Although Tim and I had not yet reached the terminus of the Missouri River in St. Louis, it was time to change course and say farewell to the river we had been loosely following for the last month or so. Why didn’t we follow the river all the way? Because we were headed to Kansas to meet my friend Jane, whom I had not seen in over two years.
During our visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, we happened upon a wonderful sculpture entitled “Silver Missouri.” This beautiful work of art by Maya Lin, the artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., seemed a fitting end to our exploration of the Missouri River.
|"Silver Missouri" by Maya Lin|
We caught our last glimpse of the Missouri when we crossed the river into Kansas on October 29 and then stopped at Fort Leavenworth. We had decided to visit one more fort, partly because Fort Leavenworth is the oldest active army post west of the Missouri River and was the army’s chief base of operations on the Central Plains. The fort also houses the Frontier Army Museum, which presents the history of the frontier army from 1804 to 1917. Given its mission, I thought this museum might provide a good wrap-up of the many forts we had visited. Although that didn’t happen, we did enjoy the museum exhibits.
Fort Leavenworth is an active military installation, and it was quite the experience entering the post, as all vehicles are subject to inspection at the entrance gate. We had to get out and open the hood, truck and all doors of the car, as well as the hood and doors of the RV. The inspector did seem to get distracted by the kitty and waved us in.
|Grant Hall and Tower|
My favorite part of our visit to Fort Leavenworth was walking around the historic core of the fort and admiring the beautiful brick residences. Many of the houses overlook the Missouri River, and we paused briefly to see where Lewis and Clark had passed through so many years before. Those same residences are now homes to modern-day heroes and their families who are duty stationed and live here at Fort Leavenworth.
|Not a Bad Place to Live|
|Turn-of-the Century Houses at Fort Leavenworth|
|A Hint That These Houses May Be on an Army Post|
|Farewell Missouri River|
Our main reason for the stop in Topeka was to visit Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in public schools. It is this story that is told at the park.
The park is housed in the former Monroe Elementary School, which was one of four segregated elementary schools for African Americans in Topeka. Linda Brown attended this school. When she was refused admission to the school in her neighborhood, her father Oliver Brown and twelve other parents joined a lawsuit against the Topeka School Board in 1951, and the case became known as Brown v. Board of Education. These parents and children had no idea that they would change history. They simply wanted to be treated equally.
|Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site|
The exhibits and films at the park are extremely well done and very thought-provoking. It’s hard to fathom that segregation was the law of the land when I was growing up. It was a sobering visit, but so very worthwhile, and it reminded us that ordinary citizens can change history.
|Learning About the History Surrounding Brown v. Board of Education|
|Interactive Exhibits Help Tell the Story|
|The Struggle Continues|
We then made our way to the Kansas State Capitol, which is gorgeous after a ten-year restoration. The dome has a new copper roof, but it will be some time before it oxidizes to its historic green patina. Once we found the entrance to the capitol (it wasn’t at the top of the grand stairway), we wandered through the halls and admired the architecture and murals.
|Kansas State Capitol|
|Inside the Capitol Dome|
|A State Capitol Restored to Its Former Glory|
Several of the murals were created in 1940-41 by John Steuart Curry, a regionalist painter and contemporary of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. Curry’s most famous mural is “Tragic Prelude,” his interpretation of John Brown and the antislavery movement in the Kansas Territory before the Civil War. Here, John Brown, with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other, stands between abolitionist and pro-slavery forces. The mural helps tell one part of the story of “From Brown to Brown: Topeka’s Civil Rights Story.” Who knew that this small Midwest city played such a pivotal role in America’s century-long struggle for civil rights?