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Kansas History - Winter 1999/2000

(Vol. 22, No. 4)

Kansas History, Winter 1999/2000

Richard B. Sheridan, "Charles Henry Langston and the African American Struggle in Kansas."

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Charles Henry Langston (1817-1892) was more than just the grandfather of one of America's great twentieth century poets, Langston Hughes. He was a well-educated, black activist of considerable note in Ohio during the mid-nineteenth century, who came to Kansas in April 1862 to work among the contrabands–formerly enslaved African Americans seeking freedom and opportunity in Kansas. For three years Langston engaged in teaching some the many children of these families in Leavenworth and became one of the city's most prominent black leaders. According to historian Richard B. Sheridan, professor emeritus in the department of economics at the University of Kansas, as early as 1863 he advocated voting rights for African Americans and throughout this period was a leader of the black convention movement in Kansas. Before moving to Douglas County in 1868, Langston also served the region as general superintendent of the refugees and freedmen for the Freedmen's Bureau, and after the move he sought aid for the exodusters of 1879-1880 and after many years of working within the Republican Party accepted the Prohibition Party's nomination for state auditor in 1886. His critics called him "impetuous, aggressive, and vindictive," but in whatever role he found himself, C. H. Langston, concludes Professor Sheridan, "used his time and talents to improve the lives of his fellow African Americans . . . . [He] was an outstanding Kansan of African descent who carried on the work of the free-state founders and helped build a better state."

Peter Fearon, "Ploughshares into airplanes: Manufacturing Industry and Workers in Kansas during World War II."

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Although most Americans identify Kansas as the "wheat state" and may know that it contributed mightily to the 1940s war effort through its agricultural production, few have consider the state's industrial contributions. As Professor Fearon demonstrates, however, "the exigencies of World War II also placed great strain on the nonfarm sector, and the little understood response to this challenge forms the basis of this article." The war "led to dramatic growth of manufacturing industry in the state" which greatly impacted employment patterns, especially with respect to women and African Americans in Kansas City and Wichita. These changes, implemented out of necessity rather than farsighted, social design, allowed Kansas to play "a highly significant role in the struggle to free both Europe and Asia." Since "Wichita's three main aircraft plants accounted for a massive 62 percent of the total increase in wartime manufacturing employment," much space is devoted to an analysis of that city's handling of the problems that accompanied the industrial war effort (i.e., housing, skilled labor, infrastructure, etc.).

Chandra Miller, "‘A Perfect Institution Belonging to the Regiment': The Soldier's Letter and American Identity among Civil War Soldiers in Kansas."

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The Soldier's Letter was a semi-weekly, regimental newspaper published by the enlisted men of the Second Colorado Cavalry, first from Kansas City and then Fort Riley from August 1864 to November 1865. In this interesting essay, Chandra Miller, a Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow at Harvard University, examines the publication's content over its relatively long life-span and finds that the paper was "a weapon against the prairie soldiers' persistent enemies of isolation, boredom, and vagueness of purpose. . . . [T]he bulk of its pages was dedicated to reflections on the righteousness of American governmental institutions, politics, and the eradication of slavery. The regimental newspaper," asserts Miller, "reflected and shaped community identity by reinforcing regimental identity and pride . . . . The Soldier's Letter provided a means of connecting soldiers to each other, the war effort, and the American nation." As was the case in all the many regimental newspapers Miller has examined, contributors to the Soldier's Letter apparently were free to air any grievance or express any opinion they wished, as long as the army's strategic security was not compromised. Thus, it offers "invaluable glimpses into the experiences and attitudes of enlisted Civil War soldiers."

R. Alton Lee, "The Little White Slaver: A Century-Long Struggle Against Cigarettes in Kansas."

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Linking the moralistic crusade against the cigarette to the century's more famous prohibition movement, Alton Lee, a professor emeritus at the University of South Dakota, traces Kansans' attachment to anti-tobacco laws from the late nineteenth century–the first one passed the legislature in 1889. These laws were first aimed at the state's youth and have traditionally been propelled by moral rather than health concerns. "Outlawing cigarettes in Kansas followed the same pattern as outlawing alcohol and other items in the state," concludes Professor Lee. "Enforcement was spasmodic, users found them readily available, and the bootleggers flourished. It is exceedingly difficult to eradicate products that are widely desired . . . especially when purchasers fail to view their desires in moral terms."


Through its regular features, Kansas History strives to keep its readers abreast of the most recent scholarship and thus serves as a vital forum for scholarly discourse. We appreciate those readers who, from time to time, express their opinions on various issues raised within the pages of the journal.

Volume 22 Index