All the usual cast of characters from Lawrence’s history will be there — Quantrill, John Brown, Langston Hughes.
But there may be a few you don’t often see, too, like the three black men who in 1882 were lynched and then hung from the Kansas River bridge as the crudest of warning signs.
Such pieces of the area’s history will be part of a $200,000 exhibit that Lawrence tourism leaders hope to open in the former Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets this spring.
“It will have the good, the bad and the indifferent,” said Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re really hoping to provide an overarching introduction to the history of the area.”
The exhibit is part of the city’s efforts to become the center of the new Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which highlight’s the role eastern Kansas and western Missouri played in the days leading up to the Civil War and beyond.
“We hope people will come and see the exhibit and then will want more information and will go to other places throughout the area to get it,” Billings said.
City commissioners on Tuesday will consider funding the project from money collected through the transient guest tax that is charged to hotel guests.
The exhibit will include a section devoted to the area’s role in sparking the Civil War, entitled “The Kansas Question.” But the exhibit also will include a section about the area prior to European settlement, and one that highlights how the area has shaped the 20th Century civil rights movement.
Bill Tuttle, a former Kansas University professor and local historian who served on a group that offered advice about the exhibit’s content, said it was important to show the latter day history as well.
That includes items like Langston Hughes’ formative years in Lawrence, Missourian Harry Truman’s integration of the U.S. armed forces, and Topeka’s role in the desegregation of public schools.
There are plenty of others, too. In fact, deciding what to leave out was the biggest challenge with the entire project, both Billings and Tuttle said.
“There were some very lively discussion,” Tuttle said. “You talk to some people in Missouri, and they will tell you the Civil War was about states’ rights. You talk to people in Kansas, and they’ll tell you it was about slavery. We had some philosophical gaps to bridge, but we did it. And I don’t think there are any hard feelings.”
Billings hopes that exhibit — designed by a Kansas City company that specializes in museum pieces — will be installed by late April. It will be in the main room of the Carnegie building, but will be confined to the outer edge of the room. That will allow the room to continue to be rented out for wedding receptions and other events. The exhibit also will be specially built so parts of it can be raised up like a high-tech window shade to allow light in through the room’s large windows.
Billings said she’s still working on determining hours for the exhibit, and for finding volunteers to help staff it.