Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2008

King Day and Kansas Day two sides of the same coin

January 23, 2008

It seems appropriate that Martin Luther King Day and Kansas Day fall during the latter part of the same month.

Kansas is an important state in the history of the Civil Rights movement. It became the focus of the struggle between the pro-slavery camp and the anti-slavery camp after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill on May 30, 1854.

This broke the detente in the nation brought about by the 1820 Missouri Compromise which had stopped the inauguration of any more slave-owning states into the Union. Pro-slavery forces hailed the new legislation which allowed the population of a state to decide whether slavery would be legal or not. Anti-slavery forces reviled the act and began flooding the new territory with those who would vote against the institution.

Before long, Kansas territory became "bleeding Kansas." Its induction into the Union as a free state Jan. 29, 1861, by the newly elected Republican President Abraham Lincoln was the turning point which sealed the inevitability of a civil war between the pro- and anti-slavery states.

Although the victory of the anti-slavery forces meant that the peculiar institution of slavery was abolished, the struggle by African-Americans to become equal in all aspects of life was far from over. Jim Crow laws and the doctrine of "separate but equal" in education kept African-Americans from achieving true equality for many years.

This struggle once again focused on our state when the famous case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka went to the United States Supreme Court. Nine judges gave a unanimous opinion declaring that separate schools for black and white students denied black children equal opportunities in education.

One of the attorneys helping with the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was an African American, Thurgood Marshall, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 after he won a huge preponderance of cases before that court as U.S. Solicitor General.

As a Kansan with deep roots in this state's history, I am proud of this record of guarding against discrimination.

My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Milburn, was one of those people who came to Kansas when it was yet a territory.

He settled first in Lyons County near Emporia. He came here with his wife Louisa and their children from Iowa, but he was born in Kentucky.

He was a stonemason and farmer but couldn't read or write. However, he enlisted in the Union Cavalry in1864. After many of his fellow soldiers in the first Company in which he enlisted died from dysentery, he was transferred to Company C, 6th Regiment and sent to Du Vall's Bluff, Arkansas. There he was engaged in brutal and constant warfare.

After he returned home, family stories say he was never well again. He and his family moved to what was to become Chautauqua County where he was buried in 1872.

His son Hosea Milburn then went on west to homestead Morton County in extreme southwestern Kansas. He and his family packed all their worldly goods in a covered wagon drawn by a team of oxen. The oxbow that harnessed the team graced my grandparents' home for many years and is now in the Stevens County Museum.

At that same time, many African Americans also moved to Kansas to homestead in the Exoduster movement. After federal troops left the south in 1877, African Americans in the former slave-owning states faced renewed discrimination and as many as 15,000 came to land in Kansas where they could homestead and form communities such as Nicodemus where they could be truly free. Those met with various degrees of success, but the dream lived on to eventually empower the vision of our nation as a place with freedom for all.

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