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Past & Present: Kansas' Presidential Connections


A new exhibit at the Kansas African American Museum tells the story of Barack Obama and the Kansas roots of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Although he grew up in Hawai’i, the young Barack was close to his grandparents, who told him of their upbringings in the oil fields of Peru, El Dorado, and Augusta. This exhibit celebrates these connections to the Sunflower State.

Of course, the president with the strongest Kansas ties is Dwight Eisenhower, the son of Abilene. It is hard for anyone in Kansas to forget this native son, especially if they fly in and out of the airport in Wichita.

However, Eisenhower was born in Texas, coming to the Sunflower State when very young. Also awkward is that after leaving the Oval Office, Eisenhower did not return to Abilene, but instead, retired to a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He did not come to rest in Kansas until after his death.

A third Kansas contribution to the presidency was Alf Landon, whose unsuccessful bid against FDR in the 1936 election put him close to, but not in the White House. Governor of Kansas, Landon was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Ohio, coming to the Sunflower State at age 17.

All three stories reveal a common theme: mobility. Kansas celebrates its rootedness, a place where being “a third generation or fourth generation Kansan” is a major point of pride. That said, people come and go through our state and those coming for a time, or moving on, or just passing through are also part of our state’s story.

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