Monday, August 20, 2001
The struggle against racism symbolized by the new Hobbs Park Memorial continues today, speakers said Sunday at the monument's dedication.
"It's not ancient history" said Mark Kaplan, co-director of the project. "The legacy of slavery is with us today. We must maintain a vigorous assault against the enemies of liberty."
Several hundred people attended Sunday's dedication, which featured U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore and the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, Kansas City, Mo.'s first black mayor.
The centerpiece of the monument is the Murphy-Bromelsick house, one of the few remaining structures in Lawrence remaining from pre-Civil War days.
Those days saw the founding of Lawrence by New England antislavery crusaders such as Lawrence Tribune editor John Speer, bent on making the territory into a free state during the "Bleeding Kansas" era.
"The abolitionist struggle was the civil rights movement of its day," said Bill Tuttle, a Kansas University professor. "And Lawrence was at its center."
Many historians say the often-violent battle between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces in the Lawrence area helped spark the Civil War.
"The settlement of Northeast Kansas was an absolute saving grace for this nation," Kaplan said. The Civil War "needed to happen to create the nation we know today."
But it has been a long, hard struggle, the speakers said.
"In fighting to end slavery, the Free Staters took a step across the boundary that separates us from one another," Mayor Mike Rundle said. "They did not always take the logical next step."
Instead, Lawrence and KU sank into racism and segregation during the first half of the 20th century, especially the 1920s, and didn't begin to emerge from that until the 1950s.
Progress has been made, Rundle said. Segregation was slowly dismantled in Lawrence, and Haskell Indian Nations University was transformed from an institution that oppressed American Indians to one that celebrates them.
"We should work to build community across all real and perceived boundaries," Rundle said.
That work will be spurred by the memorial, Moore said.
"It's going to take places like this to remind us of our history, so that we don't repeat it," he said.
Others saw the small house as a monument to the ordinary citizens who built the town.
"They are the missing pages in the book we have written so far," said Julia Mathias, the project architect.
Cleaver praised the memorial, and told listeners that his mayorship wouldn't have been possible just 50 years ago. But more progress is needed, he said.
"This is a good thing," he said. "We ought to hold on to our history until we get our blessing from it."
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