Fast Food Kansas

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Fast Food Kansas

Do you know the 1946 musical “The Harvey Girls?” It stars Judy Garland and in the film she sings one of the most famous show tunes of all times “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” 

The movie is about Harvey House restaurants and the young women in their starched, white aprons and cuffs who went out west to feed hungry train travelers. 

The train must be fed, they sang in the movie. In fact, millions of people needed to be fed and, wouldn’t you know it, we figured out how to do it fast right here in Kansas. 

Harvey House founder Fred Harvey had a nomadic and varied life before finally settling in Kansas. After immigrating to the U.S. from Liverpool in 1853, he started work as a pot scrubber in a New York restaurant. He worked his way to cook, would move on to New Orleans where he worked in the jewelry business before going to work for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. It’s that job that brought him to Leavenworth. 

Archiver historian Virgil Dean says Harvey opened his first restaurant in the Topeka train depot in 1876 then spread his Harvey Houses from there. By the time Harvey died in 1901, there were 47 restaurants and 15 hotels in the chain all excellent food served by well trained and pretty Harvey Girls. “Prior to this time there were very few places that people could get that kind of meal for a reasonable price in a short time,” Virgil says. 

The Harvey Girls, of course, became famous and celebrated. “These girls were hired because of their attractiveness, their maturity and their ability to work hard,” Virgil says.

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So as train travel gave way to highways and cars, Harvey Houses faded away although a few survived into the 1060s. But people wanted even faster food and a couple of guys in Wichita figure out how to do that. 

White Castle hamburgers were invented at 1st and Main in downtown Wichita in 1921. They were the brainchild of diner owner Walt Anderson and insurance man Billy Ingram. 

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White Castle, with its pure white exterior and stainless steel interior, reopened the market to ground beef. People were scared to eat it after the Upton Sinclair novel “The Jungle” came out in 1906. The book unearthed the unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants. 

The chain quickly spread, opening its second store in El Dorado in 1922 and moving out of Kansas into Indiana in 1927 and to the movies in 2004 with Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, the first in the Harold and Kumar franchise. 

Of course, if they got the munchies in central Kansas they would end up at the Cozy Inn in downtown Salina and you’re not a real Kansan unless you’ve had sliders at the Cozy’s. But which came first, White Castle or Cozy’s? Naturally, we turned to Archiver historian Virgil Dean.

“According to their own history, Cozy followed White Castle by a year. But their inspiration for the slider type hamburger with no frills, and very little meat, was the White Castle restaurant which started in Wichita,” says Virgil. 

But Kansas wasn’t nearly done with fast food. And the next restaurant concept was even bigger; Pizza Hut, founded in Wichita in 1958 by brothers Dan and Frank Carney, who borrowed $600 from their mom to open the first store. 

In 1965 they aired their first TV ad in Wichita. It has a kind of Keystone Cops feel. A guy orders a pizza on the phone and then races to Pizza Hut in a tiny kids Mustang convertible chased by his neighbors. Clearly the ad has nothing to do with pizza and everything to do with the convenience of take out. 

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The bothers Carney sold the business to Pepsi in 1977 and Pizza Hut is now owned by Yum Brands, based in China. Pizza Hut can still be big news in Wichita, in September the original building was moved onto the Wichita State campus where it will house Pizza Hut memorabilia. 

Sure fast food having its root in Kansas is fun, damn fun. But what did we turn loose on America? 

To help us figure that out, we went to Elizabeth Burger. “Just like a hamburger without the ham,” she says. Burger is a senior program officer Sunflower Foundation in Topeka. Her job takes her all over Kansas overseeing programs for healthy eating and active lifestyles. 

“The key is creating systems and structures that facilitate people toward making the healthier decisions rather than the unhealthier ones,” Burger says. “Unfortunately in today’s world we live in what’s called an obesogenic environment and that’s an environment that’s saturated with factors that guide us to make unhealthy decisions about our food choices and physical activity.”  Much of that environment is dominated by commercials for fast food and surgery drinks. Billions a year are spent by food companies. But Elizabeth is not a total fast food buzz killer. The key, like with anything, is moderation.

“Yes, I do occasionally eat fast food. As a treat.” She even says Cozy’s is on her bucket list. Sometimes it’s about where and who you’re eating with. “Are you being nourished mentally and holistically as well as physically. So, if I were to go to the Cozy’s in Salina with my husband, which is something we’ve been looking forward to, and it’s a treat nutritionally the food may not be up to par. But it’s a special event. I’m nourished by this meal so it’s part of an overall diet.”

So our fast food journey through Kansas starts on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe with Judy Garland and ends with, well, a bit of a lecture on our eating habits. But we think, we might all be craving a Cozy’s slider right about now. 

 

 

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Out Whiting The White Man

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Out Whiting The White Man

This episode of Archiver was inspired by the film, The Only Good Indian, directed by Kevin Willmott, a good friend of the podcast. The film was written by Tom Carmody from Lawrence. It’s about the Haskell Institute in Lawrence back when it was a boarding school for American Indians. 

Tens of thousands of school age Indians were forced into these boarding schools all across the country. Many times they were kidnapped by soldiers or police. Kids would, naturally, run away from such semi-imprisonment. The movie is about an Indian bounty hunter played by Wes Studi. His job was to track down the kids who would run. Here’s the film description from IMDB:

The Only Good Indian

The Only Good Indian

"Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teen-aged Native American boy (newcomer Winter Fox Frank) is taken from his family and forced to attend a distant Indian 'training' school to assimilate into White society. When he escapes to return to his family, Sam Franklin (Wes Studi), a bounty hunter of Cherokee descent, is hired to find and return him to the institution. Franklin, a former Indian scout for the U.S. Army, has renounced his Native heritage and has adopted the White Man's way of life, believing it's the only way for Indians to survive."

They would cut the kid's hair, forbid their native languages, force them to be Christians. And when they ran away, armed bounty hunters, like the Studi character, would chase them. The line from the movie that most fits our story is when Studi tells one boy, “Sam Franklin is going to be the best white man he can be. I’m going to out white man the God damn white man." 

How could any of this be good? I have to admit upfront that I started out on this story absolutely sure how I was going to tell it. But I ended up in a very different place, and it’s a place that I’m not totally comfortable with. 

The Only Good Indian tells the story of the worst part of Indian boarding schools. Some of the schools, surprisingly to me, operated until the 1970s, albeit much differently, as we’ll see, than when they were first created. By the 1970s, Haskell had already converted to a junior college. 

Richard Henry Pratt

Richard Henry Pratt

The whole movement starts with a Civil War veteran named Richard Henry Pratt who coined the phrase, "kill the Indian, save the man". He was a leader of what was known as the “Friends of the Indian Movement” and while "kill the Indian, save the man" certainly doesn’t sound friendly or supportive or even humane, it was far better than General Phillip Sheridan’s notion that the only good Indians he ever saw were dead, something he claimed he never said in all fairness but certainly the phrase has lived through time.

Still, the kidnapping and forced assimilation at Haskell and other boarding schools was repugnant to me. Archiver historian Virgil Dean, certainly no apologist for these institutions, was the first one to suggest that there may have been some virtue to these schools.

“In the early part of the 19th century, as the United States expanded west, the policy had been one of removal of Indians from the east and then concentrating them on reservations,” Virgil says. “Kansas was a big part of that. Kansas territory was created out of what had been Indian territory. Toward the end of the century you have a lot of people looking for other solutions to the so-called Indian problem. Many reformers, at the time, thought education was the solution. By 1884, when Haskell Institute is established, the idea is to bring Indian children in from all over the country to live there and literally change them to make them more able to achieve in a white society.”

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Were kids beaten? Yes. Psychologically abused? Yes. Sexually abused? Yes to that too. And it’s not like the government didn’t know. In 1928, something called the Meriam Report was issued. Here’s what it had to say about boarding schools:

“The survey staff finds itself obligated to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”

Haskell opened as a boarding school seven years after Richard Henry Pratt opened the Carlisle school in Pennsylvania. Carlisle was made famous, of course, by Jim Thorpe, perhaps the best American athlete ever. But it was right around the time of the Meriam report that things began to change, slowly, but change nonetheless. 

In 1926, Haskell dedicated its football stadium and 8,000 Indians from across the country came. Some drove, many took the train, some even walked. Haskell won its first football game in its new stadium. They beat Bucknell 36 to nothing. Things at Haskell seemed to get better from there. 

To find out more about early Haskell, I talked to Eric Anderson, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Chair of the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell. I told him that the whole boarding school concept, even if it had some virtues, still made me uncomfortable.

“We should be uncomfortable with that because it was a matter of saying Western culture is better and we don’t have a place in American society for American Indian cultures. They are inferior," said Anderson. "Whether it was the Army fighting wars or federal bureaucrat running Indian boarding schools it was all part of the theory that there was nothing good in Native American culture," he continued.

Haskell Boarding School

Haskell Boarding School

"But there are some positives. Whether they got a trade that they learned. Whether it was a place where people of different tribes came together and began to see a common kind of history and they could find strength in their own diversity. Or whether it was a place where sweethearts met and married and went on to have their own kids who the sent to Haskell as part of a growing American Indian experience," Anderson said.

It’s a growing American Indian experience because by the time Haskell was dedicating its stadium, Indians were slowly taking more control of these institutions. My research was clear: there were, in fact, some redeeming things that came out of Indian boarding schools. But I didn’t really begin to feel that until I called Wes Studi at his home in New Mexico. 

Studi is Cherokee, acted in Dances with Wolves, played Geronimo in Geronimo: An American Legend and was in Avatar.

Wes Studi

Wes Studi

Studi was an activist. He was at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 when it was occupied by the American Indian Movement. But Studi is also a graduate of an Oklahoma Indian Boarding school.

“In 1960, I actually wanted to go to Chilocco boarding school where my dad had gone. The reason was that he had some good stories to tell of having been there. That was maybe 20 years before I went. Now, by the time I went many Indian people had gotten jobs as different kinds administrators as well as people who dealt with the students in the dorms and in the classrooms. It wasn’t a matter of being thrown into a Hell hole by 1960," said Studi.

He continued that there clearly were students who didn’t have the positive experience he had at Chilocco. Still, his memories are good.

“For me it was a big adventure. I wanted to go off someplace and see what I could do on my own.”

This story turned out to be not only a real education for me but far more emotional than I could have imagined. I asked Haskell historian Eric Anderson about that.

“I think we have a really complex story here in boarding schools. Certainly, there were many negative features. Certainly, there are many stories of bitter and acrimonious experiences leading to some fracturing of family relationships leading to assaults on culture that are lasting and we still live with the legacy of.”

Still, Anderson said, many, many Indians came away with an education and used it to transform the boarding schools. Nonetheless the subject is an emotional one for him.

“It’s especially difficult when you look at a picture of toddlers holding up a sign that says Haskell babies. Thinking about how hard that must have been, it’s very hard to remove oneself from the emotionality of it," said Anderson. "It’s our responsibility as historians to look at the broadest possible collection of evidence that leads us to the conclusion that this is a really complex period of time that in many ways we’re still living with.” 

I’m reminded, amateur historian that I am, that history is rarely heaven or hell, black or white, the truth is always in between and not everyone’s truth is the same. But if there is a lesson in all of this, for me it was persistence. Studi’s character Sam Franklin said he was going to “out white man the white man.” Many Native Americans endured being ripped from their families, beaten, abused for an education that eventually helped lead Haskell from a boarding school to a university, an institution to be proud of instead of one to be feared. An institution that celebrates Native American heritage rather than trying to kill it.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Gathering Stasis, Drone Thistle, Balti, Snowdrift and by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Women And Sunflower Politics

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Women And Sunflower Politics

This Archiver starts in 1984.

Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum is running for reelection. She was still using the Landon name at the time, a potent political name in Kansas. Now with Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, you may not realize the uniqueness of a woman in the United States Senate in 1978.

Depending on how you define it, Kassebaum was the first or second woman elected in her own right to the senate. Before Kassebaum, Margaret Chase Smith followed her deceased husband into the House, and then won a seat in the upper chamber in 1948. 

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Women in Kansas politics go back to before women could even vote in most elections. And, wouldn’t you know it, the very first women to be elected mayor of an American city was from Kansas.

Argonia, Kansas sits along U.S. 160 in Sumner County, about 20 miles north of the Oklahoma line. That’s where Susanna Madora Salter, active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, became mayor in 1887. She presided over about 400 folks, oddly, about the same size of Argonia today.

Men being children, of course, Salter’s name was placed in nomination by the men of the town as a joke. The joke was on them, Salter received two-thirds of the vote and was elected on April fourth.

“She was a well educated person,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean. “Met her husband while she was attending K-State. By all accounts she did herself proud. She had a background in activism and no doubt saw this as a way to strike a blow for women’s rights.”

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Indeed, the election of 1887 was the first time women could vote in Kansas in a municipal election. They had been voting for school board elections since 1861. By 1912, women had full suffrage. That's eight years before the 19th Amendment.

“Kanas was ahead of most other states but it took a long time to get to the ultimate goal. Kansans, some Kansans, were struggling for a better place from the beginning,” Virgil says. In fact, there was an unsuccessful move to grant women and African Americans full suffrage at the Wyandotte constitutional convention, and again in 1867.

The first woman elected statewide in Kansas was Elizabeth Wooster in 1918. She was superintendent of public instruction, an office we no longer have. Nobody could accuse Lizzy, as she preferred to be called, of being soft on teachers. In 1922 she tried to fire several of them in Cimarron after they’d been seen at a dance. That inflexibility cost Lizzy a third term.

It took 34 years for Kansans to elected another woman statewide. In 1956, Lillie Washabaugh became state printer, another office that no longer exists. Kansas sent its first woman to Congress in 1932. Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy, a Democrat no less, was swept into office with FDR that year. She was one of only eight women in the House at that time, she had just one term.

Wait a minute. We haven’t heard from a woman yet. Let’s fix that right now. 

“We had our first female legislator elected in 1918,” says Kansas State Rep. Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park; she also has a history degree from Emporia State. “You had the election of Minnie Grinstead that year. We have a really interesting excerpt from the Kansas City Star talking about how some of the other legislators, the male legislators were concerned, that Rep. Grinstead would nag them about their cigar smoking,” Clayton says. 

Despite Minnie Grinstead and Kathryn McCarthy and Mayor Salter and even Senator Nancy Kassebaum it took a long time for Kansans to make a woman governor.

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Democrat Joan Finney was not only the first woman governor of Kansas, she got there by ousting incumbent Republican Mike Hayden in 1990. And you know what else? Finney was the first woman to ever unseat an incumbent man to become governor. 

Finney would only serve one term. She chose not to seek nomination for a second term in 1994, and unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for senate in 1996.

In 2002, Kansas elected its second female governor. Kathleen Sebelius, another Democrat, was elected in with 53 percent of the vote. Sebelius was reelected four years later with 58 percent, and she would go on to serve in President Obama’s cabinet. 

So after all those fits and starts, how are women doing now in Kansas politics today?

In 2017, 29 percent of the Kansas Legislature was female. And that percentage has been pretty steady since 1989, about a quarter of lawmakers have been women. But here’s what’s puzzling: in 1989, Kansas was ranked eighth in the country but with about the same number of women in the Legislature, today Kansas ranks 18th.

I went to another veteran politician to talk about this. Sandy Preager was mayor of Lawrence in the state house and senate and had three terms as Insurance Commissioner. A moderate Republican, there were those who wanted her to run for governor. I wanted to know why more women aren’t getting into politics.

“Politics are ugly right now. It’s not fun,” she says. “Maybe it’s the sensitivity of women. I think by and large women have trouble doing that sort of thing. The women I worked with (in the Kansas Legislature) were team players to just get the job done and not worry who got the credit.”

Clayton says she’s 40 years old and does not believe she’ll see a woman president in her lifetime. I’m 60 and I absolutely believe I will. I’m not sure why I’m more optimistic than these two accomplished women politicians but I am. Maybe it’s because I learned my first political lessons from my mom, active in politics her whole life. Perhaps it’s because I’ve covered a lot of strong and smart women in the Kansas Legislature. Or maybe its the ghost of Mayor Susanna Salter of Argonia, Kansas who in 1887 told a bunch men to go pound sand, that she had a better way.

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Small But Powerful

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Small But Powerful

We start this Archiver with an endorsement. Not of this podcast, although I would never say no to that, but with the first presidential endorsement by the New York Times on October 11th, 1860.

“Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, familiarly known as “Old Abe”, age 51, height six feet seven, by profession Rail-Splitter, is to be our next president,” the Times began. “The thing seems pretty sure.” 

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Why height is important, the Times doesn’t say. But it wraps up this way: “Things will go on very much as they have hirtheto-except that we shall have honesty and manliness instead of meanness and corruption in the Executive Departments, and a decent regard for the opinions of mankind in the tone and talk of the government and on the subject of Slavery.”

Newspaper endorsements were crucial for political candidates, be it for president or city council. It’s less so now, but they’re still important. Even President Trump when he was a candidate met with the editorial boards of the Washington Post, New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Presidential candidates have historically made stops in New York, Washington, Los Angles and Chicago. But Kansas candidates from senate to the city council made the trek to court editors and publishers in Emporia, Iola, Parsons, Garden City, and Junction City. Towns all over Kansas where winning over these small town papers was crucial to election. And many of these editors became giants in Kansas politics. 

So the most famous small town editor in Kansas was, of course, William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette. But White wasn’t the only small town editor in Kansas to play a political role. Archiver historian Virgil Dean says White connected early Kansas editors to more contemporary editors. 

“If you look at Kansas history through journalism there is a really interesting connection between editors or publishers and the early scope of Kansas history. I can see three generations of prominent editors and White comes in the middle. In fact, six of the first 24 governors of Kansas were newspaper editors,” Virgil says. 

John Martin was elected governor in 1884. He owned a Free State paper in Atchison first called Freedom's Champion. In 1918, Kansas elected Henry J. Allen governor. He owned papers in Salina, Ottawa and Wichita. There’s Clyde Reed who was governor and senator and owned the Parsons Sun and then there’s Clyde Reed, Junior who would take over the Sun from his father. 

When you want to talk Parsons, journalism and politics in Kansas, you go to my KCUR colleague and friend for 25 years Jim McLean, who started his career at KLKC radio in Parsons. He knew Clyde Reed, Jr. who unsuccessfully ran for governor but did serve on the Kansas Board of Regents. 

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“I think he’s a good example of the small town editor who used to predominate in Kansas. Most communities of any size had an influential, well read, highly regarded newspaper and nearly all of those newspapers were associated with a strong willed and fairly big personality type editor,” Jim says. 

“Editorials written by Clyde Reed, Jr., Emerson Lynn, the Seaton family, politicians paid a lot of attention to them. And Clyde Reed, Sr. was very influential statewide because he wrote very strong editorials, he followed current events very closely and those papers watched the events in Topeka in particular. Those editors had outsized influence not only in their community but statewide,” according to Jim.

While most Kansas publishers or editors ran newspapers that were small to medium sized, there was one who ran a huge media empire. Arthur Capper served in the U.S. Senate until January 1949. 

Born in 1865 in Garnett, he was 84 and nearly deaf when he made this broadcast. Before the senate he was governor. By the way, he served in the senate with two other publishers we’ve talked about, Henry J. Allen and Clyde Reed. 

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So while this Archiver is titled Small but Powerful, Capper’s media holdings were anything but small. He owned the Topeka Daily Capital, published Capper’s weekly and later would own WIBW radio and TV in Topeka. In 1919, 1.7 million people subscribed to his various publications. 

He knew Charles Curtis from Kansas who served as Herbert Hoover’s vice president, the Kingfish, Huey Long from Louisiana and Senator Robert La Follette, the Republican progressive and anti-war crusader from Wisconsin. Capper knew Carrie Nation and his father knew John Brown. 

“In times of excitement and stress and strain a majority can be most terribly and completely and brutally wrong,” Capper said in his farewell address.

I suspect Capper is talking about the Sedition Act of 1918 or maybe the internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two…it may have been a warning about the Patriot Act. 

What’s true is this certainly seems like something politicians and editorial writers should remember today.

 

 

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The Most Powerful Newspaperman In Kansas History

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The Most Powerful Newspaperman In Kansas History

This story starts with a tape that, until recently, was in a box at the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. Archiver historian Virgil Dean found it.

It’s a speech 79 years ago by William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, social commentator and player in national Republican politics. And, best that we can tell, this is the only surviving recording of the man known as the Sage of Emporia.

“Since I first came to the University of Kansas 50 years ago and left after four years without a degree, I’ve often asked myself; what is the thing we call an education? And I don’t know.”

While White said he didn’t know a lot about education it’s clear that he did. White talked about the advantages of a good education but, for me, the most intriguing line was this: If he can read and reason sensibly, White said, he will not mistake kindnesses for cowardice. Seems like something we should be talking about now.

Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

White was speaking on November second, 1938 at a gala celebrating the 75th anniversary of KU. It was a nationally broadcast speech, originated by WREN, the KU radio station at the time and picked up by the NBC Blue network. It was front page news in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World, sharing space with the civil war in Spain, the Japanese invasion of China and the 16th annual potato exhibit at the Lawrence armory. 

I asked Archiver historian Virgil Dean about how he discovered the tape and what it means to actually hear White’s voice. 

“Prior this this even White’s most recent biographer, Sally Griffith, who I contacted, said she wasn’t familiar with the tape, had not found that, and was under the impression from contemporary accounts that White spoke in a high pitched voice,” Virgil says. “Certainly that’s what we have here. It’s not a dynamic speaking voice by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it gives you an opportunity to get the know the person better. Especially for people who are writing or trying to do a biography of somebody like that. Whatever you can find that helps you get to know them a little bit better, using that along with all the other historical evidence you have might be of significant value.”

The whole speech was only about five minutes, part of a much longer program. Early in the speech White had, frankly, some pretty boiler plate education ideas; someone should be able to read 50 pages of a serious book and then write a cogent retelling with correct spelling and proper punctuation. But then the speech turns throughly thought provoking, White suggests that education leads to civility and even kindness. 

“If he can read and reason sensibly, he will know how to judge his fellows, how to spot a fool, how to know a knave when he meets him. He will not mistake kindnesses for cowardice. He will not find himself suspecting everyone and believing everything.”

There’s a great biography on White by Sally Foreman Griffith written in 1989 and there’s White’s autobiography published posthumously in 1946.But film maker Kevin Willmott, a friend of Archiver, is making a documentary about White’s life. It’s being narrated by legendary news anchor and documentarian Bill Kurtis.

Now you may just know him as the announcer on NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me or the narrator of the Anchorman movies. But Kurtis has had a celebrated journalism career. He’s won two Peabodys and a DuPont. Full discloser: I produced several documentaries for Bill that aired on A&E in the late 90s. 

Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

He talked to me from his studio in Chicago. I asked him if there was one thing people needed to know about White and what he meant to journalism, what would that be? Kurtis didn’t hesitate. “Wisdom,” he said. “He was the voice of the midwest. We don’t have those anymore. People who are associated with a region of the country. People came to him. People came to his front door,” 

White’s writing was clean. It was understandable and it was aimed at everybody not just the elite, Kurtis says. “But with a smile and perhaps a laugh along the way.”

Wit, wisdom, sage, all William Allen White writing qualities. But there was passion too. 

“Dip your pen into your arteries and write,” he said. 

White, it seems to me, spoke and wrote not just for Emporia but for Goodland and Dodge City and Chillicothe in Missouri and Enid in Oklahoma and every other small town in the Midwest. And with government and media in flux, maybe even in crisis, there’s no better time to remember and study William Allen White.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Free State Myth

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The Free State Myth

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the civil rights movement knows about the lunch counter sit ins at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. A protest that started with four people on February 1, 1960 grew to hundreds of protestors by July. Lunch counter sit ins, at times, dominated the news in the south. 

“Are sit in strikes justifiable?” asked legendary south Florida anchorman Wayne Fariss in a commentary in 1956. “It’s an active problem of political, economic and moral significance to all Florida,” he said from the set of WCKT in Miami. WCKT is now WSVN. 

The Florida sit ins started a few weeks after Greensboro. But before Greensboro and Miami there was Dockum Drug Store in Wichita. 

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We like to think of ourselves, us Kansans, as civil rights leaders; the free state, brown versus board, abolition. But does our history really back up the claim? Or is it…just a myth.

I think a lot of us can see in our head the black and white film of young black protestors being spit on or even beaten as they sat at lunch counters in the south demanding to be served. Greensboro is probably the best known but sit ins happened all across Dixie. But many simply don’t know about Dockum Drugs.

“Well, Dockum’s Drug Store was a major drug store located in the center of Wichita,” Carol Haun, who helped organize the sit in, told C-SPAN. “It was a main place for people to go during the lunch hour, for teenagers to go for a hamburger and a coke. The policy of the store was that they did not serve colored, as we were called at that time.”

The sit ins began on July 19, 1958, a year and a half before Greensboro. Nine other students showed up that day. For three weeks the students sat at the Dockum lunch counter. They were taunted and insulted but there was no violence. Mostly, white customers just went somewhere else and profits at the store plunged. 

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In just three weeks Dockum’s in downtown Wichita was desegregated as was the entire Rexal chain. A civil rights victory. There were many in Kansas: Brown versus the Topeka Board of Education chief among them. But before Brown, the Kansas Supreme Court desegregated some schools, at least the ones the law allowed. 

For some, and I’m among them, civil rights in Kansas began with Quantrill burning Lawrence and ends with Brown. But, of course, that’s just not true.

“Kansas. We call ourselves a Free State, the Free State fortress but we have these Jim Crow practices,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean. While there were certainly Jim Crow practices around Kansas for the most part they weren’t codified in law. School segregation was legal in larger cities like Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita. But some smaller towns tried to segregate schools, contrary to state law, and when cases from those cities made it to the state Supreme Court the justices desegregated. One of the most famous was Webb v. School District 90 in Merriam. “Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries segregation was being practiced in school districts where it shouldn’t have been. And every time the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs. There’s a famous case in Ottawa in the 1880s, there’s one in Oskaloosa that comes in the very early 20th century,” says Dean. 

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Here’s what the Kansas historian James Lieker wrote:

“How is it, for example, that the same state that advocated Indian genocide and practiced school segregation also became the only state to legally evict the Ku Klux Klan and only one of seven to censor the racist film Birth of a Nation?”

So our past is a little rockier than I wanted to think. Okay, I can live with that. But how are we doing now? Where does that Free State Kansas thing stand?

When you want to talk about how African American history in Kansas intersects with the present, you talk to Lang. He’s written about the black freedom movement and black urban communities in the midwest. What’s important about Kansas, Lang says, is that it’s not the deep south. That there has always been room for, a lane if you will, for agitators and change agents. 

“We don’t want to error on the side of, racism is the same everywhere you go in the United State. I don’t believe that’s the case. There are reasons people came to Kansas and built communities and tried to build lives.”

So more than a half century past Brown and Dockum drugs and the Webb desegregation case in Johnson County, the answer to the question ‘Where does that Free State Kansas thing stand?” seems to be, we’ll see. 

At least that’s one answer. And the question is such an important part of the Kansas story, we’ll revisit civil rights and the Free State Myth in future in future Archivers this season. 

07.19.1958 Dockup-Drug-Store-newspaper-picture.jpg
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The Beat Comes To Lawrence

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The Beat Comes To Lawrence

If you look around YouTube, you’ll find no shortage of videos featuring William S. Burroughs, the famous beat writer. One of the best videos shows rock ‘n roll hall of famer Patti Smith playing the acoustic guitar in Burroughs tiny bungalo in old east Lawrence. That’s Lawrence, Kansas. River City. Hashtag L-F-K.

There were a lot of reasons the author of Naked Lunch, a book that Time magazine named one of the best English language novels between 1923 and 2005, moved to Lawrence. You can see one big reason in another video; Burroughs emptying the clip of his semi-automatic pistol into a target in the woods near his home. 

“He’d hand you the gun and you’d say, is it loaded? And he’d say, of course it’s loaded! What good is an unloaded gun? I like guns that shoot and knives that cut,” says James Grauerholz the executor of the Burroughs estate.

This episode of Archiver is just as much about Lawrence as it is about Burroughs. According to his closest friends and confidants, he changed Lawrence and Lawrence, well, let Burroughs be Burroughs.

But how and why Burroughs moved to Lawrence in 1981 is, of course, tied to how he lived his life up until then. Burroughs was born in St. Louis in 1914. His grandfather invented an adding machine. His mother claimed to be related to Robert E. Lee. He had an uncle who was a publicist for the Rockefellers.

It’s impossible, really, to boil down Burrough's life in a few lines but here’s some of what you need to know: after Harvard he moved to Europe where he came out as gay. He did marry a Jewish woman to help her gain admission to the U.S. at the time Nazis were rising to power. 

He would eventually find his way back to America, become addicted to drugs and marry once again. His wife, Jane Vollmer, would move with him to Mexico City in 1950 after a drug charge in New Orleans. Burroughs skipped bail and fled south of the border. 

It was in Mexico that Burroughs, drunk and probably high, shot and killed Vollmer, also drunk and probably high, when he used a pistol to try and shoot a highball glass off her head. It didn’t work. Guns, it turns out, would always play an outsized role in Burrough’s life. 

He would live and write in Paris, London and New York. In New York he would rub elbows with, well, almost everybody…David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa and, of course, other beat writers…like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. Already a drug addict, Burroughs would pick up a nickname in New York, the Pope of Dope.

Burroughs first saw Lawrence in 1976 when KU’s English department brought him in for four days to teach. In 1981, he moved. It would have a profound effect on him and, in some small but lasting ways, change Lawrence.

Many said there were three places to be in the 60s and 70s; Berkeley, Boston and Lawrence. Archiver historian Virgil Dean, who lives in Lawrence, talks about the counter-culture feel of the town at the time, a town already filled with characters. 

“Certainly it had the reputation, and rightly so, as the place in Kansas at least that was most tuned in in regard to the counter culture, Vietnam War protests, civil rights activities and that kind of thing in the late 60s and 70s. The university and the local counter culture attracted people from all over the country who would travel through or stop in cause they knew there would be a receptive audience.”

Phil Heying is an artist born in Kansas City but with deep ties to Lawrence who worked with Burroughs on some visual arts projects. James Grauerholz was Burroughs constant companion starting around 1974. He managed his affairs, is now executor of his estate and is the one who convinced Burroughs to move to Lawrence.

Burroughs bought a little house in old east Lawrence where he and his cats would be visited by lots of famous folks; the actor Steve Buscemi, the poet Alan Ginsberg, the musician Tom Waits. But here’s the thing, in Lawrence most people just didn’t care.

“The town seemed to fit him like a glove and he was very comfortable. And he would do things like walk to the liquor store, to the grocery store and have conversations with ladies by the cat food in Dillion’s. He could just be a normal citizen of a town. Everyone was like, that was Burroughs but so what? So it was a good place for him,” Heying says.

“People were impressed. This was the William Burroughs. But that wore off because they were regular old River City hippie/poet/Philosopher-of-the-barstool. Lawrence was like that,” says Grauerholz.

Don’t get the idea that Burroughs moved to Lawrence and just got high, drank and fired guns in the woods, although he certainly did plenty of all of those. Grauerholz made a two book deal for him and Burroughs, somewhat surprisingly to me anyway, did a TV commercial for Nike because, well, people have to make a living. 

When you talk Burroughs, you not only talk Zappa and Timothy Leary and Debbie Harry but also Sig Sauer, Lugar and Glock. Few things excited Burroughs more in his Lawrence life than getting a new gun. 

But Lawrence isn’t quite as naughty as it used to be. While pockets of the counter culture that drew Burroughs and many others to River City are still there, they’re hard to find, the town has a much more suburban feel to it. 

1927 Learnard Avenue

1927 Learnard Avenue

Things from early Lawrence days like Rock Chalk Bar, Joe’s Donuts and ditch weed have disappeared. But Burroughs lives on in some unexpected ways. Hundreds of people a year visit his house at 1927 Learnard Avenue. And the city has named a park, trail and playground after him. 

Williams S Burroughs died in Lawrence on August second, 1997.

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The Most Important Coach You've Never Heard Of

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The Most Important Coach You've Never Heard Of

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

To get ready for this Archiver, I want you to think back to the 2008 NCAA National Championship game when The Jayhawks would win in overtime. Picture a play early in the first half when KU rebounds the ball, takes off on a fast break that ends up with a dunk on the other end. Ninety-four feet in just seven seconds. 

It’s hard to imagine for most of us, but that’s not how basketball was played for most of its existence. 

The man who invented that style of play, that moved the game from the two hand set shot that can only be pictured in black and white, is a Kansan who literally changed the complexion of the sport.

A documentary came out last year celebrating the life of that coach. "Fast Break: The Legend of John McLendon" was directed by University of Kansas film Professor Kevin Willmott who says McLendon is an American hero.

“He is one of those guys who perservers all these odds and it changes America and sports for all of us. The game that we love and take for granted now is played the way its played today and looks the way it looks today because of John McLendon,” says Willmott.

McLendon was born in Hiawatha but grew up in Kansas City, Kansas. He attended Northeast Junior High and Sumner High School which was an all African-American school at the time. He wasn’t good enough to make the basketball team but lettered in gymnastics.

He started college at KCK Community College and would eventually land at the University of Kansas. While he wasn’t a very good player, McLendon loved basketball and his step father decided if he wanted to learn to coach he might as well learn from the inventor of the game. So, Mclendon went to KU and studied physical education because that’s where James Naismith, the inventor of the game, taught. But as painful as it is to hear, KU in 1933 wasn’t the beacon of civil rights that we like to imagine.

“The Free State myth is what we sometimes refer tothis situation as. While abolitionist did a lot to win the Civil War and keep slavery out of the territory, after the Civil War Kansas wasn’t that much different than most of the other northern states,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean.

“Throughout the late 19th century you have some opportunities for blacks; Kansas is considered a place to go in the post Civil War migration. KU opened up fairly early for blacks, black students enrolled in the 1880s and some graduated. But by the turn of the century it was changing quite a bit. Segregation was becoming more prevalent.”

In 1936, McLendon was the first black man to graduate from KU with a Phys Ed degree. The first barrier he would break. He learned basketball by talking with Naismith and hanging out in Robinson gym watching Phog Allen’s practices. Naismith got McLendon his first job, coaching in Lawrence public schools.

Then in 1941 he got his first college head coaching job at North Carolina College for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University. It’s easy to find his coaching records, the fact that he won three consecutive NAIA championship at Tennessee A&I in 1957, ‘58 and ‘59. He was the first coach to ever win back to back to back national championships. He broke a barrier when he became the first black professional coach in 1962 with the Cleveland Pipers of the old American Basketball League. And he broke another barrier in 1966 when he became the first black man to coach at a predominately white college, Cleveland State.

But if you want to know about McLendon the man, there’s only one person to talk to. Professor Milton Katz teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Katz’s office is filled with sports memorabilia, mostly baseball and, of course, basketball. While Kevin Willmott made the McLendon documentary, Katz was the driving force behind it.

“I’m a social historian. So I’ve written a lot about civil rights activists over the years and I’m a basketball enthusiast," says Katz. 

So when Katz moved to Kansas City in 1974 he went to the NAIA tournament at Municipal Auditorium downtown. That’s where he met McLendon. 

“What made me want to write about Coach McLendon was the incredible courage, fortitude and stamina he had to really break the color barrier in Kansas City in collegiate athletics,” Katz says. “He was an extremely humble man, an elegant man, highly educated and really a person with the finest moral character of anyone I’ve ever met.”

The finest moral character of anyone Katz ever met. You hear that sentiment from many others in the film. But just like every other sport in America, well almost every endeavor in America, it would take too long to truly recognize what he meant to basketball. McLendon did well, to be sure, after coaching he went on to a nice career with Converse sneakers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 as a contributor, whatever the hell that means, but finally was inducted as a coach last year at a ceremony in Springfield, Mass.

Even by then, Katz says, McLendon was a mystery to even the biggest basketball fans, “If he was white there’s no doubt that in 1970 when that first letter went to the Hall of Fame nominating as the fourth winnest coach in collegiate basketball he would have been in the Hall of Fame as a coach.”

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G.I. Joe From Kansas

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G.I. Joe From Kansas

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

We start this episode of Archiver in 1918, the end of the first World War, because the way America treated those veterans would forever change the way the country takes care of its soldiers, sailors and marines. Make no mistake, it would take decades plus lots of pain and suffering to do the right thing, but it happened. And wouldn’t you know it, it took a Kansan to get it done. 

The man who vastly improved the way America treats its veterans is Harry Colmery, a distinguished looking fellow who studied law at the University of Pittsburgh in his native Pennsylvania. His law career was interrupted by World War I were he served in the Army Air Service as an instructor and a pursuit pilot. 

After the war, Colmary settled in Topeka to practice with John S. Dean, a politically connected lawyer who was active in Republican politics and a progressive. Dean, and how odd is this Archiver fans, was also part of the legal team that helped strip goat gland doctor John R. Brinkley of his medical license in 1936. 

But back to Colmary. He was lucky. He had a profession and a job after the war. This wasn’t the case for millions of veterans who fought in trenches in France and Belgium. The government promised them future bonuses, but the Great Depression made the vets desperate for the money right away. 

In 1932 the the so-called “Bonus Army” descended on Washington and camped in the city. On July 28th, it boiled over. The bonus army was attacked by 200 cavalry troops with sabers drawn and 400 infantrymen with bayonets fixed. The troops were lead by none other than Gen. Douglas McArthur. 

For Harry Colmary back in Topeka, this was too much to take. In between wars he had already worked to change regulations so service members could be treated at Veterans Hospitals for non-service related problems. Then World War II started, and millions more men and women would join the military. This time, though, Harry Colmery was going to make sure veterans would come home to what we now would call a safety net.

Colmery designed and congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. We know it as the GI Bill of Rights.

The Roosevelt Administration was worried that America would plunge right back into a depression when the war ended. That’s why FDR and congress passed the GI Bill. It offered education benefits, no downpayment home loans and unemployment insurance. 

The number of students at the University of Kansas and Kansas State almost doubled after the war. The suburbs grew as veterans bought houses. But the GI Bill of Rights was not without its failures.

Because home loans were left to local officials, in the south black vets were often denied mortgages. Because many universities were segregated, in 1946 only 20 percent of blacks who applied for educational benefits actually enrolled in college. But the GI Bill would endure and be there for veterans of every war since.

Future wars would introduce us to Agent Orange, PTSD, trauma caused by IEDs. And how America cares for its veterans hasn’t gotten any less controversial. 

There’s been scandals at Veterans Administration hospitals, there’s some unscrupulous for-profit colleges that prey on veteran education benefits and it’s impossible to have a national political campaign without hearing about how America must do a better job taking care of vets. 

But here’s the thing; 75 years ago we couldn’t even have the debates or the fights because a veteran safety net simply didn’t exist. It didn’t exist until Harry Colmery put pen to paper in 1944. And then, he kind of vanished.

The VA put his name on its hospital in Topeka but that was it. Until last summer. That’s when some American Legion members in Topeka raised 400-thousand dollars to build a Colmery statute at Ninth and Kansas Avenue in downtown. It’s Colmery saluting, backed by a relief of service members.

The ceremony was captured on video by the American Legion and featured national commander Dale Barnett who said Colmery now gives all veterans at least a chance at a home, health care and an education.

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Kansas Killers And Our Rocky Relationship With Capital Punishment

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Kansas Killers And Our Rocky Relationship With Capital Punishment

Above photo of the gallows at Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas in 1965 - Kansas Memory

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

Clutter killer Bill Kickock - Kansas Memory

Clutter killer Bill Kickock - Kansas Memory

The murder of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959 in tiny Holcomb, Kansas, which is just outside Garden City in the southwest corner of the state, is certainly the state’s most famous homicide. Author Truman Captoe wrote about the murders in his now famous book “In Cold Blood”. He made millions, and put Holcomb on the map.

While the Clutter murders are the best known in Kansas history, they certainly aren't the most bizarre. The killers were eventually put to death, but the state hasn't always been in favor of the death penalty. In fact, Kansas has struggled with the capital punishment for most of its history.

Perry Smith and Bill Hickock used a shotgun to kill the four Clutters in their farmhouse. The two thought there was a safe full of money but there wasn’t. They got away with a little cash and a radio.

The crime would be shocking today but it’s hard to describe just how shocking it was in 1959.

Smith and Hickock would be captured in Vegas on December 30th, about six weeks after the murders. 

Things moved quickly. By March they were convicted and given a mandatory sentence of death.

Five years later, they were hanged in Lansing. First Hickock, who took 20 minutes to die, and then Smith. 

In 1935, Governor Alf Landon signs a new death penalty law in response, no doubt, to midwestern gangs like Ma Barker and her boys and Bonnie and Clyde who were robbing banks and killing cops. That’s also part of the reason the state created the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Between 1944 and 1954 there were executions, until Governor George Docking was elected. He refused to sign death warrants because he was morally opposed to capital punishment. 

His successor, John Anderson, a Johnson County lawyer and former state attorney general, had no such concerns and signed the death warrants for Hickock and Smith, and the last two men to be hanged in Kansas. Three months after Hickock and Smith, were executed George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham were hanged after a seven state crime spree where they killed nine people, one in Wallace, Kansas near the Colorado line.

So, Kansas had the death penalty, it didn’t, it did, it didn’t and its been 52 years since the state has executed anyone. And the death penalty is no less political or controversial right now. So political, in fact, it’s been a prominent feature of the last two elections in Kansas. Here’s a TV ad from 2014 when Governor Sam Brownback was running for re-election. He was in a very tight race with Democrat Paul Davis, so he turned to the Carr brothers from Wichita, convicted of killing five people in a crime spree in 2000:

In 2016 but there was an expensive campaign to oust four state Supreme Court justices because they blocked the Carr’s death sentences on procedural grounds. The U-S Supreme Court would eventually reinstate the death sentences. None of the justices were, in fact, ousted in the retention election. 

"I think it's very clear that Kansans have long been very skeptical about the death penalty," said Dr. Micah Kubic, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas. "I think that was also born out in a public opinion poll that we commissioned at the ACLU of Kansas earlier in 2016 that found very clear support for an alternative to the death penalty. When given the option, more people supported the idea of life imprisonment without parol than supported the death penalty."

Fact is even without much change to laws around the country the death penalty is falling out of favor. Ten years ago there were 53 executions in the U.S. Last year just 20. Oddly, or maybe not, all were in the south, expect for one in Missouri. All were by lethal injection. But there are still plenty of people on death row, ten in Kansas and 26 in Missouri.

"I do think however that there will be another effort to repeal the death penalty legislatively (in Kansas). Keep in mind, just a few years ago in frankly a more conservative time they were just one vote away form getting repeal in the sate Senate."

The arguments against capital punishment, Kubic told us, are numerous: because of the lengthy appeals, it took an average of 19 years for those executed in 2016 to have their sentences carried out, it’s more expensive, there’s the moral argument against the state killing someone, and the simple fact that mistakes are not an option and we know mistakes happen.

The argument given by former Governor George Docking, who lost his bid for a third term, many believe, because of his opposition to the death penalty, was much simpler: “I just don’t like killing people.”

Kansas State Capital - Sam Zeff

Kansas State Capital - Sam Zeff

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Disinter, A Calendar Spread and by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Dr. King's Last College Stop

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Dr. King's Last College Stop

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

The New York Times

The New York Times

On April 4th, 1968, the radio and TV crackled with awful news. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis.

For most, it would feel like the United States was coming apart at the seams in 1968: The Tet offensive in Vietnam, wild political conventions and assassinations: First King then Senator Robert Kennedy. Both great men would have ties to Kansas in 1968. Kennedy, as we talked about on a previous Archiver, gave his first speech in Kansas after he announced his presidential run

King would start his year at Kansas State University on January 19th, at a convocation in a jammed packed Ahearn Field House. King came away impressed and heartened by the students he met that day in Manhattan. But we didn’t know how impressed until decades later when hand written notes found in the suite jacket he was wearing the night he was shot surfaced. Notes directly about K-State. And his words that cold morning in Manhattan are as meaningful today as they were 48 years ago.

“You see a fact is merely the absence of contradiction but truth is the presence of coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. Now it is a fact that we have come a long, long way but it isn’t the whole truth. And if I stopped at this point, I’m afraid I would leave you the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality, and we would all go away the victims of a dangerous optimism. And so, in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to move on and not only talk about the problem in terms of progress that we have made but also to make it clear that we still have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved.”

Kansas Memory 

Kansas Memory 

King didn’t arrive at K-State without controversy or concern for his safety. The president at the time, James McCain, was criticized for bringing radicals to the KSU campus. The man who arranged the lecture, political science department chair William Boyer, received a threatening letter that he turned over to the FBI.

King’s speech was part lecture, part sermon. The first half was laden with facts and figures on poverty, unemployment and education. But then King transitioned from lecture to sermon. He didn’t have a speech, really, just notes. A King aid said the K-State speech was homiletics, the art of preaching.

"...I must say that it would be an act of moral irresponsibility for me to condemn riots and not be as vigorous in condemning the continued existence of intolerable conditions in our society which cause people to feel so angry and bitter that they conclude they have no alternative to get attention and to engage in this kind of violence. What we must see is that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? She has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. She has failed to hear the promises of freedom and equality that have not been met. America has failed to hear that have not been met. America has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, humanity, equality. And so it is still true that our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. As long as justice is postponed, we will be on the verge of social destruction.”

"As long as justice is postponed, we will be on the verge of social destruction." That was certainly true in 1968, but is it true today in Kansas?

We asked Kevin Willmot, a professor at KU and a filmmaker who's films deal with race and social justice. He grew up in Junction City, KS in the 1960s.  

"I was in fourth grade when King was assassinated. When the flash came across the tv, my mother started screaming," said Kevin, "I went to school the next day, and I was that current events kid that always talked about what was going on in the world. I raised my hand and said 'last night Martin Luther King was assasinated' and my teacher said 'we won't be talking about that'. I think that had a huge effect on me cause because I don't think I've stopped talking about it ever since."

Kevin Willmot is a filmmaker and professor at KU. His films deal with race and social justice.

Kevin Willmot is a filmmaker and professor at KU. His films deal with race and social justice.

"Dr. King being in Manhattan, I mean, that made you believe that the country was going to go towards King's dream. That that would maybe become the reality in American life. And everything that's been happening in the last few years, especially in Kansas, has told you that these people really don't believe in that dream. That the leadership doesn't maybe understand the dream; that they believe in a different dream. And that's the thing that's so frightening to people. That maybe there's another American that is growing right now, and certainly the President (Donald Trump) has become the symbol of that," said Kevin.

Why haven’t we learned what King tried to teach 48 years ago in Manhattan? Well, really big thinkers have failed to answer that question, and maybe we never will. But perhaps it has something to do with political leadership.

“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus,” King told the crowd.

"On some positions, cowards ask the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular. He must take it because conscience tells him that he is right.”

Dan Lykins unveiling a commemorative bust of Dr. King at K-State

Dan Lykins unveiling a commemorative bust of Dr. King at K-State

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Zither Spark, Snowdrift and In Passage by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Presidential Politics And The Man From Russell

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Presidential Politics And The Man From Russell

Please start by hearing Hail to the Chief in your head or maybe even going to YouTube to find a version, like this one from the Marine Corp Band.

Kansas hasn’t produced the number of presidents and presidential candidates as Virginia or New York but Kansans, both famous and obscure, have played an important role. We’ve had a war hero, a millionaire, a prohibitionist and a communist run for president. 

We’ll talk about all of them, but we will focus on the 1996 Bob Dole campaign against Bill Clinton, which touched on things we’re still grappling with in 2016. It will sound familiar, except for how it ends.

KU

KU

The first Kansan to run for president was John Pierce St. John, the eighth governor of the state, who ran on the Prohibition Party in 1884. He lost, of course, but some historians believe he won enough votes in the swing state of New York to propel Grover Cleveland into the White House. 

The first major party presidential candidate to come out of Kansas was Gov. Alf Landon who was somewhat of a Republican superstar for balancing the state budget during the depression. Some called him the “Kansas Coolige” but not all historians would agree. 

Landon made millions in oil and gas and would later go on to make even more money in radio. He was also the father of future Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum. 

Landon would lose in a landslide to Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, winning only Main and Vermont. He didn’t even carry Kansas.

Alf Landon campaigning for President.

Alf Landon campaigning for President.

Turns out Landon wasn’t the only Kansans on the ’36 ballot. There was also Earl Browder who was born in Wichita and was best remembered as the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA during the 1930s and first half of the 1940s.

The next Kansan to run was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. The country not only liked Ike but loved him and elected the World War Two hero twice. He crushed Adli Stevenson in both 1952 and 1956 with Richard Nixon as his running mate.

 

Both Landon and Ike would play up their Kansas roots as would the next Kansan to run, Sen. Bob Dole.

When you look back things often seem inevitable.

Dole announced in Topeka on April 10th, 1995. He said, “Today, tempered by adversity, seasoned by experience, mindful of the world as it is, yet confident it can be made better, I have come home to Kansas with a grateful heart to declare that I am a candidate for the presidency of the United States.”

Dole led Senate Republicans for years, he ran for v-p in 1976 with Jerry Ford, he was GOP national chairman. 

He was the odds on favorite when he got in the race in 1995 but there was a big field and diverse field. Pat Buchanan ran. So did billionaire Steve Forbes. Senators Lamar Alexander and Phil Gramm ran. Also some guy named Morry Taylor.

He was suppose to appear on the statehouse steps but the weather went south on him and they moved the event indoors. A lot of things would head south on Dole over the next 18 months.

The primary wasn’t a cake walk for Dole, he lost in New Hampshire, Arizona and Delaware, but in the end he got 59 percent of the primary vote with Buchanan finishing a distant second with 21 percent.

Dole was a conservative to be sure but he was a compromiser, someone you could deal with. But he was forced hard to the right by his primary challengers and that’s where he stayed. And just like Ike and Alf, Dole would sell himself as a plain spoken son of Kansas. Here he is accepting the nomination.

A couple of things about Dole in 1996. While 73 years old he looked great. Dark hair, tanned and looked like he could still be serving in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

KU

KU

But Dole wasn’t a great orator, he wasn’t folksy and at times had trouble sticking to the script and all that would hurt him against Bill Clinton, seeking his second term.

With a Clinton at the top of the ticket again this year, it’s a little spooky to see some of the same attacks from 20 years ago. Dole attacked Clinton for not being tough enough on illegal immigrants, on what kind of judges he would pick and charged that he was soft on crime. Has a 2016 ring to it, no? And while the republican candidate is the one with the sex scandals this year, Dole and the RNC had a field day with Clinton’s peccadillos.

But, in the end, nothing would help.

Clinton never trailed in the polls, the Dole campaign was in total disarray with epic infighting. The joke was the campaign would pick sites for a rally when Dole looked out of the plane window and decided to land.

In the last few days he lashed out not only at Clinton but the media, a sure sign in politics that things are going poorly. And in another nod to today, as the campaign neared its end, many congressional Republicans abandoned Dole to save themselves. 

The RNC spent $4 million in targeted districts to save their newly attained majorities in the House and Senate. But it was a pasting. Clinton got 379 electoral votes, Dole 159. In the popular vote, Clinton got 49 percent, Dole 41 percent and Ross Perot got eight percent. While Perot had some amusing moments, in the end his run doesn’t mean much today.

The next night, unburdened by a campaign he knew he was going to lose, Dole went on the David Letterman show where he was very funny. He joked that the $200 talent fee was the first work he had in a long time and that he called Clinton, collect, to concede. 

Dole quit as senate majority leader and gave up his beloved senate seat to run for president. Something the New York Times noted in it’s day after election piece:

“Mr. Dole sacrificed these things not merely to lose the Presidency, but to run one of the most ineffectual Presidential campaigns in recent memory. Always the legislative tactician, Mr. Dole, according to his close associates, approached the Presidential race much as he did a Congressional negotiating session, believing that the key to victory was a clever endgame strategy. But so bleak were the polls, and for so long, that Mr. Dole was forced to realize, far earlier than most losing candidates, that the endgame would probably not be enough.”

Ineffectual and bleak. Wow. 

In his concession speech Dole called Clinton his opponent, not his enemy. As we write this, we don’t know the outcome of the Clinton-Trump race. But I don’t think it will end with someone saying that. Is that small town Kansas talking or just a different political era?

I don’t know, but it sure seems gracious and maybe even quaint.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is City Limits, Heliotrope, and Manele by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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The Plow That Broke The Plains

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The Plow That Broke The Plains

In 1936 the federal government released a film. They called it a documentary, but it was mostly propaganda. Many would argue that its cause was noble rather than sinister. Others, as we’ll see, would vehemently disagree. But to understand why the federal government got into the propaganda film business, you first need to understand the Dust Bowl.

To understand what life was like for Kansans who lived through the Dust Bowl, we searched deep into the oral history collection at the Kansas Historical Society. These are excerpts of recordings we found from people who lived during that time:

"Tell you a little bit about the dust storms. They did not blow in. There was no wind. It was quite as could be, still."

"By the time it (dust storm) got over as far as our place, we couldn't see the neighbors we couldn't see our own front porch light. It was frightening. You thought at first that you'd gotten in on the last day in the world."

"Our youngest child was only about two years old, and at night I would wet one of the crib sheets and put it over the crib so he could breathe."

"It was rough but we learned to accept our lot in life and look for better times."

As you can see, life was rough for everyone during the Dust Bowl. The Department of Agriculture decided much of the Dust Bowl was the fault of bad farming practices, and it wanted them stopped. To do that, they needed farmers to buy into new programs and need congress to fund them. 

And that’s where our film comes in. It was called "The Plow That Broke The Plains". While paid for by the federal government it was the brainchild of first time director Pare Lorentz.

Parts of it were shot in Kansas and the lush score, as much a character in the film as the land, was composed by Virgil Thompson who was born in Kansas City. 

Film was becoming the most powerful media of the time, and Washington was going to use it to change hearts and minds. The government wanted to show that there are good ways to use the land and bad ways.

The film shows cattle and cowboys using the vast grasslands of the plains to raise beef. But suddenly the music changes, the visuals go from the natural beauty of the plains to farmers cultivating it. You see plows breaking the plains. It’s ominous. 

The swath of the Great Plains that stretched from Canada to the Rio Grande was super productive for many years. There were several years of record rainfall early in the century, and because farmers used mules rather than tractors to plow, the land used for wheat was somewhat limited. 

But then the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo changed farming in Kansas.

England declares war in Germany, Belgium Invaded screams the fake headline in the film. And then the headline changes to: "War News Tumbles Securities, Stock Exchange Closed, Wheat Prices Soar. Plow To The Fence For National Defense". 

Now the movie shows tractors in formation plowing the plains. If they look like tanks entering battle, well, so much the better. In fact, at one point tanks and tractors are intercut. War, of course, needs soldiers and soldiers must be fed so the governmentwas buying everything in sight.

 

After the allies win the war land speculators encourage some of the returning doughboys and others to move to the plains and put even more land into production. Then the stock market crashed in 1929. And in short order wheat prices plunged from $25 a bushel in 1929 to just 39 cents in 1932.

There’s a confluence of events in the early 30s that lead to the production of "The Plow that Broke the Plains". Land was being over-farmed. Much of that land should have never been plowed. The rain stops. And Franklin Roosevelt is in the White House. FDR creates something called the Resettlement Administration in 1935. Its mission was to move farmers off marginal land in the Dust Bowl region and help them move to other parts of the country. The government made this film to sell its plan to congress and voters. It would make many other movies during the depression but this was the first and it just didn’t sit well with many in Kansas.

William Lindsey White, son of William Allen, would write from Washington that “the film was destined to rot slowly in the archives as an official congressional document.”

He wasn’t wrong about that. The film was mostly rejected, propaganda many theater owners said. But the movie’s failure at the box office didn’t bury director Pare Lorentz. Lorentz was a new dealer through-and-through. He was often called “FDR’s film maker.”

Lorentz would go on to direct two other classic propaganda films for the government: "The River", about the Tennessee Valley Authority and "The Fight for Life", about infant mortality in America. Lorentz died in 1992 at age 86, but his career as documentarian isn’t forgotten. Young film makers are trained at the Pare Lorentz Institute at the FDR Library. 

Virgil Thompson, who wrote the score, grew up in Kansas City but he spent his career in New York. He was a friend of Gertrud Stein and a peer of Aaron Copeland. Thompson would also work with Lorentz on The River. And in one more little connection to Kansas, that score was used in the 1983 movie The Day After, a film about nuclear war shot in Lawrence. Thompson died in 1989 at age 92.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Snowcrop and A Rush of Clear Water by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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The Battle At Tuttle Creek

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The Battle At Tuttle Creek

To understand the battle at Tuttle Creek you need to know just how bad the flood of 1951 was in Kansas. 

There’s an amazing British Pathe newsreel (https://youtu.be/FTXV9plm7ck) that was filmed in 1951 after pounding rain caused flood waters to sweep down the Kansas River from near Manhattan and into Kansas City, swamping Emporia, Salina and other parts of the state. 

The film is dramatic. Cars float by in Topeka, rail cars disappear under water in Kansas City, dozens are rescued by boat in Manhattan. And it’s right near Manhattan that our flood story turns contentious, a little dangerous, and decidedly Hollywood. 

By all accounts the Blue Valley of Kansas was happy and peaceful. It was not only beautiful but also had some of the most productive farm land in Kansas. By 1951, some families had been farming there for three generations.

The valley gets its name from the Big Blue River. Its headwaters are in Nebraska, and it flows south until it meets the Kansas River right near Manhattan. It’s part of the greater Missouri River basin. 

While that was ground zero for the ’51 flood, the fact is flooding in a number of river basins around Kansas had been a problem the federal government had been fretting about for a long time.

Screen Shot 2016-09-29 at 12.41.08 PM.png

After years of research, interupted by World War II, the government came up with something called the Pick-Sloan plan. It was named after Lewis Pick and William Sloan, both men with roots in the Army Corp of Engineers. 

It was a massive plan, calling for 107 dams, 1,500 miles of protective levees, 4.7 million acres of irrigation systems, and 1.6 million kilowatts of electric power thrown in to boot, all at a staggering cost of $200 million. The project today would cost $2.7 billion.

That investment, the government said, would prevent the kind of devastating floods that swept down the Kaw in 1951. Those floods killed seventeen people, and a half million more were displaced. It caused almost a billion dollars in damage. Some people called July 13th, 1951, the day the waters started to rise, Black Friday.

With all the devastation, you’d think everyone would want to try and control the rivers to mitigate flooding. But in one part of Kansas, just the opposite happened.

“The Tuttle Creek Story” is an amazing bit of propaganda filmmaking financed by the people of the Blue Valley as they fought the federal government’s plan to dam up Tuttle Creek and create the Tuttle Creek Reservoir.

In the end, of course, the dam would be built and the reservoir is now the second biggest artificial lake in Kansas. Ten towns disappeared in the process and some 3,000 people lost their homes, farms and businesses.

The people did not go down without a fight, though. They hired a Hollywood producer named Charles M. Peters to produce "The Tuttle Creek Story". Peters would also produce a similar land rights film in San Diego with famed directors Cecil B. DeMill and Frank Capra. 

"The Tuttle Creek Story" artfully contrasts the gorgeous fields and down home looks of the Blue Valley residents, with ominous marching boots, made up scare headlines and dark music. The movie wants you to believe the federal government is invading this bucolic valley for some nefarious but undefined purpose.

There are reports at the time of some residents who went to work for the corp being harassed and some tense moments between residents of the Army Corp.

It wasn’t obvious how the Blue Valley residents found movie producer Charles Peters, there seems to be no documents or news stories pointing in that direction. But then we stumbled across a movie called "The Fallbrook Story", with an introduction by Cecil B. DeMill of all people.

The Fallbrook Story involves water rights near San Diego when the federal government moved in to gobble up land to build Camp Pendleton, the massive Marine Corp base. The film was directed by Frank Capra in 1952, just a year before "The Tuttle Creek Story", and produced by Peters.

They sure feel the same.

"The Tuttle Creek Story" is not 100 percent propaganda. The residents also suggest other ways to control flooding. Stop the water where it falls, the film preached.

But. the dam is built, of course, and in 1963 the lake starts to fill. And more than 50 years later, it turns out the Tuttle Creek warriors maybe were right.

Countless millions of people have swam, boated and fished in the reservoirs created by the Sloan-Pick plan in Kansas. But half a century later they need some tending too, some very expensive tending to.

Right now the state is spending $25 million at the John Redmond reservoir near Burlington to dredge it of silt. That reservoir supplies water to the Wolf Creek Nuclear power plant.

Rex Buchanan, who runs the Kansas Geological Survey says most of these lakes will need dredging so the silt doesn’t fill in big chunks of the reservoirs and dramatically lower the water capacity.

If this story reminds you of, say, Cliven Bundy in a stand off with the Bureau of Land Management, well, I thought that too. And while there is a clear distrust of the Army Corp, the notion of citizens armed with rifles staring down government agents just doesn’t seem possible in 1950s Kansas. 

"The Tuttle Creek Story" had its premiere in Randolph, Kansas on September 18th, 1953. It showed continually in two schools from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Some 6,000 people saw it on that day. 

The Blue Valley residents did manage to stop the project for a couple of years. But in the end no film and no amount of community organizing could keep ten Kansas towns from disappearing to the bottom of the Tuttle Creek Reservoir.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Traceless and Drifting Spade by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Basketball, Big Dollars, And The Man From Lawrence Kansas

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Basketball, Big Dollars, And The Man From Lawrence Kansas

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

Sam Zeff

Sam Zeff

We take it as a matter of fact now that sports are big business. Professional sports are a huge business, but almost all the rest are at at least big. College coaches make millions of dollars for coaching and millions more for shoe endorsements, TV, and camps. But it wasn’t always this way. We were reminded of that by a recently discovered radio broadcast from New Year’s Eve, 1939 on WOR. 

Gabriel Heatter introduced “We the People”, a regular Sunday night broadcast. Heatter loved uplifting stories, especially about dogs, but on this night we’d hear from the man who today has a street, a dorm, and a basketball court named after him.

Dr. James Naismith talked about the first basketball game in Springfield, Mass in 1891. He had two peach baskets nailed to the wall, an old soccer ball, and instructions to find some indoor activity for a bunch of young men couped up by “a real New England blizzard.”

"The boys began tackling, kicking, and punching," Naismith said. "They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor. Before I could pull them apart, one boy was knocked out, several of them had black eyes, and one had a dislocated shoulder. It was certainly murder,” Naismith said on the broadcast. 

Kansas Historical Society 

Kansas Historical Society 

"Well, after that first match, I was afraid they'd kill each other. But they kept nagging me to let them play again. So I made up some more rules. The most important one was there was to be no running with the ball. That stopped the tackling and slugging. We tried out the game with those rules and we didn't have one casualty. We had a fine, clean sport."

Two pages of typed rules would later lead to a globle, multi-billion dollar sport. But Naismith had issues with the game he invented, some of the same issues we have today.

Naismith was born in Ontario in 1861. His parents immigrated to Canada from Scotland. He went to school at McGill University in Montreal where he played rugby, lacrosse, and soccer. But he excelled in gymnastics. He’d go on to get a BA in physical education, and later go on to become an ordained minister, and a medical doctor. 

Naismith arrived at the University of Kanas in 1898. At a time when the world celebrated Renaissance men, James Naismith more than fit the bill. Now, though, we celebrate him for the invention of basketball, a game that is global and growing. But unlike any other sport in America, there is a founding document and a founding father.

The college game is faster now, and not segregated as it was then. But when you read the rules, Naismith would certainly recognize the game he invented back in Springfield, Mass. Recognize it, but he just might loath what it has become

The rules sold for $4.3 million at auction. The DeBruce Center where the rules are housed cost $21.7 million. All the money was privately raised.

The center is attached to Allen Fieldhouse, arguably one of the most valuable venues in college sports.

Naismith didn’t address the commercialization in that 1939 broadcast, but he had his worries many years before.

Here’s part of what he had to say in the May, 1911 edition of the Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas in a piece titled Commercialism in Sports.

“By commercialism is meant the paying of those who take part in athletics of any kind, either in money or in rewards which have a money value...” the subject, he goes on to say, “is not an easy one to handle for it is far from being settled.”

Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

And then Naismith says this: "There is not a governing body of athletics today but would be glad of information leading to a solution of the problem in such a way as to advance the interests of the athletes and the sports.”

Sound familiar? We talk about these issues today.

Should we now pay college athletes as well as provide them scholarships? Do athletics add to the mission of a college? Is a hundred dollars a ticket a little too much for a college sporting event?

Naismith recognized that people could make a living playing sports. He mentions baseball as being far more a pro sport than an amateur one in 1911, and he talks about other positives things.

But here’s how he wraps up:

“The college student is the hero of the high-school boy. It is the duty of every student to align himself with the highest and most advanced ideals of sport as well as everything else...”

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Begrudge and City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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The Sudden Need To Run

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The Sudden Need To Run

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

If 2016 is the most tumultuous presidential election year you’ve ever seen that simply means you weren’t alive or paying attention in 1968. 

The year was marked by assassinations, a war in Vietnam that went from awful to worse, and bitter fights for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. But the political craziness really took off in March of that year.

President Lyndon Johnson was wildly unpopular, and he was being challenged from the left by Sen. Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota. On March 12, the two battled to a tie in New Hampshire. A week later, Robert F. Kennedy suddenly and unexpectedly entered the race.

Then, LBJ surprised the country during a nationally televised speech.

“With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country,” Johnson said at the very end of his speech. Then he said one of the most quoted sentences ever from an American president: “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” 

With a sitting president out of the race, the Democratic and Republican fields were wide open. And for a couple of days in mid-March, most political eyes settled on Kansas when Ronald F. Kennedy, the young senator from New York, showed up.

First, a little about why Bobby got into the race and what drove LBJ out. Johnson won in a landslide in 1964, the biggest landslide since Kansas Governor Alf Landon got pasted by FDR in 1936.

In 1964, Johnson had pushed through the most significant civil rights bill since the Civil War, and he was pushing his Great Society package of social reforms: Medicaid, Medicare, and federal funding for education.

As high as Johnson was riding in 1964 and 1965, that’s how low his presidency had sunk by 1968. His approval rating was 35 percent. The last shreds of hope for Vietnam disappeared in late January with the Tet offensive. 

Students held hunger strikes in Boston in February, protesting the war. The Black Panther Party was gaining prominence. LBJ was weak but no big name Democrat would step up to run against him. Then Sen. Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota got in the race as the anti-war candidate.

LBJ ran in the New Hampshire primary, getting 49 percent of the vote. But McCarthy shocked everyone and got 43 percent. Johnson knew he was done. Then, in a move that would be inconceivable today, Bobby Kennedy announced on March 16th, just five months before the convention in Chicago, that he was running for president. And two days later RFK lands in one of the lest likely places a brand new presidential candidate could go right out of the gate, Manhattan, Kansas.

It wasn’t a mistake or bad staff work that Bobby started his campaign in Ahearn Field House on the K-State campus. He had already agreed to do a Landon Lecture, the series is venerable now but only a couple of years old in 1968. It was titled “Conflict in Vietnam and at Home.”

He would make a day of it Kansas, addressing a packed Allen Fieldhouse at KU and making a stop at Haskell Indian Institute, as it was known at the time. Kennedy would talk about very serious topics and we’ll get to the politics behind his trip, but who introduced him at K-State is important. 

Bobby was introduced by Republican Sen. Jim Pearson. Also on hand was Democratic Gov. Robert Docking. A presidential candidate was in the state and back then, that called for a little bi-partianship.

But most everyone wanted to hear RFK speak about Vietnam. That was the reason he was in the race and LBJ was on his way out. Here’s part of what he had to say at K-State:

“I do not want – as I believe most Americans do not want – to sell out American interests, to simply withdraw, to raise the white flag of surrender. That would be unacceptable to us as a country and as a people. But I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that we are acting as if no other nations existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that our present course will not bring victory; will not bring peace; will not stop the bloodshed; and will not advance the interests of the United States or the cause of peace in the world. I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of this war, more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese slaughtered; so that they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: 'They made a desert, and called it peace.'"

Kennedy would make some of the same remarks in Lawrence, where they let kids out of school to attend the speech. But he also talked about other issues, issues that we still hear about today. Here he is in Allen Fieldhouse:

“And if we seem powerless to stop this growing division between Americans, who at least confront one another, there are millions more living in the hidden places, whose names and faces are completely unknown but I have seen these other Americans. I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will have no future.

I have seen children in Mississippi here in the United States with a gross national product of $800 billion dollars I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven't developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed, I don't think that's acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change. I have seen Indians living on their bare and meager reservations, with no jobs, with an unemployment rate of 80 percent, and with so little hope for them future, so little hope for the future that for young people, for young men and women in their teens, the greatest cause of death amongst them is suicide.”

If you read or listen to either of Robert Kennedy’s speeches in Kansas on March 18th, 1968, you’ll be struck by how the themes resonate today. But you’ll also be struck by the writing: it’s both clear and scholarly. Sometimes he even sounds like his brother. This is a passage from his K-State speech. It comes pretty early and he’s just starting to talk about Vietnam:

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests.” Kennedy goes go to quote the Greek play, the Antigone of Sophocles: "All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride'."

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. The other music used in this episode is Slow Motion Strut Version Two by Dexter Britain, and What is Whispered in Your Ear Proclaim It From The Rooftops by James Joshua Otto. Both have been edited.

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TV, The Triple Play, and the Man from Dodge

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TV, The Triple Play, and the Man from Dodge

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

I want to tell you about a scandal. It's the only scandal in the history of the Kansas court system. It’s the story of an ambitious politician that tainted both the governorship and the state’s highest court.

The story starts on September 23, 1952 at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. There Richard Nixon would deliver his famous “Checkers” speech.

At the time he had just been nominated as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate, but the press got wind of a secret fund Nixon’s supporters created for him to pay political expenses. Not surprisingly, charges of improprieties surfaced followed by calls for him to resign from the ticket.

So, Nixon did something that’s never been done, he went directly to the people on television.

Going straight to the people seems so easy now, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter. But 60 years ago it was unheard of to go around the media was revolutionary. 

We can’t know for sure, but it’s a pretty good bet that a 36 year old Dodge City Republican name Fred Lee Hall was watching.

The night of the Nixon speech, Hall was Kansas Lieutenant Governor. Hall was ambitious, but unpopular among the GOP elite in Kansas. He would go on to be elected governor, but find himself on the outskirts of the party. 

Hall, like Nixon, would go directly to the people on TV, and he would change politics and the legal system in Kansas in a way we that we are still feeling right this minute.

There’s two things that strike people about Fred Hall. First, there’s a bit of Bernie Sanders in his politics, he’s way more liberal than most Republicans in Kansas at the time. He was for pumping more money into public education and prisons. And, he was pro union. While most Republicans in the state weren’t as conservative as they are now, they certainly were not pro union. That, more than anything, would drive the Fred Hall story.

After two terms as Lieutenant Governor, he won the Republican nomination for governor in 1954, albeit with little enthusiasm from the party. It was pretty clear the GOP wouldn't tolerate another Hall term in 1956, and that was especially true after he battled the Legislature. 

In 1956, he had a tough GOP primary ahead, and without party backing he did what virtually no politician had done before; he went on television to speak directly to the people. 

The first of his 30 minute television specials aired in January, 1956. These half hour shows aired on WIBW in Topeka, KAKE in Wichita, and WDAF in Kansas City. And the TV shows may have added to Hall’s trouble with the party.

In one show, he talked about pumping more money into prisons. He wanted to not just incarcerate people but try to rehabilitate them with education and psychological help. In another, he went on about how important public schools are, and how Kansas not only needed more teachers but to pay them more money. And in all of them, he talked about the cabal of men running the state and how he was elected to “throw the rascals out”.

But nothing helped, Hall became the only sitting governor in Kansas history to lose the Republican primary. He was the lamest of lame ducks. But Hall wasn't done. He had a reputation for being aggressive and pugnacious. But nobody could have predicted his next move.

His next move was a conspiracy that was both sleazy and genius. Fred Hall had no plans to move back to Dodge City as a loser, as a one-term governor. He concocted the only judicial scandal in Kansas history. It even has a cool name: the Triple Play. 

In addition to Hall, there were two other actors in the Triple Play. First, there was the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, William Smith, a long time Republican party stalwart. Remember, Kansas was electing judges back then.

How long had Smith been a player in GOP politics? Remember the Archiver episode on John Brinkley, the goat gland doctors who ran a write-in campaign for governor in 1930? Well, many believed Brinkley might have won had not so many ballots been disallowed. The man in charge of deciding which ballots were legal? William Smith, who was state attorney general at the time. 

The other player was Lt. Governor John McCuish. He was a newspaperman by trade, he owned the Harvey County Times in his hometown of Newton. 

So, here’s the triple play: 

On December 31st, 1956, Smith sent a letter to the Secretary of State resigning as Chief Justice. Smith was ill and wanted to resign, but being a good Republican, he didn’t want to quit and let the newly elected Democratic Governor George Docking pick his replacement. Then on January 3, 1957 Hall sent a similar letter, quitting just 11 days before his term ended. McCuish was in the hospital in Newton and Hall dispatched a Highway Patrolman to bring him back to Topeka. McCuish was automatically elevated to Governor and he immediately appointed Hall to the state’s highest court and The Triple Play was done. Hall was on the supreme court where he hoped to launch a future bid for governor.

But Kansas wasn’t used to that kind of back room deal and the backlash was immediate and severe. This is what the Kansas City Times had to say in January 1957, The headline was “A Brazen, Raw Deal for Kansas Justice”: 

“The deal was cloaked in deepest secrecy. This indicated the participants were fearful of public reaction and did not believe it could stand the light of day. Involved was not merely a political appointment. It was an appointment to the highest court in the state.”

In the 1957 session, the Legislature would pass a constitutional amendment requiring justices to be chosen with a merit system. The next year, the amendment passed with 70 percent of the vote. And everyone was happy at least until a few years ago.

Fred Hall had no way of knowing that The Triple Play would directly affect one of the hottest issues in Kansas politics today, how the state funds public education. 

Up until the 1990's, nobody thought much about how Kansas picked supreme court justices and judges for the court of appeals. Except for The Triple Play, there had never been a scandal, Kansas courts generally had a good reputation. But, in 1992, a lawsuit now known as Montoy v. Kansas was filed alleging the state wasn’t putting enough money in the school system and that violated article six of the state constitution.

The case gets to the supreme court and the justices agree, Kansas lawmakers needed to find more money for schools. The state also lost a case called Gannon, the case that is now causing conservatives in the Legislature and Governor Brownback to desperately want to dump the merit system that was born from the triple play.

For all the turmoil and trouble Fred Hall would cause, his stint on the Kansas political stage was pretty brief. He spent just two years as a justice, resigning in 1958 to make another run at the Republican nomination for governor, where he was trounced by 60 points by Clyde Reed, Junior who spent most of his life as the editor of the Parsons Sun.

Hall would go on to a successful career as a lawyer in California in the booming aeronautics business. He eventually returned to Dodge to practice law. But in his fairly brief political career he introduced television to Kansas politics and a scandal to the court system. He would be responsible for radically changing the way judges are picked and for the political battle over the same thing today.

Hall died in 1970. He was only 53.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Ladybirds Theme by David Szesztay, Cocek by The Underscore Orchestra, and Sweet Georgia Brown by Latche Swing; all three have been edited.

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