Soul Of America





Kansas African American Museum, Wichita


   Situated in the middle of the Heartland near Interstates 35 and 135, and only 162 miles from Oklahoma City, 176 miles from Tulsa and 199 miles from Kansas City, respectively, Wichita possesses a great deal of history. Wichita was named after the Wichita Indians who originally inhabited the area. The city began as a trading post at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers in the mid-1800s when frontiersmen and traders came through the area. They eventually established the Chisholm Trail, named after pioneer Jesse Chisholm.

   Around 1872, the city began to flourish with the arrival of a branch of the Santa Fe Railroad, followed by a huge influx of cattle drives from Texas--some 350,000 head--that initially moved through. The cowboys stayed and established cattle farms here and a true “Cowtown” was born. Crops followed in the 1890s and within two decades oil surfaced, again significantly altering the direction of the economic landscape. Then there was the aircraft industry in the 1920s that eventually earned Wichita the moniker, "Air Capital of America."

   Hamburger fans will be interested to learn that Wichita is the home of White Castle. The first of its kind for its small square hamburgers, the chain was founded here in the early 1920s by Walter Anderson and has been an Americana staple in many cities for decades.

   Now the largest city in Kansas, Wichita has a population of approximately 500,000 people in the metropolitan—Sedgwick County—area, and hosts 3.5 million visitors each year. It also has been ranked #3 on the Automobile Association of America’s list of most affordable cities to visit in the United States, and as one of most affordable cities in the Midwest by Forbes Magazine Online.

   There are many African American forefathers and foremothers who have left an indelible mark on the city’s history – both past and present. That history includes the story of The Wichita Monrovians, an all-Black professional baseball team here in 1922, named for the capital city of Monrovia, Liberia in Western Africa. These ballplayers were so skilled that they defeated both black and white teams, raised funds for a local African American children’s home, had their own ballpark and at one time, defeated the Wichita (Ku Klux) Klan baseball team.

   Wichita is the location of what is believed by many to be one of the first lunch counter sit-ins in the country at Dockum Drug Store, a now defunct Kansas chain that had locations downtown and at what would be considered Wichita suburbs. It occurred in Summer 1958, following Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi’s example of non-violent protests.

   Today, Blacks constitute approximately nine percent of the 500,000 people in the metropolitan area. Yet it is important to note that the current mayor, police and fire chiefs are all African American, a clear indication that African Americans continue to play an important role in the city’s cultural, political, social, tourism and economic landscape.

   Many, particularly those who live outside of the Midwest, will be surprised to learn about all of the African Americans who have roots or made significant contributions in Wichita and/or Kansas. These folks include Broadway actress and singer Karla Burns; the legendary Hattie McDaniel; Donald L. Hollowell, a civil rights attorney recognized for working to desegregate Georgia schools and freeing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from prison; and Gwendolyn Brooks (born in Topeka, Kansas) the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Football great Barry Sanders born here, holds annual golf tournaments at the local Boys and Girls club and was honored with the Barry Sanders Football Field in McAdams Park.

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