Archive for Friday, April 23, 2010

Which came first?

It’s true that 1970 was a pivotal year in Lawrence history, but did 1970 change Lawrence or was it the other way around?

April 23, 2010


This week’s Journal-World series recalling unrest in Lawrence in 1970 raises an interesting chicken-and-egg question.

Did the political activism of the 1970s make Lawrence the way it is? Or did the existing character of Lawrence naturally give rise to the political activism of the 1970s?

In Thursday’s Journal-World, Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug put forth the theory that the civil rights and anti-war activism of 1970 was a key factor in making Lawrence the island of liberalism that it is today. The examples he cited were Lawrence being the first Kansas community to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and the first to ban smoking in public.

To add to the list, Douglas County is consistently one of only two or three counties in Kansas to support the Democratic candidate in presidential elections. It was the only county with a majority of voters opposed to a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2005. City Commission action in 2007 also made Lawrence the first city in Kansas to recognize gay partnerships.

There certainly are enough ‘60s and ‘70s campus radicals still in Lawrence to have an influence — although some of them have mellowed with age. But when you think about why Lawrence is the way it is, there’s reason to look even further back in our history.

When you think about why Lawrence seems always ready to question the status quo, it only makes sense to go back to the actual founding of the city. Those who established Lawrence came here to help ensure that Kansas would come into the union as a free state. They valued education, so they founded a university, which naturally would reflect their activism. They were involved in early women’s suffrage efforts and, later, the Populist movement. Throughout our history, Lawrence often has bucked authority and done things a little differently.

One of the best things long-time Kansas University administrator Del Shankel remembered about 1970 is how actively involved KU students were in the problems of society. In fact, he sees a resurgence of that trend in current students’ concern about environmental and social causes.

Part of what makes Lawrence so interesting is the broad variety of concerns and opinions held by local residents. Lawrence may be different than the rest of the state, but, as anyone who has lived here any period of time knows, that doesn’t mean Lawrence residents are of one mind.

So did the events of 1970 make Lawrence, or did Lawrence make 1970? It’s hard to tell. It seems that struggling with tough issues is part of our past and probably part of our future. We’d like to think it’s also part of our charm.


republicanblack 8 years, 2 months ago

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Bill Lee 8 years, 2 months ago

I think a lot of Lawrence's character was forged with the city's founding by progressives from Massachusetts and other points east. Quantrill did not raid Lawrence because this was a bastion of conservatism. I was a liberal when I arrived in Lawrence back in 1967, and I have remained one. The John Birch Society ranked KU as the "most subversive " school in the country prior to 1970. It's pretty obvious that the egg came before the chicken.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 2 months ago

"Or did the existing character of Lawrence naturally give rise to the political activism of the 1970s?" === Always an interesting question, chicken and egg style. I would argue the draft, our first BS war, racism and sexism and the large bubble of youth moving through the system all contributed. Lawrence resembled a sleepy, Southern town in the 40's, 50's and partially into the 60's; then things changed....overall, I would say, for the better. Some of the comments from Ed Abels, Outlook editor at the time, are instructive: He once noted (more or less) blacks should be grateful things have improved and one could no longer see a black man hung from the Kansas river bridge. The LJW was a bit calmer, but a reading of their editorial pages during the 1960's is also interesting.

blackfox1945 8 years, 2 months ago

No Lawrence is as racial as it always was

Bobo Fleming 8 years, 2 months ago

I think Lawrence was changing before that. My grandmother was a precient committe chairman and because of that I was very interested in politics. She was a Republican as I am even now. I remember in the 50's there were few if any Democrats elected in Douglas County. It was pretty much a striaght ticket Republican town as I recall. So that changed over time and was changing before 1970. I think that LBJ and Vietnam also had a lot to do with it. When I was in school in the early 60's there was very little opposition to the war even thru the 64-66 time period. 1968 changed all that. At that point there was a very strong antiwar movement developing. I was in law school from 67-70 and actually was a prosecutor in the Student Court. We started having cases involving demontrations against ROTC ect.The SDS got stronger. When I left town after Law School all hell broke lose in Lawrence. I think there were threats on the life of the County Attorney. I was hearing at Law Enforement meetings about sniper nests and ambushes and of course the Union burned. I think that Chalmers has something to do with it. He was regarded as very weak. I heard that when he left theout of town demostrators left with him. But in answer to the question I think Lawrence was changing before 70 and still is changing now. Who knows, maybe some day it will go back to being Republican. Maybe Palin can do that.

BigPrune 8 years, 2 months ago

To give credit to the City's founding fathers as to why Lawrence is wacked out, is like giving today's democratic party credit for Abe Lincoln (Republican).

BigPrune 8 years, 2 months ago

Let me rephrase: To give credit to the City's founding fathers as to why Lawrence is wacked out, is like giving Abe Lincoln (Republican) credit for today's wacked out democratic party.

Give credit where credit is due. Lawrence is the way it is today (high drama, no common sense, convoluted logic) because of the drugs consumed in the '60's up to this day.

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