News and notes from around town:
• Meatballs on South Mass appear to be a part of the future. A source tells me that a new Italian restaurant called Fat Tony’s is expected to open in the former Bambino’s location at 1801 Mass. The location is undergoing an extensive remodeling and, depending on how that goes, expects to open in mid-April. According to the source, which has some ties to the deal, the restaurant will strive to be casual Italian. Expect a slightly larger bar area, and perhaps some throwback Italian crooner music from live performers on the patio. The business also expects to serve breakfast on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I’ll let you know if I get more details.
• Like I’ve said before, I’m a census geek. I spent a little time going through some of the race numbers that recently were released, and you can find a brief article about that here.
While looking at the numbers, one stood out to me: the population figures for black residents of Lawrence. According to the census, only 17 more black people lived in Lawrence in 2010 than in 2000. As a result, the black population is becoming a smaller part of Lawrence. In 2000, the black population represented 5.1 percent of the entire community. In 2010, it had fallen to 4.7 percent. That’s different from what is going on in Kansas as a whole. The black population hasn’t been soaring like the Hispanic population, but it is becoming a bigger part of the state’s total. In 2000, black residents were 5.7 percent of the population. In 2010, they were 5.9 percent of the population.
I wondered what black leaders in town thought of the numbers, and — to be honest — it was a little difficult finding anyone who wanted to talk. I asked two people who had ties to the local chapter of the NAACP to chime in, and they didn’t want to. I wasn’t able to get in touch with the group’s presidents.
But I did talk to longtime black pastor Rev. Leo Barbee. The bottom line is that’s he’s not sure what’s behind the stagnant numbers. If he had to guess, he said it likely is more economic related, rather than Lawrence having an inhospitable social environment for black residents.
Barbee isn’t real concerned about the numbers right now, but he said if the trend continues for another decade, there is a risk that the population could become marginalized. Barbee said he does know one thing that could make the black community in Lawrence stronger: more participation in community affairs.
Barbee said the black community tends to be very active in its church community, but that there is a certain amount of “passivity” when it comes to broader community issues.
“I’ve been in town 35 years, and I think that is a sad commentary,” Barbee said. “I think we all ought to be more active.”
• On that point, this is the time of year that another piece of Lawrence history sometimes is mentioned: Lawrence has never had a black mayor. It is not even clear whether Lawrence has ever had a black city commissioner. I know in the approximately 20 years I’ve covered the City Commission, there has not been a black commissioner. I’ve asked some other people with longer memories, and they can’t produce a name. I don’t know what to make of any of this, but I do find it interesting, especially given Lawrence’s early history.