Archive for Sunday, August 19, 2001

Free-State ironies

August 19, 2001


To the editor:

As Lawrence basks in the civic pride generated by Hobbs Park Day and celebrates the symbolic preservation of the home of one of its founding citizens, we should remember some of the realities among the myths about the "Free State."

Lawrence's founders took a public stand against the status quo of legalized slavery. However, even as this nation's founding fathers disconnected their own racist practices from their philosophies of equality, so did Lawrence's founders. White abolitionists founded Lawrence as a place where they themselves would be safe to support abolitionist activities, but they did not create a city where black Americans would be free from the segregation and persecution of other American cities and states. A minority of Lawrence's original residents stood against slavery, and Lawrence was not a place where black Americans would themselves be guaranteed a safe haven. Remember that the Underground Railroad needed hiding places for runaway slaves even here in Lawrence.

Don't forget the direct criticisms of the attitudes in Lawrence by Langston Hughes, who documented the segregation in Lawrence as late as the 1950s. Don't forget the racial upheaval in Lawrence in the 1970s. Don't forget the present determined battle to weaken and limit the enforcement of civil rights laws currently being waged by Lawrence's University of Kansas. Don't you think Lawrence's founders would be shocked and dismayed to find that today's University of pro-slavery Missouri employs a greater percentage of black Americans as full-time faculty than does today's University of Free-State Kansas?

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, former mayor of a city in pro-slavery Missouri, will be the keynote speaker at the Hobbs Park festivities. Consider the irony that Free State Lawrence has had to "borrow" a black mayor from pro-slavery Missouri because Lawrence has never itself had a black mayor.

Lawrence should be proud of its founders' stand against slavery. Today's Lawrence citizens should look beyond the politically'correct rhetoric of the past and the present to actually do something to actively stand against the reality of the ongoing racial segregation and discrimination right here in this "Free State" community.

Mike Cuenca,


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