History lesson

Sharon Williams and Towana Hadley give history lesson.



The Chanute Historical Society hosted a Black History Month presentation Thursday at the research center.

Sharon Williams and Towana Hadley spoke about African-American history in Chanute and southeast Kansas. Williams talked about her father, Chanute mayor Jessie Jackson, and the scholarship fund his family has established.

Although Williams did not say who this year’s recipient is, it will be announced at the annual Jessie Jackson Mayor’s Breakfast on May 7. Hadley presented information gathered by historian Roberta Thuston and other articles.

Although there is some uncertainty about the earliest black families in Chanute, Hadley cited Joseph and Millie Rucker, who are pictured at the Historical Society Museum and arrived in 1870. An African Episcopal church was established in 1879, first on north Malcolm and later at 120 S. Evergreen. The current church was built in 1905 after an earlier building from 1883 burned in 1904.

New Hope Baptist Church was formed in 1881 and the present building at 320 N. Central was built in 1921. Williams said many black families came because of the railroad and cement plant jobs in Chanute.

In 1903, after completion of Webster School at Ash and Evergreen, the Chanute school board attempted to designate the previous neighborhood school as a segregated “colored-only” school.

The older building did not have running water or sewer, and African-American parents and some whites objected. They filed a lawsuit, boycotted classes and attempted to enroll children at Webster and other designated-white schools. The boycott lasted 57 days before the school board backed down. Sort of. 

Black students still sat in the back of the room, or stood if seats were limited, and they could not participate in organized sports except for track.

A baseball team in Katy Park and the CJ Tigers basketball team were organized for African-Americans, with the Tigerettews cheerleaders.

Magnus Gordon was the first black player on the Chanute High School basketball team when Chanute hosted Parsons, but when Chanute traveled, Parsons refused to play. The following year, Parsons had five black players on its team.

Chanute had a segregated Girl Scout troop, Troop 12, from 1942 to 1952. The swimming pool was integrated in 1957. In the 1960s, Roberta Thuston was the first African-American substitute teacher and Williams’ sister, Brenda Jackson, was the first black full-time teacher.

Hadley also spoke about a 1927 race riot in Coffeyville. After failing to lynch a jailed black suspect, a white mob attempted to burn black neighborhoods. The suspect, Curtis Smith, was later freed when authorities could not get a proper identification for him as the perpetrator.

After the presentation, audience members shared memories of Mayor Jessie Jackson.

Organizers with the historical society are looking for volunteers who will assist between 10 am and 3 pm Mondays through Wednesdays on the last week of each month for a project to renovate displays. For more information, call President Jackie Ward 433-0038.



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