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Kansas History - Summer 1997

(Vol. 20, No. 2)

Kansas History, Summer 1997John M. Peterson, "From Border War to Civil War: More Letters From Edward and Sarah Fitch, 1855-1863. Part II."

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Kansas History first published the "Letters of Edward and Sarah Fitch" in the spring and summer of 1989. The Douglas County Historical has since acquired many additional letters from the Fitches' descendants, and the contents are of such interest that we chose to devote space in two more issues of the journal for a portion of this new cache. Part I, covering the first two years of Edward Fitch's Kansas experience, appeared in the spring issue. Part II picks up with Fitch's letter of May 23, 1857, after his marriage to Sarah Wilmarth, and ends with his letter of July 16, 1863; Edward, of course, was killed during Quantrill's raid on Lawrence just over a month later, and Sarah's heart wrenching letter to her in-laws immediately thereafter can be found at the end of our 1989 publication. As editor Peterson notes, "many of the ordinary trials and successes of settlers in a strange and newly-settled land are revealed in the letters Edward wrote" to members of his family, but they also reveal much about political machinations in the troubled Kansas Territory. Fitch was a free-state man interested in the burning issue of his day, but he also was a young man concerned about his and his family's financial future.

Jason Pendleton, "Jim Crow Strikes Out: Interracial Baseball in Wichita, Kansas, 1920-1935."

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In the spring of 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the "color barrier" in major league baseball. Just four years earlier, that same young man was in Kansas, attending OCS at Fort Riley, and already challenging racial stereotypes and attitudes. Segregation certainly was pervasive in American life, even in "Free Kansas," at mid-century, but despite that fact Kansans had been enjoying interracial baseball of the professional and semi-pro variety for many years prior to Robinson's breakthrough. Although most the teams were segregated, clubs of various ethnic and racial backgrounds played against each other in Wichita and other cities and drew large interracial crowds. The Monrovians, for example, competed against other Wichita clubs and barnstormed throughout the state, playing both black and white teams. A custom, according to Pendleton, that "was not uncommon in Wichita" or other midwestern cities, where interracial baseball "served as the vehicle for bringing whites and African Americans together as equals on a consistent basis. The experience helped modify and expand the racial tolerance of midwesterners relative to baseball." Thus, when Robinson broke the color barrier, "many Kansans had already grown accustomed to witnessing integrated baseball and were surprised with the attention surrounding the event."

Bill Cecil-Fronsman, "'Advocate the Freedom of White Men, As Well As That of the Negroes': The Kansas Free State and Antislavery Westerns in Territorial Kansas."

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In a previous article for Kansas History, Cecil-Fronsman, a professor a history at Washburn University, demonstrated that what might be called "proslave" opinion in Kansas Territory was not monolithic. The same certainly can be said for the free-state movement, as we learn in the current article. For Robert G. Elliot and Josiah Miller, editors of the Kansas Free State, the label--"free state"--comprised all those "in favor of making Kansas Free, not from any peculiar sympathy for the negro, or regard for his rights, but because it would be to the pecuniary gain of the mass to have it Free." The movement obviously included some "radical" abolitionist, but "Positioning itself ideologically between abolitionist New Englanders and proslavery Missourians, the Free State helped craft a strategy that united opponents of slavery around a common denominator," writes Cecil-Fronsman. "The Free State emphasized slavery's doleful effects on whites and made the harm inflicted upon the slaves themselves a secondary concern." The paper's success in finding this pragmatic, albeit racist, common ground was "to no small degree" responsible for "the successful establishment of the Kansas free-state movement."

John Charlton, "`Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way': Incidental Background to Alexander Gardner's 1867 Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division Photographic Series."

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Alexander Gardner, who gained fame as one of Mathew Brady's photographers during the Civil War, left an equally important legacy in his postwar photos of Kansas and the American West. Many of these images, produced as a stereographic series, are in the collections of the Kansas Historical Society. Using these images and those found in other archival holdings, Charlton, a photographer and research assistant at the Kansas Geological Survey who has been rephotographing Gardner's work for several years, offers a new perspective and interpretation based on his analysis of the photos and historical documents. In the final analysis, Charlton finds that "the scope and scale of the entire series" has heretofore not been fully appreciated. Gardner's western "images offer vivid illustrations of that era's vision of the fulfillment of the nation's manifest destiny . . . and reflect upon our perspectives of this history now, 130 years later."