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.
In 1946, the rumblings of the Civil Rights movement began when black soldiers returned from service after WWII. In Jackson, Miss., federal officers were called out for protective purposes during Mississippi’s primary election this week.
“Backed by a promise of federal protection, Negroes joined white persons today in voting in Mississippi’s Democratic primary election. They were not molested.” read an Associated Press story in the July 2, 1946 edition of The Great Bend Tribune.
An interesting read is the book, Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan. Published in 2006, the book looks back at how the Southern states like Mississippi dealt with the racial aspects of returning black servicemen. The arrival of strong, decorated soldiers clashed with the accepted social norms of the time, and instead of being welcomed as heroes, some of these soldiers were instead lynched because they were perceived as having too much “shine,” or pride.
The Kansas of 1946 wasn’t colorblind, either. Housing in Great Bend was tight after WWII, as a story in the July 2, 1946 Tribune highlighted. Fifty-four homes had been built in the city since Jan. 1 of that year, and many more were in the works, but still there was not enough. Much of the demand was fueled by the families of returning soldiers who had put their lives on hold for the war.
Five years later, with housing still in demand, Lustron homes, like the one on permanent display at the Barton County Historical Society Museum, were to be built in the Hacienda and Progress additions. Covenants for the new communities included no livestock nor noxious trade, and “occupancy by persons of Caucasian blood only,” among others.
Imagine what it would have been like for those Barton County soldiers that returned from the war who were black or Hispanic to read advertisements like these. It wasn’t until 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed that it became unlawful to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale of a dwelling because of race or national origin. The Act also made it unlawful for any person or other entity whose business includes residential real estate-related transactions to discriminate against any person in making available such a transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race or national origin.
64 Barton men lost lives
Some soldiers did not make it home from the war, and they would be recognized in print and in spirit. A total of 124 soldiers, sailors and marines had been identified and listed as casualties from Barton County. The Thursday, June 27, 1946 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, pages two and three, contain a list of Barton County Soldiers who were killed in action, died of wounds, died of injuries, did non-battle, missing in action or finding of death during WWII. To view a copy of this article, visit the Great Bend Public Library, and have a reference librarian help with use of the new microfilm reader which allows for zooming in and send information directly to an email address or save on a zip drive.
First post-war Independence Day
In the July 2, 1946, edition of the Tribune, a lineup of events for July 4 appeared. Great Bend City Park would be the focal spot for an American Legion-sponsored rodeo to be held in front of the grandstand, in addition to a big parade and carnival.
According to one news-story, all Chamber of Commerce member businesses and non-essential government workers had the day off July 4, as it was designated an “all day closing” day on the Chamber Calendar, ensuring “employees, along with hundreds of others in this territory, will have ample opportunity to join in the first post-war Independence Day with a parade beginning at 11 o’clock in the morning.”
Today, parades start at Brit Spaugh Park, known in 1946 as City Park, and they travel to Lakin St. and turns west to finish. Sixty years ago, the route was a bit different. The parade, which started at 8th and Main St., would end at City Park, where the first performance of the rodeo would take place in the afternoon. A carnival would also be held in the park throughout the afternoon and evening.
Carriers win firecrackers
In 1946, working as a newspaper carrier for the Tribune was a rite of passage for young boys. Three carriers won an assortment of fireworks as a prize for having the least number of complaints and making the best collections during the month of June. Their photograph was published along with the winning announcement. They were Richard Unruh, Kenneth Wegner, and Lawrence Neill. These men would all be in their late 60s or 70s by now. We conducted a search, as the names all have that ring of familiarity about them, but we simply weren’t able to find anything that pointed to what they did later in life. Hopefully, they were wiser than six young teens mentioned in the same paper. These 17 year olds had to appear in court a few days before July 4, and would be required to return on Friday, July 5, by the judge who lectured them soundly about setting off fireworks in violation of city ordinances, which only allowed it on July 4. No formal charges were filed.
Hopefully, if any of these young men received burns from playing with firecrackers, they didn’t follow the advice printed in the Tribune concerning how to deal with burns? Advice for minor burns included a quick call to the family physician and home remedies like washing in water with a little soda added, and application of any good burn ointment, vaseline or olive oil to be spread over the affected parts. Advice given today by the Red Cross and the Academy of American Family Physicians is to seek medical attention immediately if the affected area is the hands, face or feet, to run cool water over the burn for 20 minutes to cool it, and to NOT put oils on the burn because there is a danger of holding heat in and actually increasing the damage. Definitely something to remember with July 4, 2016, right around the corner.
Today’s landmarks were yesterday’s great ideas
This week in 1946, two landmark additions to the City of Great Bend that still exist today were mentioned
The first was the announcement of a new, state of the art movie theater that was scheduled to be built as soon as construction materials were once again available. Commonwealth Theatres, Inc. of Kansas City planned to build the new movie house to replace the current Kansan. Later, it would be renamed the Crest Theatre, and today the building is home to the Great Bend Community Theatre, owned by the City of Great Bend.
The second landmark of today was the Army airfield west of Great Bend which was declared surplus that week. It was then up to the war department to decide whether any branches other than the air force needed those fields — the first step to decommissioning the airfield here in Great Bend that would eventually become both our commercial airport and the home of the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip. Already, Great Bend had placed a bid to secure control of the field when it became available.
Today, in addition to the dragstrip and the municipal airport, the B-29 Memorial Plaza is located where the former headquarters of the Army airfield once stood.