George Haley, one of first African Americans in Kansas Senate, dies

Former state Sen. George W. Haley, one of the first African Americans elected to the Kansas Senate and the father of current Sen. David Haley, died Wednesday at his home in Silver Spring, Md. He was 89.

George Haley was elected to the Senate in 1964 as a Republican from Kansas City and served one term. That same year, Democrat Curtis McClinton, of Wichita, also African American, was elected. But Haley was often referred to as the “first” black state senator because Wyandotte County reported its election returns that night before Sedgwick County. Also, his name was first alphabetically and his 11th District preceded McClinton’s 26th District numerically.

Haley was born Aug. 28, 1925, in Henning, Tenn. He served in the Air Force during World War II and later attended Morehouse College with classmate Martin Luther King Jr. He then became one of the first African Americans to earn a law degree from the University of Arkansas.

He moved to Wyandotte County and joined the law firm of Stevens, Jackson and Davis in Kansas City, Kan., a firm that provided legal assistance in the landmark school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

After leaving the Senate in 1969, Haley served in six presidential administrations, beginning with Richard Nixon. His posts included a stint as U.S. ambassador to Gambia under President Bill Clinton.

That post was especially poignant since Haley’s brother, author Alex Haley, had written the bestselling book “Roots,” which became a blockbuster television miniseries 1977. The story traced the Haley family’s heritage back to Kuntah Kinteh who was brought to America as a slave from Gambia.

In February, the Senate passed a resolution honoring Haley and marking the 50th anniversary of his swearing-in. Only seven other African Americans have served in the Kansas Senate, including two who are currently serving: his son David, a Democrat from Kansas City, and Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita.