When the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opens to the public on Saturday in Washington, D.C., Kansas will be represented.
Artifacts from the state will be on display and there will be many mentions of famous Kansans and Kansas events that helped shape our national history.
“You can’t tell any American history without also talking about African-American history,” said Mark McCormick, director of the Kansas African American Museum in Wichita. “It is woven into our fabric.”
The museum houses more than 40,000 objects – of which 3,500 will be on display at any given time, according to the Washington Post. And some of those are from Kansas.
Mourn not my friends his untimely fate, for he was a willing sacrifice on the alter of Freedom.
James Leagate, of his friend David Starr Hoyt, an abolitionist who was murdered in the summer of 1856 near Lawrence
One is a blood-stained map of Kansas originally owned by David Starr Hoyt, an abolitionist. Hoyt was killed by pro-slavery forces near Lawrence in the summer of 1856 – one of the deadliest of Kansas’ territorial years.
A friend of Hoyt’s, James Legate, would write: “Mourn not my friends his untimely fate, for he was a willing sacrifice on the alter of Freedom.” Legate’s letter is also part of the collection.
So is a photograph of the participants in Wichita’s Dockum Drug Store sit-in.
Late in the summer of 1958, at least 30 members of the youth chapter of the NAACP staged a successful sit-in at the lunch counter at the Dockum Drug Store, on the southeast corner of Douglas and Broadway.
Their nonviolent effort resulted in Dockum – and eventually other stores across the state – providing seated service for blacks. It was one of the first successful lunch counter sit-ins in the United States, happening two years before a sit-in in Greensboro, N.C., caught the nation’s attention.
“Last year, someone from the Smithsonian called Carole J. Branda (the Kansas African American Museum’s curator of collections and exhibitions) for a particular picture and any information we had,” McCormick said. “We were excited and sent it.
“Then, this year I was at a conference sitting next to one of the executives from the museum. I asked, ‘Do you think you could help me, could you tell me if the picture will be on display?’
“I’ll be doggone, he sent me an e-mail saying there would be reference to the Dockum in the museum.”
There also will be mention of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case in 1954 that broke the back of Jim Crow segregation laws.
Beginning in the 1870s through 1965, Jim Crow laws made it legal to segregate African-Americans in public places such as restaurants, theaters, train cars and later buses.
At the time, Kansas law permitted segregated elementary schools in cities of at least 15,000 or more.
Oliver Brown was selected to serve as the lead plaintiff because he was the only man on the roster of plaintiffs. The suit was filed in 1951.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, it was combined with the other NAACP cases under the heading of Oliver L. Brown et. al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka et. al.
Some of the items at the museum are indirectly related to Kansas, such as the training plane representing the Tuskegee Institute.
It is a vintage PT-13D Stearman Kaydet, an open-cockpit bi-plane that was used by the Tuskegee Institute to train African-American pilots for the Army Air Corps’ Tuskegee Airmen.
“It was made in Wichita,” said Lon Smith, interim director of the Kansas Aviation Museum. “… That particular plane is one of the most iconic planes that exists.”
The Tuskegee Airmen “were pioneers,” Smith said. “They trained in planes built in this city. They wanted to fly to defend their country.”
Other Kansans who will garner attention in the museum include Fort Scott native Gordon Parks, who was born in 1912. When he was a boy, he and his family were forced to live in an all-black neighborhood, and he attended an all-black school.
The memories gave him a hatred of Kansas that he struggled with almost all his life. Parks grew up to be one of the nation’s most prolific and famous photographers. He was also a filmmaker, author and composer.
There will be mention of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, who was born in Joplin, Mo., in 1902 and grew up in eastern Kansas, living in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City from 1903 to 1915. And Wichitan Hattie McDaniel, who won an Academy Award for her supporting role in the 1939 motion picture classic “Gone With the Wind” – becoming the first African-American to win the award.
The Double V campaign that started in Wichita also is part of the museum. The campaign encouraged African-Americans at the end of World War II to adopt the Double “V” policy: the first “V” for victory over Allied enemies and the second “V” for victory over segregation.
“I think Kansans should be proud that so much of the history that formed us – the noble history that formed this state – had to do with doing what was right,” McCormick said. “We have a lot to be proud of in terms of history and African-American history.
“A lot of issues we have today we might have better insights into if we knew more of this history.”