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Recognizing A Major Event In Wichita's History

Carla Eckels

This month marks the 50th anniversary of a KC-135 crashing into a predominantly African American neighborhood in northeast Wichita. This was more than just a neighborhood with a particular racial makeup, however. It represented the postwar suburban dream for Wichita’s African American community.

In the postwar years, African Americans were not welcome neighbors in many parts of Wichita. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, a number of prominent African American families had moved to the Piatt Street area. St. Paul’s AME Church relocated out of the downtown to a new, upscale facility on 17th street, paralleling a move to the suburbs seen in many white congregations at the time.

The families in the vicinity of the crash itself included prominent names in the African American community including the Jacksons of Jackson Mortuary. Lynette Woodard grew up near the crash and in view of a basketball court in the park that was constructed in the years after.

Currently, I am part of a research team working with Mark McCormick, Gretchen Eick, Robert Weems, Abril Marshall and Mark Strohminger on a history of the Wichita African American community. What we are finding are stories of families, businesses and institutions that have been part of the local narrative since the 1870s, yet are often hidden in plain sight unless an event like the Piatt Crash calls our attention to what has been there all along.

Editor's note: A memorial service will be held at the crash site located at 20th and Piatt at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, January 16.

And tune in on Thursday, January 15, during Morning Edition and All Things Considered as KMUW's Carla Eckels talks to a survivor whose mother and 2-year-old sister perished on the ground.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.