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
Earlier this week, on Monday, Aug. 6, Wichita marked the 60th anniversary of the day when two dozen students from Wichita staged what would become the first successful student-led lunch counter sit-in of the Civil Rights movement.
By August 11, 1958, they had desegregated the Dockum Drug Store lunch counter in Wichita, Kansas, and all Rexall Drug Stores throughout the State of Kansas. The protest began on July 19, 1958 in downtown Wichita at the Dockum Drug Store, making this year the 60th anniversary of the historic event, according to Jessica Sawatski, public relations manager for Visit Wiichita, in a press release to Kansas media earlier this week.
“The Wichita we know today was not the same in the 1950s. Much of downtown was segregated. African Americans were not allowed to eat in the same restaurants as Caucasian Americans or allowed to use the same recreational spaces, such as swimming pools.
“Wichita took 18 years to desegregate their schools after Brown v. Board of Education passed in 1954, but the students who participated in the 1958 sit-in didn’t wait that long to address segregation.
“Black students, one by one, would come and sit at the Dockum lunch counter and refuse to move until they were served. Protesters would sit at the counter all day until the store closed, ignoring taunts from counter-protesters. The sit-in ended three weeks later when the owner relented and agreed to serve black patrons. After months of protesting and the three-week sit-in, they were served at an all-white lunch counter.
“When the Dockum Drug Store sit-in first happened in July 1958, few newspapers printed details about it, and to this day, it is still relatively unknown.
“According to The Kansas African American Museum, the Dockum sit-in of 1958 is considered the first successful student led sit-in, happening about 19 months before the ones in Greensboro, which most people are most familiar with today.”
Sawatski noted that the Kansas African American Museum will host a program and commemorative march, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11, from A. Price Woodard Park at 401 W. Douglas Ave. to Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park at 205 W. Douglas Ave. in downtown Wichita. The museum is also offering free admission during their regular business hours on Aug. 11.
Preparing for school
The Great Bend Tribune did not carry reports about the Dockum Drug Store sit-in. While it is likely the reason for this failure to report had more to do with lack of wire stories about the event, it is notable that in 1958, there was little news coverage in the Tribune that reflected races other than white, either locally, nationally or internationally. This was indicative of the times. Instead, news coverage focused on conflict between the U.S.S.R. and the United States and lots of local news.
Locally, the start of school was nearing, and efforts were underway to prepare schools for the influx of students in September. Projects at Jefferson and Lincoln elementary schools were near wrapping up, and classrooms were nearing readiness at Harrison Junior High, today known as Great Bend Middle School. On the other side of the city, vandalism was reported at Riley Elementary School.
“Police Criminal Investigator Sgt. Dale Denney said the intruders, suspected to be juveniles, are entering the school building through unlocked windows,” according to a report about the incident. Within the previous three weeks, the school was broken into three times, with about $400 worth of damage wrought between both events. Police warned
Severe punishment could follow when the youths are caught.”
Private ownership of airplanes and attendance at fly-ins were promoted this week as regional airlines negotiated with the Great Bend Municipal airport for service.
“From California to New York, private flyers keep a close eye on weather maps for an indication that a sunny, comfortable Sunday is in prospect. Then, weather permitting, these weekend flyers, their families and friends take off shortly after sunrise en route to fly-in breakfasts, lunches, air fairs or air tours.”
Fly-ins were described as social and informative gatherings often held near resort or recreational areas. “Pilots and their families swim, boat, fish, play games and eat picnic lunches.” Talk about the “jet set!”
Negotiating commercial service
Frontier Airlines of Denver used to be one of the big commercial airlines in the last century. This week in 1958, they were in negotiations with airports in Great Bend, Garden City, Goodland and Hays. Delegates met in Great Bend. Days later, Central Airline of Ft. Worth also made a formal application for temporary routes across Kansas, including Great Bend. Both airlines operated regionally with service to Great Bend during the next decade. In 1967, Frontier acquired Central. But, in the mid-1980s, Frontier entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A new company was created with the same name, under some of the same leadership in the mid 1990s, and continues to operate as a regional carrier today. Currently, no commercial service is provided to Great Bend Municipal Airport, but many chartered planes and private pilots use the airport daily.
Coming up the last weekend of September, the Great Bend Municipal Airport will be celebrate the return of the Great Bend Airfest.
Two B-29 Bombers, “Fi Fi” and “Doc,” will fly over the city on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28,29 and 30. There will be several other military and other aircraft for the public to view, both in flight and on the ground. A USO-style dance will also be held on Saturday. It’s going to be a great chance to connect with Great Bend and U.S. history and recreation.