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Friday, July 11, 2014

1961-1970: Unrest and patriotism

The Wichita Eagle

"Thy sins are forgiven, Wichita! Thy lonesomeness annulled, O Kansas dear! And so, Allen Ginsberg, Beat Generation and counterculture pioneer, wrote of his experiences of Kansas and Wichita in one of his most famous and critically acclaimed works, "Wichita Vortex Sutra."

It was a protest to the Vietnam War.

In the early 1960s, Ginsberg became friends with Charles Plymell, a Wichita beat writer.

The original version of "Wichita Vortex Sutra" was created in February 1966 as Ginsberg rode in the back of a VW bus, speaking into a tape recorder, blending his impressions of the landscape and news of the day.

He wrote in the poem:

"Napalm and black clouds emerging in newsprint

Flesh soft as a Kansas girl's

ripped open by metal explosion"

It did not set well with more conservative Kansans, particularly World War II veterans who proudly flew American flags and teared up when they saw the flag and heard the national anthem played at football games.

The 1960s, in Kansas, was mostly a time for turmoil and unrest, but there were moments that gave people joy. Kansan Jim Ryun broke the world record for the mile run, construction began near McPherson on I-135 and Wichita's Century II was built.

But for those championing civil rights, it seemed that for every step forward, two or maybe three were taken back.

The beginnings of urban renewal bulldozed parts of downtown Wichita, displacing its black business district and relocating it to northeast Wichita, next to an area filled with stockyards, a packing plant and an oil refinery.

Robert Kennedy delivered his first presidential campaign speech at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

A. Price Woodard became Wichita's first African-American mayor.

A KC-135 tanker from McConnell crashed in north Wichita in January 1966, killing 23 people; and, during the summer months of 1967, there was violent rioting in north Wichita.

Vietnam War protests broke out on university campuses across the state.

Nichols Gymnasium at Kansas State University was gutted by fire; and, Dwight D. Eisenhower died. His body was returned home to Abilene to be buried.

In 1966, Truman Capote's book, "In Cold Blood" was published by Random House.

His beginning sentence would reflect much about how Kansans saw themselves:

"Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.' "

© 2011 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.