On this day 160 years ago, Kansas became the 34th state to join the United States. After years of bloodshed and settlement, Kansas entered as a free state.
It wasn’t easy — pro-slavery Missourians often crossed the border to vote in Kansas elections, cause havoc and instill fear in Kansas settlers. However, abolitionists, like John Brown, fought those border ruffians. Free-staters were often called Jayhawkers, wearing blue like the Union soldiers.
As a Wildcat, I hate to give credit to some Jayhawks, but it helped make the state I love into what it is today.
However, we can’t ignore the harsh removal of indigenous peoples in the creation of our state. We also can’t ignore the fact that Kansas State sits on land stolen from indigenous tribes such as the Kaw, Osage and the Pawnee. Kansas history didn’t begin when it was settled by white people.
That makes me question my love for the state — what do I love about Kansas?
I love our state motto, ad astra per aspera, so much so I have it tattooed on my body to remind me no matter how tough things get, I can still achieve great things.
I love the wide-open spaces where I can look at the rolling fields of corn and wheat for miles. The golden waves of grain remind me of hope.
I love the strong, bright sunflowers, which I love for their beauty but also because they remind me of my nana, who passed away in 2019.
I love that I came from a small town where I could walk a few blocks to see my family, go to the store and find a parking place without a hassle and then see a cashier who knew my parents’ names.
However, even though I love these things now, it hasn’t always been this way. I came into adulthood wanting to get out of Kansas. I still would like to see the world and possibly live somewhere else someday, but I now appreciate Kansas and I’m not embarrassed to say so.
Kansas is a good place to learn about life. This includes learning where your food is grown and raised. Not everyone is a farmer or rancher, but I am sure they have seen a farm or a feedlot.
Kansas is a good place to learn about politics. Sure, the state is a red state, but it has a history of electing Democratic governors, like Gov. Laura Kelly. Kansas gave women the right to vote in 1912, eight years before the 19th Amendment gave all women the right to vote.
The court case Brown v. Board of Education has roots in Kansas. The case led the United States Supreme Court to declare that “separate but equal” education is not equal, pushing forward the desegregation of schools.
I am a product of public education in Kansas and I have seen the good and bad of budget cuts. I saw arts, sciences and humanities programs get pushed to the side so sports can have new jerseys and equipment. I saw teachers split their time between multiple buildings and classes because there weren’t enough funds to hire a new teacher. I also saw people drop out because they didn’t feel like the classes would help them in life.
Now, on this Kansas Day, I think of how the state is changing and how my views of it changed. I remember sitting in class on Kansas Day in grade school, shaking a baby food jar of heavy whipping cream to make butter, while learning about the state. I remember a friend’s dad bringing a wooden sawhorse in to show us how to rope cattle. I remember eating freshly baked bread to learn about farming wheat. To me back then, Kansas was about the little things.
Now, I know it is more complicated and not everyone lives in a small town where they experience those things. I have friends from Johnson County who think Manhattan is small, while to me Manhattan is a big town. Some people pick on me for saying “supper” instead of “dinner” and “crick” instead of “creek.” Even some of my childhood memories, like playing on a pile of horse manure and jumping on hay bales, seem foreign to them.
Kansas may be flyover country to some, but it’s where I was raised. I have memories associated with the highways and interstate. I can see a combine and remember sitting on my great-grandpa’s lap while he let me “drive.” I can look for miles in any direction and see a storm roll in on a humid, summer evening. Even hearing the sound of a tornado siren brings me good memories.
If you want to learn more about Kansas, the Kansas Historical Society maintains a website about Kansas history. Also, the history department often offers a Kansas history class, which is informative even for people born and raised in the state.
Personally, I love Sarah Smarsh’s book “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” This shows the vast inequality in the state and puts a human face to the problem.
Bailey Britton is the Collegian editor-in-chief and a junior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.