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Archive for Sunday, October 27, 1996

BLACK LEADERS STRESS WEALTH OF HISTORY

October 27, 1996

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The state chapter of the NAACP, meeting in Lawrence this weekend, has turned its attention to a new and shifting battle front in the civil rights movement

Most Kansas school children probably learn something about the Santa Fe and Oregon trails that carried settlers through the state in the 1840s, but they may never learn that many of the cowboys who then roamed the Kansas range were African Americans and Hispanics

They may learn about the Mexican-American War and the California gold rush of the late 1840s, but they probably never heard of Ann Shittio, a remarkable black woman born free, later enslaved, who bought her freedom and moved to Uniontown, Kan., a now abandoned community near Topeka. In 1848 she opened a trading post there, becoming a free, black woman business owner in Kansas 13 years before it became a state.

This year, African American leaders across the state are trying to expand the realm of history in Kansas. They are working with historians and teachers to create a set of five traveling trunks containing materials on African American history in the state.

The trunks, which include lesson plans for teachers, should be available for teachers to use in their classrooms by February 1997, when Africa American History Month will be celebrated.

Details of the new curriculum, developed for grades 4-6 by the Kansas State Historical Society, were unveiled Saturday in Lawrence at the annual meeting of the Kansas Chapter of the NAACP. About 125 people attended the meeting at the Ramada Inn.

"We will never again see any group left out of the history that actually made this the greatest country in the world," said Gilbert Hammond Sr. of Junction City, the chapter's communications director.

The state historical society's African American history trunk, now nearly complete, is similar to traveling school materials developed by the society covering the history of Native Americans, Volga Germans and Mexican Americans in Kansas.

"They have admitted that blacks in the state of Kansas have not been included in the real, true history of the state," Hammond said.

Diane Good, an education specialist with the historical society, acknowledged that African Americans, in Kansas and elsewhere, have been left out of the history books.

"Look at who wrote the history books of the last 100 years," she said. "The people in power. White men."

The development of an African American history curriculum has taken on some political overtones. Hammond said some state legislators from western Kansas have questioned the need for the state-funded trunks, given that the communities they represent are now almost exclusively white.

Hammond and historical society officials stress that the history lessons are not designed to be presented only to African American students, but to all students so that they will have a greater understanding of the cultures that influenced early and contemporary Kansas.

For instance, the state was at one time sprinkled with all-black communities, like Ann Shittio's Uniontown. All but one have since become ghost towns. Earlier this month Congress designated Nicodemus, a former all-black enclave near Hill City in northwest Kansas, as a National Historic Site.

Today, many residents of the state's large African American communities in Kansas City and Topeka are descended from former slave "exodusters" who left the south in a mass exodus in the late 1870s.

"We want history to be inclusive in every county in the state of Kansas," Hammond said. "This is history that black children and white children have never heard. It is my hope that we won't have to say black history, that we can say American history."

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