Mark McCormick details his Quindaro report during an Sept. 8, 2023 Kansas Reflector podcast. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A Civil War-era community has loomed large in Kansas history. Advocates say the former majority-Black community could be a useful template for confronting racism in today’s society.
During a Kansas Reflector podcast, Mark McCormick, deputy executive director of strategic initiatives at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, talked about racism in the state as seen through the lens of his recent report on Quindaro, “Same Water Comin’ Round: Quindaro as a Vision for Kansas.”
“It’s about Quindaro the idea,” said McCormick, who has also written columns for Kansas Reflector. “Quindaro the aspiration, Quindaro the vision. We’re talking about a place, as one of our sources in the report said, is maybe the best example of a multiracial democracy, not only in the history of the state, but to his knowledge, maybe anywhere in the country.”
Quindaro was a stop on the Underground Railroad, established about five years before the state was founded. Founded by abolitionists, the site was used as a port-of-entry for those dedicated to keeping Kansas a free state. Quindaro’s multiracial community had a large influence on the region’s history before and during the Civil War, before the township was eventually abandoned.
Remnants of the township have been preserved as the Quindaro Ruins Archaeological Park in Kansas City, with a collection of about 20 building foundations and a couple of wells still standing.
Despite many attempts to preserve the history, advocates feel the site has been long neglected. The nearby Quindaro neighborhood was harmed by the construction of I-635, which is thought to have destroyed historically significant buildings, as well as led to air pollution from highway emissions.
‘“The state and federal government ran Interstate 635 right through the heart of it,” McCormick said. “As some of the people in the report said, it was a near death blow. It displaced people, displaced churches, and you have a highway running right through there.”
By the 1980s, there were plans to turn the Quindaro ruins into a landfill, though strong community opposition eventually led to the landfill plan’s abandonment.
McCormick’s boss, ACLU Executive Director Micah Kubic, gave him the idea after reading “The 1619 Project,” a narrative that frames U.S. history through slavery.
McCormick said Quindaro, and especially the principles of the township, need to be given more attention. Hid 52-page report ties the principles of Quindaro — freedom, acceptance and belonging — to the state’s founding values.
“Today’s Kansas scarcely resembles its proud founding,” McCormick writes in the report. “A powerful minority continues to mount multi-pronged attacks on democratic ideals. Nowhere are these efforts more crystal clear than in the relentless shredding of voting rights.”
McCormick advocates for a return to these ideas, as well as a frank examination of the nation’s racist past and present.
“If you go there now, it’s just kind of overgrown, and to us, which is why we chose Quindaro as the framing, it’s struggling,” McCormick said. “But there’s all this promise, there is all this history there. And if we were obedient to the history, if we were faithful to the history, we’d be in much better shape as a state and as a society.”
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