Opinion

Audio Astra: Civil rights, political divisions, a long-ago zoo, school standards

August 6, 2021 3:33 am

“Civil Rights Trail,” by Lee Sentell, includes the Brown v. Board of Education national historic site and Sumner Elementary School in Topeka as landmarks in the nation’s quest for an end to racial segregation. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

The variety and quality of Kansas audio this week is the best collection since I started this recap in May. While I would normally provide longer riffs for each podcast, I will be brief so I can link to more great episodes. 

Journey Along Civil Rights Trail

Kansas Reflector, Aug. 2, 2021

The Reflector’s Tim Carpenter interviews Lee Sentel, the tourism director of Alabama, about his book that documents the sites around the country that hosted landmark events in the Black efforts toward racial equality. While most of the sites dot the American South, the Brown v. Board of Education schoolhouse museum in Topeka adds Kansas to the list of locations to visit.

Sentel explains how the book aims to achieve the designation of World Heritage Sites for these locations. That process could advance during the next two years.

In Kansas, A City is Working to Confront its Racist History

High Plains Public Radio, Aug. 2, 2021

David Condos reports from Hays on the terrifying past for Black people in the area: the lynching of three Black men, the naming of Noose Road, and designating the city as one of three Kansas “sundown towns” where Black people weren’t welcome after dark.

The 2021 response from the people of Hays provides both glimmers and shadows. The offensive road has been renamed. Local marginalized people gather and organize at a local coffee shop. And yet, Black people only make up 1% of the city where some school children are called the N-word by classmates. One man sums up the city’s attitude of confronting the racial violence of the past: “Nobody wants to talk about it.

This Bird Has Fueled A 26-Year Political Fight Between Commerce and Conservation in Kansas

Kansas News Service, Aug. 2, 2021

Abigail Censky traces the political trenches that define the dispute over the conservation of the lesser prairie chicken. Hearing the divisive talking points on both sides makes me better understand the careful tact that you can hear from the government on the Inside Ag podcast. This is unexpectedly delicate stuff.

Censky quotes advocates for oil and gas drilling who see the proposed protection of the bird as being a symbolic end run against development. Meanwhile, conservationists see the elevated designation as a symbolic protection of a species. Most telling was the brief clip of a rancher who allows tourists to visit his land, which is a habitat for the bird, so they can watch the mating ritual. His position is plainspoken, conflicted and moderate — far from the polemic talking points heard earlier in the story.

Conversations: Peter T. Coleman, “The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization”

Kansas Public Radio, Aug. 5, 2021

Peter T. Coleman brings refreshing ideas to a constant theme of American political life: polarization. The copious notes that I took during the 20-minute interview show how excited I was to hear ideas — any ideas! — for how to dull the sharp edges of our political conversations. Coleman frames our current divide (one he sees widening during the past 50 years) as a trap. This trap, he says, is born from news being seen as entertainment, social media algorithms amplifying extreme positions and the geographic isolation of conservatives from liberals, and vice versa. If we don’t escape from this trap? Coleman suggests that polarization might need us to another rupture like the Civil War.

Like all traps, Coleman says, there is an escape. And he suggests that we all can be a part of this societal escape by — among other things — seeking out voices we disagree with but respect. Following these voices might lead us closer to a political culture in which we dialogue, rather than debate.

The Riverside Zoo

The Wichita Podcast, July 30, 2021

I am an unapologetic fan of a podcast called “The Dollop,” a goofy historical romp where two comedians improvise about bizarre American history. From counterfeiters to zookeepers, they go bonkers and absurd about everything.

I mention “The Dollop” because the topic for this week’s edition of “The Wichita Podcast” fits the mold for one of their episodes perfectly. The Riverside Zoo of Wichita was an unpredictably zany place during the 1930s with so many odd twists. I won’t ruin all of the surprises here but will offer these teasers. Following a newspaper story at the time, locals started bringing all kinds of animals to the zoo, hoping that it could be a de facto pet shelter for parakeets, a peacock and even a trained monkey. And the insanity of how the zoo kept hibernating alligators safe through the winter involves some crazy animal care.

Missouri and Kansas Standards Not Making the Grade in Civics Education

Up to Date, Aug. 4, 2021

A recent study gives Kansas low marks for both history standards (D+) and civics standards (C-). The advice from the study? Kansas should be more specific about what needs to be taught, even though much of the detail about curriculum is established at the school district level.

Activists Want A ‘Safe and Welcoming’ Wyandotte County

Up to Date, August 2, 2021

The question here: Should Wyandotte County offer a municipal ID for people who are undocumented and also end most of its cooperation with federal immigration officials? A local minister is especially poignant in arguing against some flimsy legal, moral and rhetorical arguments.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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