Much of Junius G. Groves’ success can be traced to his commitment to agriculture. He was born into slavery and rose through the ranks to become one of the wealthiest African-Americans of the early twentieth century. Groves made a name for himself as a potato farmer, earning the title of “Potato King of the World” for reportedly growing more bushels of potatoes per acre than anyone else on the planet.
He continued to prosper on the farm and in his other businesses thanks to the assistance he received from his wife and 12 children, while also helping to uplift his fellow Blacks, never forgetting his humble beginnings. Groves, who was born on April 12, 1859, in Green County, Kentucky, was emancipated as a result of the Civil War. Groves walked from Kentucky to Kansas City, Kansas, with other former slaves when he was 19 years old. This 500-mile trek became known as the Exodus, the first post-war migration of African-Americans from the South.
Groves was determined to make it in Kansas, which at the time was attracting a large number of former slaves, despite having only 90 cents. Groves began his new life in Kansas by working in Armourdale’s meatpacking houses before moving to Edwardsville. He bought 80 acres of land and started growing white potatoes there. Groves was able to accomplish this with the assistance of his wife, whom he married in Kansas City, Missouri.
He did well in his potato business, especially with the help of his wife and 12 children. Groves sent his sons to Kansas State Agricultural College to assist him in applying scientific methods to agriculture, according to historians. He was dubbed the “Potato King of the World” by 1902. Groves’ farm produced so many potatoes that the Union Pacific Railroad built a rail spur to allow him to ship them to Canada and Mexico. According to political science professor Peter Joseph Longo, he had over 500 acres in the Kaw Valley by 1913, producing 55,000 bushels of potatoes per year.
Groves purchased and exported potatoes, fruits, and vegetables throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in addition to producing them. He also had a store in Edwardsville and was involved in a number of other businesses. According to BlackPast, Groves “had ownership in mines in Indian Territory and Mexico, stock in Kansas banks, and a majority interest in the Kansas City Casket and Embalming Company.”
In addition to the Kansas State Negro Business League, the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church Society, the Kaw Valley Potato Association, and the Sunflower State Agricultural Association, the formerly enslaved man was a founding member of the Kansas State Negro Business League, the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church Society, the Kaw Valley Potato Association, and the Sunflower State Agricultural Association. In 1904, his properties were valued at $80,000, and by 1915, they were valued at $300,000.
Groves and his wife were able to replace their one-room shack with a 22-room home with electric lights, two telephones, and hot and cold running water in all of the bedrooms as they acquired their money. Groves was committed to aiding his community, so in the early 1900s, he established Groves Center near Edwardsville and sold small parcels of property to African-American families. He also constructed a golf course for African Americans, which is said to be the county’s first.
Groves worked on his fields until his death in 1925 in Edwardsville. Since then, he has been known for leaving a lasting legacy and having a positive impact on others. For his climb from slavery to wealthy businessman and landowner, he was recently inducted into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame as a historical honoree.