Kansas entered the Union more than a century and a half ago as a free state, banning slavery. But from public and private businesses to its flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Kansas, the state was long torn between lofty ideals and racist realities. African Americans looking for homes and livelihoods encountered a rigid color line.
Change would be painfully slow in coming.
Historian Bill Tuttle, a professor emeritus at KU, examines the 105-year struggle for equality at the university and across Kansas in a presentation, Separate But Not Equal: The Quest for African American Civil Rights at the University of Kansas, 1865-1970, on Sunday, November 16, 2014, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. The event is part of the Library's Missouri Valley Sundays series.
The series, a program of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Central Library, is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
KU, like the city of Lawrence and the state itself, operated for decades on two levels. While congratulating itself on a racially open admissions policy, the school enforced a Jim Crow system of separation on campus.
The university enrolled its first African American student in 1876 and graduated its first in 1885. A year later, in 1886, an editorial in KU's student newspaper emphasized that "equality did not mean community. ... It seems a matter of mutual pleasure that the two societies (of whites and blacks) should be separate and independent."
By the 1940s and '50s, the local civil rights movement was challenging racism in housing, restaurants, movie theaters, and other venues. Those efforts grew more aggressive in the '60s, moving to the streets and ultimately triggering violence. In 1970, two teens - one a former KU student who was African American, the other a freshman at the school who was white - were shot to death by Lawrence police.
Nonetheless, the tide in racial equality was turning.
Tuttle taught American studies, history, and African and African American studies at the University of Kansas, offering the university's first courses in African American history and post-World War II American history. His books include Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 and "Daddy's Gone to War": The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children.
Admission to his presentation is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th & Baltimore.