November 21, 2014

OPINION: Kansas has storied history in its 150 years

Danedri Thompson

dthompson@gardnernews.com

Nothing induces road rage like a shiny, Johnson or Douglas County-tagged car sporting the bumper sticker: Kansas, as bigoted as you think.

The stickers are a play on Kansas’ tourist theme: Kansas, as big as you think. A Lawrence attorney created several years ago and distributed the bumper enhancers due to concern about the state’s push toward a ban on homosexual marriage. Sadly, the yellow stickers can still be seen on cars today.

Let me count all the ways this galls me:

First the vast majority of drivers from within this state and without, do not know the reasoning behind the bumper sticker.

For the record, Kansas joined 39 other states in banning homosexual marriage. In this one area, we were hardly pioneers.

Second, the sticker simply reinforces stereotypes of one of the greatest states in the Union. We already have to combat the silliness of books like Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” We shouldn’t have to wave people off the highway to explain Kansas’ great history on top of it.

Kansas has a long, storied history as a pioneer in civil rights. The very birth of our state – nearly 150 years ago – details Kansans virtuous fight to enter this country as a free state. That bloody battle over statehood earned our home the nickname of ‘Bleeding Kansas.’ We still bleed today as the forefront in a number of social issues, but that’s a column for another day.

Formal desegregation of the schools came at a Kansan’s bequest in the form of Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education.

The only U.S. President to hail from Kansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower, submitted the first Civil Rights bills to the U.S. Congress in 1956. Although the Senate refused to pass the bill, they did pass a version – albeit one that omitted voting rights – in 1957.

President Truman issued the executive order to desegregate the military, but it was President Eisenhower, a Kansan, who saw the order to fruition.

By the time he left office, the military was fully integrated.

Eisenhower also sent the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to integrate southern schools in the face of open defiance from the Arkansas governor. Eisenhower also elevated the first black to an executive level position in the White House, desegregated Washington, D.C., established the first regulations prohibiting racial discrimination in the federal workforce and met with black Civil Rights movement leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., in the White House.

Like many great Kansans past and present, President Eisenhower did all of these things without flowery or fiery oratory. Instead, he did what he had to do, holding true to his convictions and went on with his business.

In my experience, that’s the Kansas way. We may have our own beliefs and our own agendas, but we’re open-minded enough to listen and learn from others – and then go on with our business as usual – without shouting stupidity from the bumper of our cars.

As Kansas celebrates the 150th anniversary of its statehood, much will be written about the bloody battles that brought the state into the country as a free one, and many a great Kansan will be remembered for their roles into creating the great state we call home today.

Kansas isn’t a bigoted place. And Kansans usually gets things right. I feel especially blessed to be a native.

Happy 150th birthday, Kansas, and many, many more.

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