Celebrate Black history year-round on the Kansas African American History Trail

An exhibit at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Ted Ayres is board president for The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita.

Black history is American history! American history is Black history! While the circumstances and events of our nation that revolve around and relate to the history of African Americans should always be important and relevant, February and its demarcation as Black History Month gives us special cause and purpose in considering what has occurred before in our country and specifically in the state of Kansas, which was forged and begun as “Bleeding Kansas.”

One way Kansans can consider this history year-round is by visiting locations along the Kansas African American History Trail. Officially dedicated in 2019, funded with a $135,000 grant from the National Institute of Museum and Library Services to The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita, it currently consists of eight original locations.

The John Brown Museum, Osawatomie

A state of abolitionist John Brown at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site. (Submitted)

This features exhibits in two rooms and the loft area of the historic Adair Cabin, which is protected and preserved by a stone pergola. It contains the family furniture of Reverend Samuel Adair and his wife, Florella, half-sister to John Brown. In the cabin, you will find Civil War weapons and objects that help tell the story of John Brown and the Battle of Osawatomie. Here, you can stand in the footsteps of John Brown, who helped shape a nation.

The Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum, Leavenworth

Opened in 1992 to honor African American history in Leavenworth, this museum incorporates the former home of U.S. Army Captain William Bly, a Buffalo Soldier during World War I.

Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area headquarters, Lawrence

Freedom’s Frontier is an organization that brings together regional historic sites and museums which tell the story of early life along the border of Kansas and Missouri, the Civil War and the enduring struggle for freedom by the early pioneers and settlers. Freedom’s Frontier is housed in the former Carnegie Library of Lawrence. Built in 1904, it was one of the few unsegregated public facilities in town. Langston Hughes went there regularly, and it was where he began his life-long love of poetry, literature and writing.

John and Mary Ritchie Home, Topeka

Built in 1856, the Topeka home of John and Mary Ritchie served as a location on the Underground Railroad. (Submitted)

Built in 1856, John and Mary Ritchie’s home in Topeka served as an Underground Railroad station house, helping freedom seekers elude their pursuers. The Ritchies’ lives typified the generation of Kansas pioneers whose dedication and energies laid the foundation for the state of Kansas.

Brown v. Brown of Education National Historic Site, Topeka

One of more than 420 national park cites, this is the only one dedicated to the United States Supreme Court’s 1954 decision that ended legal segregation in public schools. The former Monroe Elementary School Building, built in Topeka in 1926, was where Linda Brown was forced to attend elementary school rather than the Sumner School located near her home. Seventy years ago today, on Feb. 28, 1951, the case was filed in federal district court in Kansas.

Gordon Parks Museum, Fort Scott

Born in Fort Scott in 1912, Gordon Parks and went on to become an internationally known and celebrated photographer, filmmaker, composer, writer, poet and choreographer. Honoring the life and career accomplishments of this native son of Kansas, the museum’s collection includes many of his famous photographs, awards, medals and honorary degrees, as well as replica furnishings from his apartment in New York City, where he died on March 7, 2006.

The Nicodemus National Historic Site, Graham County

The Welcome Center in Nicodemus, Kansas. (Submitted)

An icon of the Black West Experience, Nicodemus is a testimonial to the achievements of African Americans after Emancipation. It is the sole survivor of three colonies founded by the Exodusters, groups of African Americans who homesteaded in Kansas in the 1870s. The five remaining buildings of Nicodemus are physical expressions of the five pillars that continue to anchor African American communities today: church, self-government, education, home and business.

The Kansas African American Museum, Wichita

Housed in the former Calvary Baptist Church built in 1917, the museum has an enviable collection of contemporary art created by a who’s who of African American artists from the past century. In addition to a permanent exhibition demonstrating the creativity, talent and ingenuity of the early Africans who brought their talents to Kansas, the museum also honors numerous African Americans from Kansas who made a significant impact with their lives and talents, including George Washington Carver, Barry Sanders, Gordon Parks, Hattie McDaniel, Langston Hughes, Oscar Micheaux and Ronald Walters, to name just a few.

The Kansas African American History Trail offers a rich and emotional opportunity to explore Kansas’ rich history and to learn additional perspectives about our state. An exploration of the Trail will also open your mind and heart and make you even prouder to be a Kansan.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.