So that there’s no confusion, Kansas Day is actually next week–January 29th, to be exact.
But I have a full week of posts about inequality scheduled for next week and, besides, Kansas deserves a whole birthday week, right?
I just finished reading For the Common Good (review coming before too long, once I get some other posts cleared out), and there’s a part in the very beginning that made it clear that this isn’t just a book about leadership.
It’s a book about leadership in Kansas, written by Kansans.
Because it’s different.
Those who aren’t from our state (and, I must admit, probably even some who are) are certainly forgiven for not knowing, but Kansas is sort of a big deal.
Historically, unlike Iowa, the Dakotas, Illinois, Indiana, and other states founded based on geography, “Kansas was founded for a cause: freedom” (p. 8). When Congress passed the Kansas and Nebraska Act in 1854, the choice between being a free state or a slave state was left to the residents of those territories. Abolitionists came from the Northeast and elsewhere to flood the Kansas Territory and influence it to enter as a free state. “Their success helped put Kansas on the right side of history.”
And, in my house and among many of my colleagues and friends, we take that very, very seriously.
Several of the proponents of our instate tuition legislation for immigrant youth referenced our anti-slavery background in their floor speeches; to them, standing up for equality now is more than just the right thing to do.
It’s our birthright as Kansans.
It’s who we are as a people, every bit as much as the sunflowers.
American historian Carl Becker described it in the way that my family still sees it, “The origin of Kansas must ever be associated with the struggle against slavery. Of this fact Kansans are well aware…It is a state with a past.” (cited p. 8, For the Common Good)
My oldest son and I spent a day at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence this summer.
When we stop at Civil War cemeteries (which, yes, happens with some regularity around here), one of the boys usually wants to know if “someone made them fight for the confederacy”.
They just can’t contemplate willingly putting your life on the line for something so wrong.
I’m not naive about the state of Kansas politics today, and how far less than noble are many of our aspirations in 2014.
And I’m not even ignoring the injustices perpetrated in the name of ‘freedom’ then.
We were the Brown v. Board of Education state, after all; we certainly have known our share of racial and social injustice.
I don’t try to encourage my son’s animosity toward the University of Missouri; he comes by that all on his own.
But, I do think that keeping alive a sense of where we came from and why it matters is important, not just for a sort of ‘pride of place’, but also because it is the right side of history, and I want my children to know very clearly that there is always–always—a choice to stand there.
As one of my Facebook friends said at the time of the Quantrill commemoration, “the massacre of innocent civilians by Quantrill and his rebels, just because they stood for freedom and justice, is nothing that needs to be gotten over anytime soon.”
So we celebrate Kansas Day, and celebrate Kansas.
Ad astra per aspera–to the stars through difficulty–is a reminder of where we have been, and an exhortation about where we must go.