Originally published on Oct. 23, 2006
Ron Walters stood behind a lunch counter monument in a downtown Wichita park Sunday, talking about a 48-year-old sit-in protest he and other Wichita youths conducted.
About 50 area youths stood on the other side of the counter, listening to Walters talk about the 1958 Dockum Drugs sit-in, which ended segregation at nine Wichita Dockum stores and throughout Rexall drug stores in Kansas.
Walters was surprised to learn the youths have been gathering signatures in support of renaming Heritage Square Park after Chester I. Lewis. The "pocket park," which features the lunch-counter statue, is tucked between two East Douglas buildings.
Lewis was president of the local NAACP chapter and supported the youths' sit-in. Lewis, a lawyer, also won numerous lawsuits he filed against the city challenging unequal accommodations for black people.
If the name of the park is changed, "it will be the only scene I know anything about that is named for a black freedom fighter in the city of Wichita," Walters said.
The matter is waiting to be scheduled on the city's park board agenda, said Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita branch NAACP.
Youths coordinating the petition effort were from the Wichita branch NAACP youth chapter, the Urban League of the MidPlains' Nulite college preparatory program, Hope Street Youth Development and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas.
Listening to Walters gave Requena Billingsley, 19, a better understanding of the extent of segregation in Wichita.
"I couldn't have imagined how this place was before," she said.
Shahab Namdar, 16, said meeting and talking with Walters helped make the sit-in relevant to today's youths.
"I personally looked him in the eye and that makes it more personal," Namdar said of the sit-in.
Walters said he was honored to spend time with the youths, who walked more than six blocks from the Kansas African American Museum to the park and then to the old Dockum drugstore building at Douglas and Broadway that afternoon listening to him talk.
"Keep the struggle going," Walters said, lifting his right fist in the air. "That's the thanks."