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.
Seventy years ago, the Jewish people for the first time in many hundreds of years, acquired a homeland this week. It was a volatile week in the region, and its implications were felt worldwide, and to some extent the effects continue to drive world politics today.
On May 14, Jewish leader Golda Meir was one of several signatories of Israel’s independence declaration. That day, the British ended their 28 year mandate over Palestine, and troops from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria , Iraq and Saudi Arabia attacked Israel. On May 16, Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was elected and the country issued its first postage stamp. The next day, the Soviet Union fully recognized the nation of Israel. This, it should be noted, was in advance of America, which was first to recognize the de facto government of Israel, 11 minutes after declaring itself independent, but slower to recognize full statehood.
Reports in the Great Bend Tribune that week are filled with information about the activities surrounding the declaration and the fallout following it. Now, as the 70th anniversary of this historic occasion arrives, the United States officially moved it’s embassy from the nation’s capital, Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, an area hotly contested between Israel and Palestine.
According to a CNN report, the US Congress required the US to move its embassy to Jerusalem as far back as 1995, but every president since then until the current administration has declined to follow through, claiming interests of national security. While many other countries have at one time have held their embassies in Jerusalem, since 2006 there have been no foreign embassies located there. Israel declared Jerusalem it’s capital in 1980, and that prompted the United Nations to call the move a violation of international law. The U.S. moving to recognized this state capital is highly important and welcomed by Israel, but it remains to be seen if any other nations will follow suit.
At the same time the nation of Israel was taking its first tottering steps as a newly formed nation, Great Bend High School seniors were preparing to step out into the adult world, prepared, or so they thought, to meet the challenges that lay before them. Little did they expect one would pop so soon. The class addressed that challenge in a Letter to the Editor in the May 19, 1948 edition. We include it here in its entirety. It’s eloquence speaks for itself, and its relevance continues to be worth pondering.
On Friday evening of this week, 146 seniors of Great Bend high school will be graduated from their alma mater. This commencement will climax for many of the boys and girls 13 years of working, playing, and growing up together.
They will step out into a world full of opportunities, but also a world confused and mixed up by all kinds of problems. It will not be an easy task for them to establish themselves as a firm part of this world and this community, but they will try to put forth everything they have to become a success in life, whatever they may do.
These boys and girls will come across and meet squarely many problems that they will not know quite how to handle. One of these very things arose yesterday afternoon as the entire senior graduating class of GBHS and their faculty visited Lake Barton for the traditional senior picnic.
Negroes Not Admitted
Upon arrival at the site of the afternoon’s outing, it was soon discovered that five of the large group could not be admitted into the club grounds because their color happened to differ slightly from the majority of their classmates. Lake officials flatly refused to admit the two boys and the three girls who were proud of their race, the Negro.
These boys and girls had been as definitely a part of the school life as anyone. Two of them played football for the Great Bend varsity, and two of them are members of the National Honor Society. In the eyes of their white classmates, there exist no finer fellows and girls, regardless of color.
Nevertheless, this small group was repeatedly refused admission to enter the grounds upon which their friends and classmates were enjoying themselves. Later in the afternoon, they were admitted, following consultations with county officials and members of the Barton Lake board.
But the damage had already been done.
Principles of Democracy
Ever since this senior class has been in school, they have been taught over and over the principles of democracy: the right of every citizen to have equal opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Was this act of yesterday an example of America’s democracy?
Friends of the five colored boys and girls were so indignant at the refusal of the officials to admit the group that they threatened to withdraw entirely from the scene of the picnic unless the former were admitted. Fortunately, the matter was soon cleared up and the class was united again. But not until some bad feelings had been created and some pride hurt.
The unity of this group of one hundred odd fellows and girls is remarkable; friendships are strong throughout and between both races. No feelings or walls of distinction exist whatsoever in the lives of both races of students. Then is it fair or right for them to meet a world so opposed to their way of doing things? They don’t ask for much; just the thing that is guaranteed, supposedly, to every citizen of the U.S.A., the privilege of knowing and mingling with whoever they wish.
Yesterday the guys and gals were hurt and disappointed at the actions of older persons. What about tomorrow? What about the day after they step across that platform to receive their high school diploma? Will they be faced throughout their life with something they don’t want; something that is encouraged and forced upon them by their elders?
They have been taught by the great American education system what is right to do, and they are most willing to practice what they have learned. It does not matter greatly who was at fault for the situation yesterday. More important is the question of whether it will happen again.
When the new proposed city recreational program is finally set up and in operation, will the Negroes of Great Bend be pushed aside from their privileges, as they were when the municipal swimming pool was constructed some years ago?
Will the parents of these boys and girls who are completing their education here this week continue to promote race distinction and oppression? Their children don’t want it to go on under the present set up.
The leadership material is at hand for building a better community, founded on firmer friendships and stronger cooperation between races.
Will this material be wasted? It depends on the citizens of the community. Their town can be only what they make it. Youth wants to help; please don’t push them aside!
Graduating seniors of GBHS, May 19, 1948.