Kansas was on the front lines of the struggle for equality before the territory was even adopted as a state. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Kansas was a key battleground in the effort to abolish slavery. According to a letter, written in 1858 and archived by the History Study Center, Kansas adopted a pro-slavery constitution, largely through fraudulent means and in opposition to the will of the majority.
“On the one hand, Kansas asks for admission as a slave State, with a constitution known to have been procured by a series of frauds, and to be opposed to the will of the large majority of its inhabitants.”
The letter, a report entitled “The State of Affairs in Kansas” is written amid violence in Kansas between anti-slavery activists and slave-owning settlers. The report suggested that the situation in Kansas had the potential to grow into a larger conflict due to the politically-charged nature of the dispute. History shows that the report was accurate, placing Kansas on the front lines of the battle to end slavery.
“State of Affairs in Kansas.” Palmer’s Full Text Online 18 Jan. 1858: History Study Center.
Nearly 100 years later, Kansas again found itself on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. In 1954, young African-American students in Kansas, Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia won the landmark Supreme Court case known as Brown v. Topeka in which the court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, a decision that stands today.
In 2011, Kansas is on the front lines of a new equality struggle. Gay and lesbian communities in Kansas are rallying together in opposition to discriminatory laws sprouting up in multiple jurisdictions. Across the nation, gay and lesbian citizens are fighting for the same rights enjoyed by the majority. Kansas is one of many states with decidedly anti-gay legislation either enacted, or under consideration.
History has shown that when a small number of dedicated Kansans fight for equality, the whole nation is eventually affected. With victories in New York, Iowa and Massachusetts the gay and lesbian community has made considerable progress towards equality. Kansans fighting for equality may feel that their efforts go largely unnoticed. Yet, in times past, Kansans have played dramatic roles in changing the world.
Despite Kansas’ reputation for intolerance, perpetuated by the few, Kansans have a long-standing history of demonstrable tolerance and have stood against discriminatory laws for 150 years. As Kansans, we have a responsibility to uphold the state’s tradition of fighting for equality in the name of justice. And unlike Kansans of the past, social media technology gives us the power to amplify our message on a global scale.