Hey Candace, reflect your listeners. Thank you for joining us today. I'm Reporter Rachel Miko here with guests Mark McCormick, a frequent reflector opinion contributor and Deputy Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at the ACLU of Kansas. Our topic today is the future of the Kundera ruins Archaeological Park, the historic site was founded as a point of entry for slaves seeking Free Soil in the state of Kansas, and later became an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Now, Mark, you've done an excellent report on this subject 52 pages on the past of calendario and the future. So let's just begin with what inspired you to do this report?
Well, I just want to be clear first about your report is not necessarily about the ruins. It's about Quintero, the idea Quintero, the aspiration, when they're the vision, we're talking about a place as one of our sources in the report said, maybe the best example of a multiracial democracy, not only in the history of the state, but to his knowledge, maybe anywhere in the country, you typically know what a good idea is, when you wished that idea was yours. So it's not, this was not my idea. My boss had just read the 1619 project. And he understood my passion for history. My career as a professional journalist and a writer, and was, I think, looking for a way that I could help advance some of our campaign issues. He also thought that with his knowledge of Quintero, as that
minority majority run town, that there could be some things that could apply to the state and the nation. If we revisited the history and really tried to understand it, as opposed to buying into all the well, let me just say it like this. There's a history professor at Ohio State, I've really come to admire Hassan Kwame Jeffries, he says that what Americans really care about is nostalgia, not history, that this whole notion about making America great, again, is really based on this nostalgic view that comes from one perception. You know, if you're African American, what aspect of our nation's history was great, you know, beyond reconstruction. So it's really about us fully understanding our history. And then applying that history, because our understanding of history causes this kind of cascade of a of things that happen in our institutions. And if we have racism in the society, then it's going to appear in the institutions. And if we're unable to address those issues, those problems are going to persist. And that's what we're dealing with. That's kind of a long winded answer. I'm sorry, but
no, that's great. So we've talked about the inspiration, let's talk about some of the things we're seeing today, you know, like kwinto, as vision, but contrasted with the reality we're facing right now. What are the main issues in your report?
Well, I mean, I get I get to this a little bit later. But one of the things that was interesting to me is the history of our interstate highway system. We could take credit as Kansans, because was President Eisenhower who passed you know, the measure that created the interstate system. Tragically, though, what happened was that, at about that time, there were efforts in local municipalities to get rid of what they call blight, and what they called blight tended to be African American communities. So what happened was state and local officials would run interstates through African American areas and destroy them. That's precisely what happened. And Quintero, the state and federal government ran interstate 635 right through the heart of it. As some of the people in the report said it was a near death blow. I mean, it displaced people, displaced churches, and you have a highway running right through them. And then there are all kinds of health impacts. You know, if you grow up as a child, you're all those exhausts. You're going to tend to have a lot of health problems like lung issues and things like that. It was last summer that Pete Buttigieg the Secretary of Transportation was in the area. He had all Phil made an appearance in on 60 minutes, where he talked about how highways should connect people, not destroy communities. And that there, there was money in the infrastructure plan that the administration had been pushing that could help communities like that. And that's a broader issue of the intersection between some ugly racial history, and then how we operate as a democracy. That if you go there, and you see, what you will see is an area that has been neglected. That's not how a democracy should look. Democracy is not just about voting. It's about everyone belonging and everyone mattering. And what we tend to do in this culture is we pitch people out, when we don't like them. What we really need to do in general is just kind of pull off all of our strength inward, so that we could start addressing all these issues that we have in the country.
And another large section of the report focused on voting rights. Let's talk a little bit more about that.
Sure. A few years ago, when I was running a museum, I, I took a tour group to Alabama, and we went on the the Civil Rights triangle tour where you can start in Birmingham, go to Montgomery, go to Selma and you go back, and in Selma, there is a monument to a Kansan. The Reverend James Reeb was a Universalist, Unitarian minister, who was born in Wichita was living in Boston at the time. And there was a march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery that had turned brutal. And after that, Dr. King asked clergy from around the country come March with me Come March with me. James Reed left his family in Boston, came down there for the what was called the turnaround March because they marched to the edge of that famous bridge, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and decided to stop and turn around rather than march into the teeth of all of those law enforcement officers. And, you know, down there, law enforcement would deputize Klansmen, and give them bats with barbed wire wrapped around them. So Reed was there for the turnaround March. While there he was hitting ahead by some segregationist and he died. Martin Luther King gave his eulogy. And his his passing helped pass the Voting Rights Act. So I mean, as Kansans, we have to be particularly sensitive about incursions into people's right to vote, that one of our favorite sons that maybe not everybody knows about Reverend read. It didn't give his life his life was taken, because he was marching for African American voting rights. And as we see now around the country, and here in our state, voting rights are under attack. Our election results are so close, that it doesn't take a whole lot of work, in terms of suppressing votes. To turn an election, I mean, if you if you can move the needle, three or four points, you could swing an election. And what we know from our voting rights work in the past is that if you take down arbitrary barriers to voting, most Americans really want to vote and they really want to participate. But if you put up these arbitrary barriers, it can cause drops in voting. Those are the kinds of things that we're worried about here. You know, we really should be working really hard to expand early voting to increase the number and ways people can vote. Voting on weekends, voting after hours, allowing people to leave work in order to vote. Those are the kinds of things that we're fighting for it at this affiliate.
And then before the podcast began, we were talking a little bit about racism in this state and how people are still uncomfortable with addressing this issue.
So years ago, I was a columnist at the Wichita Eagle, and I had been following closely some efforts at the African American Museum in which time to get the collected works of Gordon Parks. When I was a cub reporter in Louisville, the local Association of Black A journalist had a film festival of Mr. Parkes films. And he showed up. They didn't expect him to show up. But he showed up. And I was watching all these people that I admired because I was a kid right out of school. These were like mid career people. And they look like little kids around him. And someone said, Hey, we have an intern from Kansas, where you're from, and he said, really? And It startled me and he walked over to me. And to this day, I can't remember what I said to the guy, but he's always been a hero. So when I was at when I was at the Wichita Eagle, I saw that we had an opportunity to get his collected works. And I was partnering with someone at Wichita State named Ted Ayers. Ted was the vice president General Counsel there but also a big fan of Mr. Parks and he had shared the story with me about Mr. Parks actually visiting Wichita State once because he has a good friend who's from Wichita, and that's what what brought him to Wichita anyway. So when Ted introduced him, he read from a poem that Mr. Parks had done called Kansas land. I will read the whole thing I'll just give you a sense for how talented this man was and why he's a lie. He's a hero of mine, but he writes nights filled with soft laughter, fireflies and restless stars. The winding sounds of crickets, rubbing dampness from their wings, silver, September rain, orange, red brown, October's and white. December's with the smells of ham and pork butts curing in the smokehouse. And he stopped there in the poem. But there's another stanza that reads, yes, all this I would miss, along with the fear, hatred and violence we blacks had suffered upon this beautiful land. So when Mr. Parks after being introduced, comes to the microphone, he points out, then in every single in instance, when he's been introduced using this poem, the people who do the introductions, leave off that last stanza, it was an indication to me and to Ted, at how awkward our conversations about race are in this country, how difficult it is for us to actually have a discussion, because what has happened to African Americans in this culture has been so terrible. And we've been so unwilling, and unable to confront it, that these problems are going to persist, which is what I've been saying over and over our inability to deal with this, this issue, to be able to put it on the table and have a real discussion is difficult. Even now, in states like Florida, and in Texas, they're changing textbooks. They're referring to slavery as some kind of work program. And you're talking about, well, let me put it this way. Most of us in school learned about a slave owner, learned maybe about the slave trader. But there's a third person there that we never ever talk about. And it was the slave breaker before the slaves arrived here. They stopped in the Caribbean. And they literally had the humanity beaten out of them. I don't know what kind of work program they're talking about. No one benefits from rape, which was so regular, it was almost industrial. And there was all there was a profit motive in that kind of brutality, because the children produced from that become workers for the rest of their lives, people could be worked until they absolutely dropped. The realities behind all of this the ugly realities behind all this really clashes with our nostalgia that we have about the culture and that's the real problem. We can't We can't get past this sort of double consciousness like there was a sociologist, I think, named Gunnar Mirasol, who was writing about race in the country and he called it a, our our dilemma. He said, our public ideas about who we are, don't match what we think personally, and that duality is really tearing us apart. And if you think about the issues we're facing in this culture today, race still is very much at the center.
And you talked about Texas and Florida. Uh, what are we doing here in the state in terms of education? Are we doing enough?
That's really outside my knowledge base. I will say that it just kind of depends on the classroom and where you go. I've I spent a lot of time in schools because I enjoy talking to students. And I've been to schools that were in rural areas, and that were all white. And they had astonishing history programs. And I've gone into schools in in districts that were very diverse, and was embarrassed at what the students were being taught. It's all very uneven in the same way that in this state, the zip code you live in, could determine your ability to vote, or your opportunities to vote. I think there's the same kind of randomness. When it comes to voting as well. I lived in communities where I never had to wait behind more than four or five people to vote. And then I've lived in places where I had to wait two or three hours to vote. There's just a wide range of things.
It was places where the two hour places
I'd rather not say now.
So we've talked about this wide intersection of things like in a ideal state. I mean, in an ideal Kansas, what do you hope to see in terms of talking about these issues?
That's a really good question. I'm, the challenge again, is part is in part, our mindset, until we're willing to acknowledge our flaws and our biases. Until people who have a lot of opportunity are willing to share some of that opportunity with others. I mean, our democracy really depends on an undergirding equality. It's sort of like, you know, in Monopoly, where when one person has all the money, the game is over. And are the inequality in our culture is making it really difficult for us to manage as a democracy. So until we, until we start learning about who we are, and who we're supposed to be civically, until we're being honest and truthful about our history, is the point we're making in the report. Until we acknowledge those things, it's going to be really hard to advance on these other issues. So it's going to require some boilerplate learning about our history, not nostalgia. But we need to find ways to put historical events at the center, and then examine it on the outside from different perspectives. So if you're studying World War Two, you'd say, well, what was World War Two like for women? Well, in Wichita, you'd have Rosie the Riveters who were working at the Boeing plant, you know, building planes while the roads go, if you were African American. And you were talking about World War Two, you could talk about James Thompson, who was an African American cafeteria worker in Wichita, who wrote a letter to a newspaper called The Pittsburgh Courier. The Pittsburgh Courier was an African American newspaper that circulated nationally. And in his letter, he wrote to the Pittsburgh Courier that if we're going to go as African Americans, to Europe, and fight against fascism, well, we ought to be fighting against fascism at home. So there's a double victory, victory abroad and victory at home over racism. And that Double V campaign became a national event. People had double V gardens and Double V parades and all that began, you know, here in Kansas, I mean, I view our state as a, I've said this a lot as the social fault line for the country. You essentially had the Civil War start here. As I just mentioned, this was a important theater for the civil rights movement. This was the first state timber to enter the temperance movement. And this was also a big abortion battleground as well, that this is not flyover country that the history that occurred here, really did move the nation, which was another motivation for the report that we felt like our history here is so important, and that in so many ways we reflect the nation. That may be what's pop what's what's pop up? Maybe what's possible here could be possible nationally.
I love that. And then I actually printed out one of your quotes from the report. And this was from around page 16 or so. But you said freedom, acceptance and belonging formed the foundation of what would become the state of Kansas. Kundera was a true democracy where everyone mattered where everyone was included, and the community shared benefits and burdens. And today's Kansas curiously resembles its proud founding, a powerful minority continues to mount multi pronged attacks on democratic ideals. So I mean, again, I'll just love that theme. And I think it really like the whole thing of what you're trying to do. There is kind of in that, but let's talk a bit more about that, quote. Sure.
What in particular about that? Oh, I
just love the first bit freedom, acceptance and belonging. Yeah. Let's talk about the history of Quinto, though again, I know it's not about the ruins. But let's talk about that past.
Well, it is the the Western Underground Railroad Trail. You know, a few years ago, I was at the museum. I was getting calls from the United Nations, because they have an American civil rights trail. And Topeka was supposed to be the western terminus of the American Civil Rights trail, because of the Brown decision, right? Well, I mean, when you think about how central Kansas was, in the Civil War, I mean, you had, you had battles taking place on our border, you had Missourians coming in and destroying Lawrence, and you had John Brown, butchering people who were here to try and tip the scales in our popular sovereignty vote in the popular sovereignty just meant that the government was going to make sure well mean, the government was going to allow territories to determine whether or not they would allow slavery within their borders. And so there were people coming into the state to vote for slavery while the people here didn't want it.
We've talked a bit about the pre Civil War history of calendario. But let's talk about the years since that, I mean, this, this site has still this area has just been so incredibly important in the state and nationally, very,
very important. Why is that the new the Kansas African American Museum, I wrote a federal grant creating an African American history trail. And I can remember at the time sending someone up here to talk about when Darrow and the person came back, just thrilled about all the history here. They just didn't have anything built up. And when Dara was an amazing place, an African American bank, it actually was home to an HBCU called Western University. I had someone tell me in the last few weeks that there's a documentary coming out that's going to argue that among other things, gospel music as we know, it, originated in Quintero, the NAACP came out of the Niagara movement. Well, two of the charter members of the Niagara movement, had Quinn Darrow addresses. The first Native American woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court was from Quinn Darrow. It's just incredible history. There it was, it was a hospital there that was the first in the region, to take patients based not on anything else, other than they needed help. They admitted people without regard to who they were racially. Just tremendous, tremendous history there. And if you go there now, it's just kind of overgrown, and to us, which is why we chose to chose Kundera as the framing, that it's struggling. But there's all this promise there is all this history there. And if we were obedient to the history, if we were faithful to the history, we'd be in much better shape as a state and as a society. And we're just asking people to look to Quintero as an aspiration and to call people into our democracy instead of pushing people out. I love
that. And for anyone who wants to go and see this site, there's still about I think, 20 foundations left from buildings that used to be there. A couple of outbuildings is just a beautiful area to go to you.
It is and that almost didn't happen. There was an effort in the 80s to turn a portion of that area into a landfill. And there's an obscure Kansas law about mineral rights that said, if you can if you've uncovered foundations, and the kinds of things that were found there in the ruins the state had to come in as a co owner, and as the co owner of that site, determined that it was of historical significance such that a landfill couldn't be put on top of it, but it was very close. So you think about 635 going through there. And then about 20 years later, a landfill almost going through there. After years and years and decades and decades of of disinvestment, and people avoiding investments there. It's going to look like that. And there are places in our democracy that look like window that don't have to look like window if we were really honoring, not just lindero, but who we say we are as Americans. We're always so proud of our democracy, but some of us don't really want to do much about it.
Love that. So more historic investment more looking at the past for the lessons. Thank you so much for being on today. Everyone should check out the report. It's on the ACLU website. It's titled same water coming round window as a vision for Kansas. Thank you so much for joining us today.