On June 2, the 162nd Anniversary of the Battle of Black Jack, Kerry Altenbernd (left) and John Hart (right) portrayed the abolitionist John Brown and pro-slavery militia leader, Henry Clay Pate. Brown led a Free-State militia in an attack on the camp of a pro-slavery militia, led by Pate, encamped along the Santa Fe Trail a few miles east of Baldwin City. Pate and his militia were out to capture Brown, but after an intense three hour battle involving about 100 men, Pate surrendered to Brown. Some historians consider the Battle of Black Jack to be the first true battle of the American Civil War, even though no army representing the Union or the Confederacy was involved. The National Park Service designated the battlefield a National Historic Landmark on 2012. For more information on the site, visit blackjackbattlefield.org Staff photo by Rick Poppitz
With information delivered in seconds, it’s hard to remember a time not so long ago when it could take weeks, months or years for news to reach all destinations.
After the Civil War, it took 2.5 years for news of the outcome to reach Galveston, Texas, that the war was over, and the enslaved were free. There are several versions of why it took the news so long to travel, but from the delay the Junteenth celebration was born – the day all slaves were freed.
There are several events and festivals in the greater Kansas City metro marking the unofficial holiday.
Locally there are no Junteenth celebrations; however, the area or “bleeding Kansas” is rife with history. For example, we have the “Battle of Blackjack,” which is recreated each year.
Battle of Blackjack
On May 21, 1856, Henry C. Pate participated with a posse of 750 pro-slavery forces in the sacking of Lawrence, which destroyed the Free State Hotel, two abolitionist newspaper offices and their printing presses. On June 2, 1856 Brown and 29 others met Pate and fought the battle of Black Jack. The battle occured after
Brown’s two sons were captured and held prisoner by Pate. The five-hour battle went in Brown’s favor and Pate and 22 of his followers were captured and held for ransom. Brown agreed to release them as long as they released Brown’s sons.
In Spring Hill, there is Jeremiah McCanse, a freed slave who became a barber and school board member on the Spring Hill school board in the late 1860’s. Descendants’ research determined McCanse was the son of a slave owner, and in 2002 more than 200 gathered for a ceremony honoring McCanse with a special headstone at the Spring Hill Cemetery.
Jeremiah, who had been freed by his father, knew how to read and write. In an 1868 letter mailed from Olathe to William McCanse, Jeremiah writes his father, “I have four Lots and one House. The Lots are all fenced and the Gayest Garden in Kansas. I am work every day. . . . . , “ according to Shaking the Family Tree, a narrative by Andy McCanse.
In Gardner, Isam Smith, is buried in the Gardner Cemetery. He married Emma Morgan in 1890. Smith, who is referred to as “free blackman with Victor family,” was born in the south. Isam and wife “Minnie” had four children: William, John, Kate and Martha.
Smith apparently worked as a janitor at Gardner schools and as a barber.
According to the obituary Emma “Minnie” Smith died at age 50. “The funeral was conducted by Rev. Harry Smith, Olathe. The remains were laid to rest in the Gardner cemetery. ‘Sweet freedom again, And rest at last. Banished all pain, Now death is past.”
Isam Smith died about a year later. “Isam Smith died Tuesday morning after an illness of about two weeks. The funeral services were held at the Baptist Church Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock and were conducted by Rev. Fulkrod after which the remains were interred into the cemetery west of town. He was over 70 years old. Although a negro, Isam commanded the respect of almost everyone in Gardner and he will be greatly missed.”
Although the Brown vs. Topeka schools is the best known desegregation case, it is predated by at least two cases in Northeast Kansas. As early as 1881, the Board of Education of the City of Ottawa vs. Elijah Tinnon case ruled that only cities of more than 15,000 were allowed to establish separate schools for African Americans.
Despite the ruling, many Kansas schools did segregate. Discussion regarding a separate school for blacks was discussed by the Gardner school district as early as 1865.
In Johnson County, Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice, came to Merriam, Kan., in 1947 for the Webb vs. School District No. 90 case involving the black Walker school.
Corinthian Nutter, educator, taught at the Walker school, and she staged a walk out due to the poor conditions. The school’s building was run-down, lacked indoor plumbing and used outdated textbooks and castoffs.
Yet, in 1947 administrators in School District No. 90, which encompassed Merriam, built a new school with the proceeds from a $90,000 bond election. Unlike Walker, South Park Elementary School had indoor plumbing, an auditorium and a cafeteria. It also had one teacher and one classroom for each of its eight grades, plus a music teacher and a kindergarten. Unfortunately, only white students were allowed to enroll at South Park.
The Kansas Supreme Court analyzed the two schools’ attendance boundaries and declared it subterfuge – segregation.