active in various community and political organizations, including the First A.M.E. Church, where he served on the Trustee Board; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the Democratic Party, for which he was a National Convention delegate in both 1949 and 1954.

On 22 December 1940, Meeks married Cellastine Brown of Topeka, Kansas. The couple had four children: Marlene, Cordell Jr., Marcena, and Marquita. Cordell D. Meeks, Sr. died in 1987.

Cordell Meeks, Jr., followed his father into the legal profession. Born circa 1943, he graduated from Sumner High School in 1960 and went on to earn both his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (1964) and law degree (1967) from the University of Kansas. While at KU, he was elected to the Student Council, was president of his law school senior class, and was a member of Sachem of Omicron Kelta Kappa, senior men's honor society. Following a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, Meeks, Jr. began practicing law in Kansas City, Kansas in 1970 and, in 1976, became a municipal judge. After becoming senior partner in the law firm Meeks, Sutherland, and McIntosh, Meeks, Jr. was appointed District Court Judge for the 29th Judicial District of Kansas in 1981 by the governor, a position he held until his death in 2006.

In 1968, Meeks, Jr. joined the Kansas National Guard where he went on to become an Assistant Judge-Advocate General. Later, he graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and reached the rank of Colonel. For his service as Chief Legal Clerk for Support Command at Fort Carson, CO, he received the Army Commendation Medal.

Meeks, Jr. was also active in numerous civic organizations, serving as president of the Mental Health Association, Legal Aid, KU Law Society, the Wyandotte Law Library, and the American Lung Association of Kansas. He was on the executive committees for the Greater Kansas City Region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and on the board of directors of the Wyandotte County United Way, Rockhurst University, William Jewell College, Midwest Research Institute, Truman Good Neighbor Award Foundation, Swope Community Enterprises, the Wyandotte County Advisory Board for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, and Children's Mercy Hospital (Kansas City, Missouri), where he was chairman of the board. He also served as chairman of the board for El Centro, the KU Law School Society Board of Governors, Visiting Nurse Association of Greater Kansas City, Economic Opportunity Foundation, Substance Abuse Center of Eastern Kansas, and the American Red Cross of Wyandotte County. He was secretary of the board of directors for the Turman Presidential Museum and Library, treasurer of the Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City, and vice chairman of the boards for Swope Health Services, Youth Friends, the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, and the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey.

In 1995, his service work was rewarded with the University of Kansas' Distinguished Service Citation; and, in 2001, he received the School of Law's Distinguished Alumnus Citation. In 2005 he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Baker University in Baldwin, KS.

Meeks, Jr. married Mary Ann Sutherland in 1967, and the couple had one son, Cordell Meeks III, who graduated high school in 1992 and now has his own son, Cordell Meeks IV. Mary Ann Meeks was on the Board of directors for Women in Kansas City.

Marlene Meeks worked as a teacher in the Kansas City, Missouri school district and married Rudolph Shelby. Marcena Meeks married Luther Chandler and owned the Sunshine Day Care Center, also in Kansas City, Missouri. Marquita Meeks married Cartrell Cross and became a professional violinist based in Houston, Texas.


4.25 Linear Feet (5 boxes + 5 oversize boxes, 3 audiocassettes, 9 compact discs)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The Cordell Meeks, Sr. family papers date from 1935 to 2005. They are arranged in series by each family member, and then under each person organized alphabetically. Cordell Meeks, Sr. and Jr., having the bulk of the material in the collection, have manuscript materials located at both RH MS 1150 and RH MS 1414. Materials not specifically associated with a Meeks family member are located in the series entitled Alphabetical materials.

The papers in the collection consist of such items as clippings, speeches, court documents, correspondence, scrapbooks, and biographical materials. The materials concern specific Meeks family members as well as the Kansas City community.

Photographs from the collection are located at RH MS-P 1150. Oversize materials have been physically separated and are at RH MS Q297, RH MS Q423, RH MS R236, and RH MS R411. Audiocassettes are located at RH Cassette Tape 46. Compact discs, which include both music performed by Marquita Meeks and multimedia, are located at RH CD 12, and a DVD video testimonial regarding significant Kansas City community members including Cordell Meeks, Jr. is located at RH Video 58.

Physical Location

RH MS 1150

Physical Location

RH MS-P 1150

Physical Location

RH MS Q297

Physical Location

RH MS R236

Physical Location

RH Cassette Tape 46

Physical Location

RH CD 12

Physical Location

RH MS 1414

Physical Location

RH MS Q423

Physical Location

RH MS R411

Physical Location

RH Video 58

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts, Cordell D. Meeks, Sr, 1988; Cordell D. Meeks, Jr, 1995, 1998; Cellastine Brown Meeks, 2004, 2016; Mary Ann Meeks, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2021.

Related Materials

Meeks, Cordell D. To Heaven Through Hell: An Autobiography of the First Black District Court Judge of Kansas City. Kansas City, Ks: Corcell Publishers, 1986. Located at Spencer Research Library at RH C8344 and at Wheat Law Library, Kfk525.5.A6 M4 1986.

Meeks, Cellastine, comp. A Book of Favorite Recipes. Leawood, Ks: Circulation Service, 1984. Located at Spencer Research Library at RH C8147.

Guide to the Cordell Meeks, Sr. Family Collection
Cordell Meeks, Sr. family papers
Finding aid prepared by mbw, 2008; revised by cl, 2010; revised by skt, 2010; revised by awo, 2015; revised by eh, 2017.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Support for the processing of this Collection was provided by the Dana and Sue Anderson African American Collecting Program Endowment Fund.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Cordell Meeks, Sr. Family Collection, RH MS 1150, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States