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  • NEKS Tourism

Celebrating Black History Month in Northeast Kansas: A Journey through History

Updated: Jan 26

As Black History Month unfolds, Northeast Kansas Tourism invites you to embark on a journey through our rich cultural heritage. From the birthplace of a groundbreaking basketball coach to pivotal moments in civil rights history, our communities are proud to showcase the significant contributions of African Americans. Join us on a journey through time as we uncover the impactful Black history embedded in the very soil of this captivating region, revealing stories that deserve to be celebrated, remembered, and shared.




Hiawatha - Honoring Coach John McLendon, Jr.

In Hiawatha, KS great pride is taken in being the birthplace of Coach John McLendon, Jr., a trailblazer in the world of basketball. To pay homage to his legacy, Hiawatha proudly displays signs along US Highway 73 and U.S. 36 Highway, near the West Oregon entrance. Coach McLendon was the first college basketball coach ever to have won three consecutive national titles and the first African American basketball coach at a predominantly white university. He also had the  distinction of being the first African American head coach in professional sports, inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.


Merriam - Pivotal Moments in Black History

Merriam, KS is steeped in Black history, marked by pivotal moments like the 1949 Webb v School District No. 90 lawsuit ending segregation which later led to the state case, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. We continue to honor this legacy through events like the February art exhibit, "African Americans and the Arts," at the Tim Murphy Art Gallery, and historic sites and markers showcasing key moments. Explore Merriam's Black history at exploremerriam.com/history.


Leavenworth - Military Heritage and Civilian Heroes:

As a longstanding military town, Leavenworth, KS, embraces its African-American military heritage. Visit the Richard Allen Cultural Center & Museum to learn about the achievements of Buffalo Soldiers, pioneering cavalries with a significant place in history. Walk among the monuments at Fort Leavenworth's Circle of Firsts, discovering trailblazers like General Colin Powell, the women of the 6888th Battalion, and more. Additionally, honor the civilian heroes who paved the road to freedom, including the historic Bethel AME Church, a stop along the Underground Railroad. Learn more at visitleavenworthks.com.


Topeka - Birthplace of Landmark Decisions and Black Excellence

Topeka, KS, holds a significant place in history as the birthplace of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. Visitors can explore the national historic site and museum dedicated to this pivotal event, gaining insights into the 1954 court decision and its integral role in the broader U.S. Civil Rights Movement. The city's rich heritage is celebrated through landmarks like the Brown v. Board mural, offering a colorful commemoration of justice and peace. Topeka also boasts a proud history of Black excellence, featuring notable figures such as Langston Hughes, a Harlem Renaissance poet, novelist, and playwright, as well as Nick Chiles, editor and publisher of the long-running Black-owned Topeka Plaindealer newspaper.

 

The 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision is being celebrated in Topeka through a Civil Rights Summer 2024 initiative. The project includes live performances, art installations, and a co-creation process where community members share their stories of the Brown decision's impact on their lives. Keep an eye out for more information from Visit Topeka!


Lawrence - Grover Barn and the Underground Railroad

In Lawrence, KS discover the Grover Barn, built in 1858 by abolitionists Joel and Emily Grover. This historic barn played a significant role in the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Kansas. Recognized as one of the nation's best-documented stations on the Underground Railroad, the Grover Barn stands as one of the best-preserved sites of its kind in Lawrence. Designated as an Underground Railroad site on the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the Grover Barn invites you to step back in time and explore this crucial chapter in our nation's history. Learn more: https://www.explorelawrence.com/listing/grover-barn/6196/


Overland Park

Overland Park, KS is fortunate to have a variety of culturally significant artwork honoring black history that is easily accessible to visitors. “Let the Music Play” is a vibrant work that pays homage to Kansas City’s roots in jazz that hangs in City Hall. The building also features “Love and Apathy” by Kwanza Humphrey, a colorful oil on canvas work will leave you wondering what the subjects are thinking about and considering their life stories. The Overland Park Convention Center is home to “Inner City Despair” by Terry Lynn Beavers and “Cardinal Haven,” by Jonathan Knight. And don’t miss the stunning mural in downtown OP created for Ten Thousand Villages by Artist JT Daniels. The store is a global maker‑to‑market movement that breaks the cycle of generational poverty and ignites social change by empowering you to shop for unique and ethically sourced wares. Learn more about Overland Park's Black history recognition.


Kansas City - Quindaro Ruins Overlook:

The Northeast area of Kansas City, KS holds significance to our nation's most important lesson, and perhaps there is no more impactful place in the city to reflect on this than the Quindaro Ruins Overlook. Founded in 1856, Quindaro Town, named for Nancy Quindaro Brown, was a once-bustling Civil War-era port of entry into Kansas and stop on the Underground Railroad. The ruins of the town can be viewed from a stone platform at the Quindaro Ruins Overlook. The archeological ruins serve as a monument to racial harmony and to freedom. They have cultural and historical value for the descendants of Native Americans who once owned and occupied the site, for African Americans whose ancestors once looked to Quindaro as a gateway to freedom and for the descendants of European Americans who saw the need to found a Free State port and fight slavery. In April of 2019, the federal government officially designated Quindaro as a National Commemorative Site.


Northeast Kansas welcomes you to explore the diverse and impactful history of our communities during Black History Month. Join us in honoring the past, celebrating the present, and shaping a future that embraces the contributions of all. Come experience the richness of our heritage and learn about the stories and sites that make Northeast Kansas a destination worth visiting.

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