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Civil Rights, Corvair and Cancer Crusade in 1960
Out of the Morgue
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President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which was passed by the US Senate this week in 1960.

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

It’s amazing to think that it was 60 years ago this week that the U.S. Senate passed a Civil Rights bill with sweeping measures against discriminatory voting practices. It was good news for everyone in the country, and especially for minority voters who had considerable barriers to overcome in order to cast their votes, depending on the state where they resided. 

In the April 6 and 7, 1960 editions of the Great Bend Daily Tribune, reports told of Southern senators filibustering against a part of the bill that allowed federal judges to register Negro voters where “systemic discrimination to bar them from the polls was found,” including in cases that had not been ruled on prior to the end of the registration period, calling it unconstitutional because it would “run roughshod” over state election laws.  

This, the senators argued, was unfair because it would allow federal judges to register Negroes after the registration books had been closed to white voters.  It finally did pass, and became the Civil Rights Act of 1960.

There were other focuses of the bill, which aimed to close loopholes left in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which ordered the desegregation of schools. And there was more to come, including The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights act of 1965.  

Voting rights continue to be challenged in a variety of ways, even 60 years later. States still set election rules, and requirements vary from state to state. Some states will allow registration the day of election, while others require registration weeks in advance. The kinds of documents required to register are not consistent throughout the country either. Many potential votes were not cast in the 2016 election in states where proof of U.S. citizenship was required to register – like driver’s licenses or birth certificates. It’s a battle that never truly ends.

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The 1960 Corvair, advertised here by Great Bend Chevy dealer Taylor Motors, was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. The safety of the car is debated by enthusiasts even to this day.
Local dealer advertises the (in)famous Corvair 

Inside the April 5, 1960, edition, a quarter-page advertisement from Taylor Motors in Great Bend touted that the Chevrolet Corvair had been named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.  

“Four-wheeled independent suspension totally unlike any other U.S. car ... air cooled aluminum engine ... not dependent on the properties of a liquid coolant ... a rear mounted transaxle allowing a flatter floor and a lower roofline,” were the big selling points for a car that later consumer advocate Ralph Nader highlighted in his book “Unsafe at Any Speed.” 

According to some automobile enthusiasts, the problem with the car was the handling. It was designed to go fast, but the placement of the engine and the type of suspension it had made it hard to control. Nader called it a “one car accident.” 

The first few years the car was in production were the worst. Then, by 1965 Chevrolet redesigned the suspension, according to the website, and mechanics were installing brackets on the suspension of earlier models to make them easier to handle.  

Still, the damage was done and the reputation of the Corvair was tarnished. We found an interesting Politico report detailing attempts GM made to discredit Nader (“Federal study refutes Nader’s Corvair charges,” July 20, 1972 at

Then, in 1970, Nader himself urged the federal government to conduct a study. The results of that study found the Corvair didn’t handle any worse than other cars in its class (like the Volkswagen Beetle). 

Today, according to Haggerty, an insurance company that specializes in insuring classic cars, the Corvair is one of the most affordable entry cars for collectors. There are Corvair clubs too. Heck, there are probably a number of them locally, so keep an eye out for them this summer when the local shine and shows start up again. 

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(April 8, 1960) Bungalow HD unit members prepare envelopes for a cancer drive effort. Members prepared approximately 300 workers’ kits to be used Monday in the kickoff for cancer drive week. Pictured from left to right, seated, are Mrs. Herb Smith, Mrs. Duke Hilton, Mrs. Don Rinehardt, back row, Mrs. Don Standley, Mrs. John Knox, Mrs .Amos Helander, Mrs. Loyd Phillips, Mrs. Vernon Traylor and Mrs. R. L. Stover.
Cancer Crusade kickoff

In Great Bend news, this week in 1960  members of the Bungalow HD unit were preparing for the Cancer Crusade for Great Bend. A photo of the women assembling drive kits appeared in the Tribune, as well as daily reports on the effort to raise over $3,000 for cancer research in Great Bend, and over $6,000 from the entire county.

After the coffee, a door-to-door solicitation effort was set to begin right away. Ward chairpersons representing each of the Great Bend’s Wards were chosen, as well as 32 captains. There were 100 in attendance at the coffee, where movies about cancer breakthroughs and cancer research were presented before the women were released to head out and start knocking on doors. Imagine the effort! 

Sixty years later, the effort continues through events like the Relay for Life held every year in the county, and individual efforts by Relay teams year round.        

In a related article, “Spinach-smoking less likely to hurt you,” the Sloan -Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in Chicago conducted a study on the cancer causing properties of tobacco tar compared to spinach tar. Both dried tobacco leaves and dried spinach leaves were heated and the resulting tar smeared on the skin of lab mice. They were trying to determine if there was a way to filter out cancer causing chemicals from cigarettes. The resulting irritations were measured, and it was agreed, spinach was less deadly than tobacco. 

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Guinea pigs like this one are biologically similar to humans, so they are used in many kinds of testing.

We found an AP report buried inside the Tribune, “Tests show fog of germs practical as weapon of war.” 

It wasn’t a good time to be a guinea pig in America. Scientists were using living germs, Dr. LeRoy D. Fothergill of the Army’s Chemical and Bacteriological Warfare Research Center, Ft. Detrick, Md., disclosed a special symposium on germ and chemical warfare defense conducted that week in 1960. 

The first field trials involved “the use of living, infectious microbes to determine the range from which a potential enemy might successfully loose such weapons and sicken men, animals or plants.” 

He stated a quantity of germs, in the form of an aerosol spray, was loosed into the air from one point in an uninhabited area and carried downwind. 

“Guinea pigs, he told a reporter, had been placed previously at various points throughout the area. 

“Later, it was discovered that guinea pigs were infected for a distance of 15 miles downwind from the point of origin of the aerosol.”

The report also stated the scientist would not disclose what particular organism was used or disclose the exact location where the test was conducted. 

Luckily, use of biological weapons was outlawed by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, and it has 183 States party to it as of August, 2019. 

Guinea pigs, however, continue to be used for all sorts of scientific testing because they have many biological similarities to humans. According to The Guardian, in 2005, they were being used to understand hearing disorders, allergies, and respiratory diseases. 

“The animals have airways that are very sensitive to allergens. They have also been recruited to test new vaccines against anthrax.”