Published May 04, 2017
Kansas has played a pivotal role in America’s history. In the early 1800s, it was the nation’s formative frontier, where Missouri ended and the “Great American Desert” began. When Kansas became a state in 1854, it also became the battleground over slavery. And it didn’t end there: Kansas originated the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that ended segregation in public schools.
Meeting planners can immerse attendees in the state’s influential history by meeting at these historic Kansas sites.
Fort Scott National Historic Site
Fort Scott was established in 1842, one of a line of forts from Minnesota to Louisiana that acted as the frontier’s frontline. But when Kansas and Nebraska became states in 1854 and the federal government left it to a popular vote to decide whether to allow slavery, it sparked a border war between Kansas and Missouri known as Bleeding Kansas, which “was the fight over slavery leading up to the Civil War,” said Holly Baker, chief of interpretation and resource management for the Fort Scott National Historic Site in Fort Scott.
Of the 20 buildings on the site that visitors can tour, 11 are original and the rest were rebuilt on original foundations. During a self-guided tour, guests can explore furnished interior spaces “that depict life on the fort in 1848” — a mess hall, a bunkhouse and a jail — she said. The fort has limited event space; meetings with up to 12 people can use an open area upstairs in one of the historic barracks. Groups can also request a special guided tour at least three weeks in advance or join regularly scheduled tours and programs during the summer.
New interactive exhibits include a series of video panels, each representing a different year, and guests can choose from six characters and hear about their lives during the period. Visitors can also watch a 22-minute film and read news articles from the period at touch panels to see how Northern and Southern newspapers reported on the same events.
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
Third-grader Linda Brown had to walk six blocks to the bus stop and ride a bus to Monroe Elementary School, a black school, although an all-white elementary school was only seven blocks from her home. Her father, Oliver Brown, was one of 13 parents who filed a class-action lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education for operating segregated schools. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling in the case declared it unconstitutional for states to establish separate public schools for black and white students.
Today, Monroe Elementary is the site of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, where visitors can learn about the history of segregation in America, although “the heart of what we talk about is the ’50s, from 1950 to 1957, what our case did and the immediate aftermath,” said Enimini Ekong, chief of interpretation, education and cultural resources.
Guests can watch a 30-minute film in the auditorium, which is available for events for up to 150. An upstairs classroom can hold 32, and a first-floor program room has capacity for 38.
Two galleries tell of the barriers to education African-Americans had to overcome and the civil rights movement following the Supreme Court ruling. In the Hall of Courage, screens showing historic footage flank visitors so they see and hear what was yelled at the first black students as they walked into Little Rock High School in 1957.
Groups can reserve space during operating hours if the event fits the site’s mission of education or race and equity issues. For other uses, planners can request after-hours reservations.
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