Former Springfield City Councilman Denny Whayne (center) at the dedication of the Denny Whayne Conference Room in Springfield's Busch Municipal Building in 2018. (Photo by City of Springfield)

Denny Whayne, a former Springfield city councilman and civil rights leader died Sunday, June 5.

In 2001, Whayne became the first African American elected to the Springfield City Council since the council/manager form of government was adopted in 1953. Springfield had other African Americans serve on the city government in the late 19th Century, most of whom were former slaves.

Whayne served as the Zone 1 councilman for two consecutive four-year terms. Whayne served until 2009, and was a member of the Finance, Plans and Policies, Administration and Public Involvement committees. 

Whayne grew up in Springfield and joined the NAACP at the age of 11. He participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961. 

Whayne continued his civil rights work in Tulsa, where racial tensions were high in the late 1960s and the Greenwood neighborhood was one of the most significant neighborhoods in the nation for Black Americans. He moved back to Springfield in 1972 and served as president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP from 1980-1988. Whayne worked for the Springfield Finance Department from 1975 until 1985.

Springfield NAACP President Kai Sutton issued a statement expressing the organization’s deep sadness at the passing of Denny Whayne.

“Denny loved his community and was dedicated to making the city of Springfield a better place,” Sutton said. “He was a wealth of information and facts on the history of Springfield, Missouri.” 

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure also issued a statement on behalf of the Springfield City Council.

“It is a sad night,” McClure said. “Springfield has lost an icon who worked tirelessly to bring communities of people together.”

Sutton said that Whayne was quoted as saying that serving on the Springfield City Council allowed him to work toward a key goal of moving the city in a positive direction, and not just in terms of relations between races.

“Denny was a God-fearing man who loved his family and friends and demonstrated that through action,” Sutton said. “He never refused a request to help anyone. He will forever be missed  As a partner of this community, we will forever keep his name alive by continuing to fight for positive change. His life’s mission will live on in our community, our hearts, and will be demonstrated through action.”

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution in 2018 honoring Whayne for his public service and his decades-long commitment to justice and equal rights. The Busch Municipal Building’s fourth-floor conference room was named at the time as the “Councilman Denny Whayne Conference Room.” At a dedication ceremony in 2018, Whayne thanked everyone who had worked alongside him in each organization he was involved with.

“It wasn’t about ‘me,’ it was about ‘we,’” Whayne said. “Without you, there’d be no me, because we here are bound by citizenship.”

A plaque detailing his accomplishments with his photo adorns one of the walls in the room where the council convenes almost every Tuesday for work sessions.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger