June 26, 2013

Panel to discuss oral history project involving Boeing Wichita

A discussion of an oral history project on Boeing Wichita will be held Friday night at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

A discussion of an oral history project on Boeing Wichita will be held Friday night at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

The “Boeing Wichita Oral History Project” features hours of videotape from 21 people ranging from politicians, Boeing employees and others in the community affected by the plant’s closure in a city that has long defined itself the Air Capital of the World. Friday night’s presentation will be a discussion of how the project came about and what was learned in the process.

“We approached this from the standpoint: ‘What were the questions you might wonder about? Who are the people you are most interested in hearing from?’ ” said Eric Cale, director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

The Kansas Humanities Council was awarded a $19,000 grant from the Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The state council was among five nationally awarded a grant to pursue the culture and traditions of American workers.

“We had just sponsored some traveling exhibits on ‘The Way We Worked’ when Boeing announced it was leaving Wichita,” said Murl Riedel, director of grants for the Kansas Humanities Council, based in Topeka. “We had looked at how the workforce had changed in Kansas over the years, but the sites we had looked at were primarily rural.

“We felt we were missing out on another story in Kansas – and that was the urban work story. When Boeing announced it was pulling out of Wichita, we thought that was an iconic story of how work would change for a community.”

Current and former Boeing employees were interviewed, as was Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and others affected by the move, such as restaurant and pawn shop owners.

“Boeing is such a big part of Wichita’s history,” Cale said. “We hope this gives historians a perspective that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It is the type of information that is fleeting and as time passes, the details will become more obscure.”

Kansas native Lloyd Stearman moved Stearman Aircraft Co. to the city in 1927. In 1929, the company was almost a victim of the stock market crash. But it was saved when it and Boeing Airplane Co. in Seattle became part of United Aircraft and Transport Co.

All the interviews and transcripts will be archived at the Wichita museum, the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka and the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C.

The Wichita museum was chosen, Riedel said, in part because it had worked with the Kansas Humanities Council before when it did a similar project on the Dockum Drugstore Sit-in of 1958.

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