Friday, July 12, 2013

My Midwest: Topeka, Kansas

A little while ago I went on a slightly spontaneous, slightly random trip to Topeka, Kansas with a friend.  It was one of those trips that you literally get in the car, shrug your shoulders and figure out what to do once you get there. Sometimes those are the best little road trips; going where the road takes you. 

Topeka, located about an hour west of Kansas City, is the state capitol of Kansas. The city started out as a family run ferry service to ferry westward pioneers and traders across the Kansas River. Westward pointing trails, trading, and the river defines the city, as does much this region of the country. Topeka, as a city was laid out in 1854, one of the free-state towns that were formed by abolitionists immediately after the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill . If your American history is a little rusty, this bill allowed settlers in the newly opened Kansas and Nebraska territories to determine for themselves whether or not to allow slavery in their settlements. It also basically killed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, where the Federal Government determined free and slave states. It also, also lead to bloody fighting on the Kansas plains as both pro and anti-slavery groups moved into the area. If you went to school in the area, you were probably taught that the American Civil War started in Kansas, and there is plenty of evidence supporting that statement.  Kansas was admitted into the Union in 1861, with Topeka as it's capital. 

And since it is the state capital, we knew we had to make a stop at the Kansas State Capitol Building. The outside of the building is currently undergoing some renovation, and the state legislation was not in session, so the building was pretty empty, which allowed for some free wanderings.  There are free tours given of the building given at specific times throughout the day.  We visited during a gap in these tours so we guided ourselves, which made me super miss giving Capitol tours. The Capitol building houses not only the legislation (Senate and House), but also the Governor's Office, State Supreme Court, and the State Library.  
 Looking up at the dome

 Mural of John Brown and era of 'Bleeding Kansas'

Kansas State Senate 

Kansas State House

In keeping with our Kansas history theme, we also visited the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The US Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education ended racial segregation in public school, and is often cited as one of the most pivotal decisions made by that body. The case was actually five cases, each challenging segregation, consolidated into one, using Brown, Oliver Brown from Topeka, KS, as the plaintiff name to show that segregation was not purely a Southern issue.  In 1950, Oliver Brown, along with other African Americans in Topeka tried to enroll their children in their neighborhood schools. They were refused, and told their children could only attend designated African American schools.  The parents filed suit against the school board, the case eventually reaching the country's highest court, the US Supreme Court. 

The historical site is Monroe Elementary School, the segregated school that Linda Brown, daughter of Oliver Brown attended.  The exhibits, housed in classrooms explain not only the Brown v. Board of Education decision, but all the history that led up to it, and the decision's effect on everything that came after it. The exhibits are more educational in matter than historical artifacts. I thought the history was extremely well presented and dutifully illustrated the idea that the civil rights struggle is an old one, and one that continues to be fought. 

One final highlight from our Topeka on Tuesday Trip was stumbling onto the Hazel Hill chocolate shop/confectionery.  One step and one whiff inside and I wanted to BUY {and eat} ALL THE THINGS. Seriously tremendous homemade chocolate. 

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