LJWorld.com weblogs New Ideas, New Possibilities

Kansas 150th birthday is almost over


By Lawrence Morgan Red Tails photo
I just finished seeing “Red Tails”, going to the theatre with black, white and Asian friends. Normally, I don’t like action movies very much. This movie, however, struck me differently.

It is clear that people in the movie suffered real harassment in the towns where they grew up, and especially in the Army of that time. But there is still racism today. It is just underneath the surface now.

Besides the action part of the picture, the characters played out real scenes within the Army at the time. Shortly after being born, I moved to Hutchinson, where I spent my first years growing up, before I later came back to eastern Kansas.

But the memory of black and white restrooms was not that far away from still being a reality. My grandmother, who lived in Ottawa, and who we visited, did not want us to play with African-American children (who were called by a different name at that time) –and who lived right across the street from her house.

This is not to minimize her troubles growing up. Her husband left her at a very early age, and she had to raise her daughter (my mother) while she tried to work to make a living. Things were not easy for her. But they were not easy for many people, then or now.

But I could see that times had changed a great deal for her over her lifetime. Later, when I was a student at KU, I used to come over to Ottawa many times a year to spend time with her. She was now well into her 80s, and very modern in many respects.

Yet the one thing I did not feel right by, even then, was her animosity towards blacks. I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t answer her when she got in those moods, but I often used to wonder what it was like to be black in Ottawa years ago when she grew up as a child.

I also recalled that, as a young person, I tried to play with Pope, also a young black person who lived down the street, in Hutchinson. My parents always stopped us from playing and asked me to come home immediately.

So it was not difficult for me to imagine what it was like to be pilots in a segregated squadron, at that time. Despite the racism which was very prevalent in society, the pilots came through as an extremely effective fighter unit. In addition, there was extremely ferocious criticism from within the army. Eventually, however, they won the acceptance of their white counterparts, and they were invited to the white Officers Club. The Tuskegee Airman, recognized by their “red tails”, became highly recognized as bomber crews asked them to take part in their missions.

Later in life, they won many awards and citations. On March 29, 2007, 300 Tuskegee Airmen (or their widows) received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capital rotunda.

After seeing this film, I came back to the Internet and learned a lot of history which I hadn’t known before. And I think this film directly pertains to Kansas and to its 150th birthday.

A year ago, on January 29, 2011, I wrote an article in the Journal-World about Kansas on the first day of its 150th birthday, “A View of the Future of Kansas on Kansas Day.” A year later, I’m wondering: what has changed, and what remains the same.

What has changed, and what has remained the same, when it comes to the many different races that make up Lawrence and Kansas? If you are white, have you attended services in a black church during this past year? If you are white, how many black friends do you have now? Is there any difference from a year ago?

It is extremely important to extend an open hand to people of all races and colors. How many white people would have put themselves through what these African Americans had to do? It’s about time that Lawrence, and Kansas, truly accept African Americans, Mexicans, Indians, Asians, and many other cultures – as people who are authentic and genuine, and to learn from them. “Red Tails” shows this aspect in a small, but genuine way.

Has Lawrence and Kansas gotten any better in any of these areas during the past year-or has it actually gotten worse? And what about immigration issues?

I can’t answer these questions. I would like for people of different backgrounds to write in and say what they really think, perhaps write their pieces about their experiences earlier and now.

From a tourist point of view, it seems to me that there are mixed results. The Journal-World, for example, has published a fairly large number of articles in the past year on Kansas history. But they aren’t set forth in any context – they are just listed in the Sesquicentennial section. (I prefer, by the way, to call it the 150th birthday - it is much easier to pronounce and remember, than sesquicentennial.)

There is not still not much effort after one year to include articles from other parts of the state, other newspapers, into one website. There have been some remarkably good articles on Kansas and Lawrence history in the Journal-World. But there is no effort to bring together all of the articles from all of the papers throughout Kansas together in one place, so that a person can look at Kansas history and really learn from it, be excited about it.

And in particular, take a look at the Kansas Sesquicentennial web site. “150+ Ideas for Kansas Sesquicentennial” is not impressive in itself. It is just a listing of ideas one after the other. It is virtually unusable and most people, if they find it, will pay no attention to it.

The website does refer, however, to the Kansas Historical Society website, which is absolutely amazing. Everyone should read, among other things, Dr. Emory Lindquist’s history of Kansas on that website, written for the Centennial (http://www.kshs.org/portal_about).

In other words, Kansas’ past, which can be very exciting – is presented mostly in a helter-skelter way, despite some efforts, by the Lawrence Journal-World and Wichita Eagle, to bring it together.

The role of tourists could be easily expanded. The vision is there, but the reality is far behind. Kansas has a key role in the beginnings of the Civil War. Trails could be put in throughout Kansas, leading from one town to another, not only for learning history but for hiking and biking across the state for the sheer enjoyment of it, as well as for nature studies.

Road signs could locate places to see and visit in every town. Much of downtown Lawrence, for example, is a masterpiece as are Ottawa and other towns – compared to strip malls of large U.S. cities.

And people would love to come and have a place to relax – to get away from their cities and stressed life. Central and western Kansas has a lot of space for coming out to relax and take it easy for a week or a month. We need to get out there and promote Kansas and its people.

But what is Kansas really about? History? Geography? Current developments? Jobs? Creativity? Health Care? Tourism?

The first thing I mentioned in my previous article was jobs. As I said then, “we need to use our brain power for innovation.” Has it been done? Not really. We have some new companies in Lawrence, but that ideal of creative energy- which is so prevalent in Lawrence – still has not been taken advantage of.

We have to operate by regions, not just cities. I suggested partnerships – working together with other towns and cities, in some cases reaching around the world. So far, there has not really been much of that.

Yet Lawrence offers a great university (although it has not participated in cooperation, really, with other universities and schools in Kansas), lower living costs than either coast, the chance to really enjoy yourself and your family and friends—instead of working day and night just to pay the rent or the mortgage, and commute costs.

Google, for instance, has plans to put in an ultra-high speed fiber network to Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. Why didn’t Lawrence and other cities in Kansas make an extreme effort to bring this extremely fast Internet, employment, and jobs to all of Kansas?

This would be a great place for part of Google to be located. Transportation is much easier, unlike Silicon Valley, where busses take persons for an hour or more each way on US 101 just to try to get back and forth to work in Mountain View from San Francisco, San Jose or the East Bay.

In Lawrence, there is a great university, housing is reasonable, and the creative spirit is high. What is wrong with Kansas that it cannot bring in these kinds of enterprises?

There needs to be, for example, a web site which promotes the work of Kansans throughout the state. The Journal-World does do a very good job of videos for businesses. Why can’t each person who has a business anywhere in Kansas, small or large, be featured on this web site?

Those are only a few examples of possibilities which might have happened, but for the most part have not. In many ways Lawrence, and much of Kansas, still doesn’t have a wide enough view of what is possible in this day and age.

And as for cooperation and partnerships with European, Asian and African markets – to many Kansans, this seems a different world than the world they inhabit. But the Internet has made things possible today which were only distant thoughts ten years ago.

There are so many possibilities that I can only begin to mention them. But they are still on the table. What about learning opportunities in every small town and city? Community colleges? Even a high school classroom offers opportunities for people of all ages to take part. People don’t need to have a degree. Why hasn’t this happened?

Why haven’t seniors offered to share their knowledge with the community? Now is the time, if ever, when people need to know how to live on less, to do things for themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if seniors could come up with ideas that would bring new dimensions to every aspect of Kansas life.

I’ve seen the recent flash dance event that seniors put on in Target. Before we knew it, it was on U-tube and was being watched all across the country. Many seniors have never even been asked about what they know and have experienced. This is oral history, but it is also frequently relevant now, as well as in earlier times. I recall the beautiful pictures of seniors that were taken earlier this year in the Journal-World. How about ideas from seniors?

Health care coverage needs to be extended to cover all of the people of Kansas. No one should be anxious about their health, or whether they can have care if they need it. Everyone should be covered. And I’ve seen very little progress in this area.

I would like for readers to respond, from throughout Kansas, with their ideas for the future. I will offer more ideas myself in the coming months. I know it’s old hat, but we need to “think out of the box.”

What can be done differently that hasn’t been done in this past year? How can we get more jobs, yet save our environment at the same time? How about more cooperation among all kinds of people? Why can’t the well-off adopt poorer families and help them out?

When will arts projects develop that involve all Kansans? For example, I really liked the ideas of the artist who plans to recreate a mural in downtown Lawrence, and involve all kinds of people.

Why isn’t there a state website, easy to use, very attractive, which shows what creative Kansans can do?

And what can bring farmers and cities closer together, besides state fairs? The “Slice of Ag” article in today’s Journal-World is remarkable in that it helps students understand where food comes from.

The next step is to bring in workers from processing plants, say Dodge City, so that they can really see EVERYTHING that happens before they eat their hamburger.

Now, note again the heading of this article. Why is it crossed out?

Because Kansas is just beginning to look at the future. There are many possibilities, which include moving past racism, so that all Americans can look towards a future which can be better for all, and not just for a few. “Red Tails” is only the beginning of that change, but it’s a very important one!


Chris Bohling 6 years ago

I think that in general the multicultural community at KU and the non-KU Lawrence community need to make more efforts on both sides to interact more. It's stunning how much more multiculturalism there is on campus than off. I remember that when I was at LHS, I barely ever heard any languages other than English outside of my language classes. It was a bit of culture shock when I came to KU and regularly heard people speaking Korean, Chinese, Russian, and other very different languages.

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