Past and Present

Three Wichita State history professors, Drs. Robin Henry, Robert Weems, and Jay Price, will talk about Wichita history, parallels between current events and historical happenings, and how historical events got us to where we are today.

Past & Present is also available through iTunes. Listen or subscribe here.

Wichita, during the mid-20th century, was a city where African Americans were blatantly discriminated against in downtown commercial spaces. For instance, black moviegoers were forced in sit in the balcony of downtown theaters.

Another form of racial bias experienced by black Wichitans during this period occurred in downtown department stores. While local African Americans were allowed to purchase products from these businesses, they were not allowed to sit and eat at their lunch counters.

On July 24th 1959, U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took the Cold War into the kitchen. Later referred to as the Kitchen Debate, the heated conversation took place in the American exhibition in Moscow, at the U.S.-Soviet Cultural Agreement, a program of mutual, cultural exchange meant to promote understanding and friendship between the two nations. 

In May 1871, Wichita founder James Mead famously led a team of horsemen out to divert a cattle drive from going through Park City, returning the cattle trail to its original route by Wichita. The drovers had planned to go west of Wichita up to Brookville because of the efforts of Henry Shanklin, an agent with the Kansas-Pacific railroad. While the so-called “four horsemen” are celebrated as local heroes in Wichita, Shanklin often gets dismissed as the one who failed. However, his story is just as interesting.

 

For much of American history, gold and silver were directly linked with the country’s currency. Memories of the hyper-inflation associated with the circulation of fiat “Continental Dollars” during the Revolutionary War prompted a long-standing belief that “sound money” consisted of paper dollars linked with gold and coinage created from silver.

Every June, I leave Wichita to score US AP History exams for seven days. In a digital age, this is a thoroughly analogue event. This year, more than 450,000 high school students took the four-hour exam and produced more than 2.5 million essays. These essays are handwritten, with words and phrases scratched out and arrows directing you to where the “real” second paragraph can found on page four.

Wichita can be considered the “bumblebee city.” If the bumblebee is the insect that should not be able to fly but does, Wichita is the city that shouldn’t be here but is. A visitor to the area in 1871 would have been well advised to bet on Newton, on a major transcontinental route, as the dominant community of the area. 

Horace Cort / AP

Most Americans are probably aware of the famous August 28, 1963, March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech. Far fewer citizens are aware of his advocacy of a second march on Washington planned for April 1968.

This commentary originally aired on March 8, 2016.

On May 10, 1840, Elizabeth Cady married abolitionist Henry Stanton. For the presiding pastor, the unconventional wedding day, a Friday, was not the most shocking part of their wedding ceremony. Rejecting Protestant tradition, Elizabeth Cady omitted the vow binding her “to obey” her husband.

On April 17th 1905, the US Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that maximum hours laws violated the 14th Amendment and an individual’s right to contract. The New York state legislature had passed the Bakeshop Act in 1895 that restricted bakery employees to 10-hour workdays and 60-hour workweeks. 

When studying issues in the press of a given time, it is essential to compare as many different publications as possible. The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Beacon, founded as the city’s Republican and Democratic papers, respectively, often took remarkably different views of an issue.

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