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Forging Freedom's Pathway

Brown V Board Of Education National Historic Site

National Park News

On June 11, visitors leisurely strolled five blocks with uniformed park rangers from the historic Ritchie House to the formerly segregated Monroe Elementary School, meeting six costumed reenactors along the way. Beginning at the home of prominent abolitionists and operators on the Underground Railroad and ending at a formerly segregated elementary school, visitors walked symbolically through time from the birth of the Civil War to the birth of the civil rights movement.

Operated by the Shawnee County Historical Society, the Ritchie House was home to John and Mary Jane Ritchie, early settlers of Topeka who immigrated to Kansas Territory in 1855 to aid the free state cause. The Ritchies were comrades of John Brown and active in the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War the Ritchies gave away and sold land to African Americans seeking a new start in Kansas. This led to a predominantly black neighborhood that came to be known as Ritchie's Addition. Built in 1926 as part of a massive school expansion project, the Monroe Elementary school was built on land once donated by Ritchie. Monroe was one of the four African American elementary schools operating in Topeka in 1951 when the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit was filed. The restored school now serves as the visitor center for the national historic site.

Beginning with abolitionist Mary Jane Ritchie in 1854, visitors met six characters that portrayed evolving views of race and freedom in Kansas. Other characters included David Rice Atchison, a pro-slavery Senator from Missouri; Clarina Nichols, an abolitionist and women's suffrage activist; Nathan Holder, an African American Civil War veteran and Topeka resident in the 1880s; and Chester Woodward, a member of the Topeka Board of Education in 1930. The concluding character, portrayed by Ranger Joan Wilson, was Julia Roundtree, an African American educator and activist in Topeka who discussed the lawsuit filed in 1951 that would end legal segregation. Though visitation was not as high as hoped, the event received excellent coverage by local print, radio, and television. Local PBS affiliate KTWU was onsite and is producing a segment for their popular program, Sunflower Journeys, to air later this year. The segment will focus on the story of Julia Roundtree.

The program was a cooperative effort by the National Park Service, the Shawnee County Historical Society, the Lecompton Reenactors, and Western National Parks Association. Period Civil War music was provided by the Kaw Valley Cornet Band and an acoustic trio featuring park staff and volunteers provided Civil War and Civil Rights era music. Park rangers from Harry S Truman NHS and Tallgrass Prairie NP also provided assistance before and during the event.


Ruby on RailsRuby: 1.8.7, Rails: 1.1.6