Originally published Aug. 10, 2008
Fifty years ago, they were barred from eating at a public lunch counter.
But on Saturday, nine people who took part as youths in the Dockum Drugs sit-in received the city of Wichita's highest honor - and an apology.
On the sit-in's 50th anniversary, Mayor Carl Brewer and City Council members Lavonta Williams and Sharon Fearey presented the sit-in participants keys to the city.
"On behalf of the city, we're sorry for what happened to you and for what you went through," Brewer told them.
About 300 people who had crammed into the Kansas African American Museum for the ceremony stood and cheered.
Keys also went to Brenda Davis and Michelle Lewis-Hardy, the daughters of Wichita attorney Chester I. Lewis. As president of the Wichita Branch NAACP at the time, he approved the sit-in against the wishes of the national NAACP office.
The presentation was among the highlights of a day that drew Wichitans of all backgrounds together to honor the sit-in participants. The celebration included a march that grew to roughly 500 people through downtown to Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park and a gospel concert at Tabernacle Baptist Church.
"The legacy is not just for black children but for all children," said Ron Walters, who was president of the Wichita Branch NAACP youth group during the sit-in. "The legacy needs to be taught in schools and preached in the pulpits.
"The legacy is beyond this moment."
The Wichita Branch NAACP, led by Kevin Myles, coordinated the celebration, and has worked for two years to raise the sit-in's profile.
Sit-in participant Daisy Blue also credits local historian Gretchen Eick for helping bring recognition through her book, "Dissent in Wichita."
"It's her day, too," Blue said. "She made it happen for us."
The Dockum sit-in, which kicked off in July 1958 and ended the following Aug. 11, prompted similar sit-ins weeks later in Oklahoma City and other places across the Midwest.
The Rev. Gil Ford, an NAACP regional director, challenged Wichitans to take Dockum's legacy further.
"Wichita will never be a great city unless everybody is willing to stand up and demand greatness," Ford said. "Greatness comes with a cost."
Stefanie Brown, national director the NAACP's Youth and College Division, encouraged young people to take a stand as the Dockum participants did in their teenage years.
"If you feel like something is right and just and honest, then stand up," Brown said.
Jaiden Williams, 12, got the message.
"In school, kids are scared to stand up and be involved . . . but you just have to," she said.
Other marchers talked about the historical significance of the moment.
Bruce Woods said he grew up going to Dockum and was in college during the sit-in.
Woods said the racial tension in the U.S. during the sit-in makes the Dockum celebration that much more meaningful.
"This is a magnificent affirmation of what they did here," he said.
The accolades deeply struck several of the sit-in participants.
"I'm really happy," said Arlene Harris Ruffin, who traveled from Plano, Texas, to attend. "I can't believe that what I did sitting at a counter would develop into this."