The group that began as the Sumner working group, now the Brown v. Board Sumner Legacy Trust, is partnering with the Brown v. Board National Historic Site in organizing a 60th Anniversary celebration of the historic 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ordered desegregation of public schools in the United States. The celebration will be interactive for citizens locally, national and globally and will highlight the pivotal role that Kansas and particularly Topeka have played in the various civil rights movements in this country. The plan is to have a focused week of symposia, activities and events starting May 11 and culminating on May 17, with other events throughout the year. Initial contacts have been made and a strategic partner coalition is being formed. Anyone who has ideas to suggest or would like to assist, please contact the working group at 60thAnniversary@bvbsumnerlegacy.org.
A note from the organizer, Nathan Schmidt:
Kansas was founded and organized as a battleground over civil rights. The New England Emigrant Aid Co. brought settlers here in the hopes of gaining statehood as a free state. John Brown and Bleeding Kansas followed. Kansas was also the destination for the Exodusters fleeing the south during Reconstruction. Shortly after the Civil War a strong movement for women's suffrage was begun herein Kansas led by Sam Wood and Susan B. Anthony. While defeated initially, Kansas became the 8th state to grant full suffrage in 1912 after suffrage for municipal elections was secured in 1887. Carrie A. Nation redecorated many saloons here which invigorated the temperance movement that served as the spearhead for the national women's rights movement of the early 20th century. Kathryn O'Laughlin was one of the earliest female members of congress in 1933, Susanna Salter was the first female mayor in the United States. Arthur Capper pioneered the treatment of physical disabilities, the Menninger family is the first family of mental health treatment. All of these actions and movements led to the Brown v. Board decision. That decision remains one of the most important civil rights decisions in this country and is seen globally by many as one of the most important civil rights decisions in the world.
To highlight all of this history we are organizing a civil rights celebration that will include music, theater, the arts, historical tours and participatory activities as well as a series of discussions on civil rights issues we face today. Contacts have begun to invite various local, state, and national voices from the present and the past to discuss all aspects of civil rights from segregation, to slavery, to civil rights in sports, politics, war etc. We hope to make this a very large discussion of civil rights issues as well as a discussion of our past and where we go from here. We hope to integrate the rebirth of the Sumner School, the school that started Brown v. Board, into this as a continuing center for work on global civil rights issues. Most of all however we are trying to reestablish a pride in our identity as a city of consequence, a city unafraid to face the most difficult issues of our or any time. Topeka holds a unique place in history as the national conscience, the place where tough realities are addressed and our future direction is defined. It is a story that needs to be more than told, it needs to continue to be lived. May 17, 1954 is the date that the Brown v. Board decision was handed down by the US Supreme Court. 2014 is also the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.