Friday, February 29, 2008

A Great Thing about Wichita (Part I)

During my time in Wichita, I have enjoyed learning about its history and culture. Wichitans have been friendly and welcoming to me and I have lots of observations to share about being a Canadian in a Red State. There are a few things that you need to know about Wichita (as told by me).

The downtown area is quiet now, given the explosion of shopping malls and development outside the downtown core. But the downtown features some remarkable public art and installations that enliven the area. One particular bronze has intrigued me since I arrived.

I think about this sculpture every time I pass it – and I want to share the story with you. The sculpture is a life-size replica of a luncheon counter that was once located on the site of the downtown Dockum Drug Store. In 1958, the luncheon counter in Dockum’s was the site of the first successful student led sit-in of the modern Civil Rights Movement. A dozen black teenagers, dressed in their church clothes entered Dockum’s, sat at the luncheon counter and asked to be served. Blacks were not permitted to sit or be served at the luncheon counter, but every day a group of black teenagers sat at the counter, sitting quietly, waiting to be served. Take a moment to read this article – it explains how the teenagers decided to conduct this sit-in, how they practiced for the sit-in and how their nervous parents stood across the street to make sure they were safe.

After two weeks of the daily sit-in, the owner of the Dockum’s determined that too much money was being lost, and all the Dockum stores in the chain were instructed to henceforth serve all people without regard to race, creed or colour. Following the successful Dockum sit-in, other establishments in Kansas and Oklahoma ended their discriminatory practices. The Wichita vitory was overshadowed by a sit-in two years later, in Greensboro, NC. Although it appears the Greensboro sit-in has been credited with the beginning of the modern sit-in movement – good old Wichita was the first. In the photo above, you can see some of the courageous youth who were involved in the sit-in. I hope you can understand why the luncheon counter installation is the first place I take visitors - it is a rich, important icon for this city.

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