Cecile Accilien, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute of Haitian Studies in the Department of African and African-American Studies at KU. Although born in Haiti, she has lived in states all across the United States. She urged Rotarians and political leaders to reject negative stereotypes about Haiti, learn about the country’s distinguished history and connection to the United States, and understand how that history has resulted in Haiti’s situation in the world today.
Several hundred Haitians fought on the side of American revolutionaries in 1779 at the Battle of Savannah, Georgia. A statue was erected in 2010 in downtown Savannah commemorating the event.
Haiti is the world’s first black republic. Its slave revolution won independence from France in 1804, making it the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere after the United States. The United States waited nearly 50 years to recognize Haiti’s independence, fearing a contagion that would inspire American slaves to rise up to an even greater degree.
President Thomas Jefferson was able to buy the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803 because Napoleon had lost control of Haiti (then known as Saint-Domingue) due to the courageous fight of the Haitian people. The “gingerbread architecture” of homes in Louisiana, language, food, and religion all had roots in Haiti.
For 19 years (1915-1934), the United States occupied Haiti, completely controlled the country, and rewrote its constitution to benefit American economic interests. Haiti was a powerhouse supplier of sugar, rum, and indigo to its northern neighbor.
In Fall 2018, an art exhibition at the Spencer Museum of Art at KU will highlight “The Ties that Bind: Haiti, the United States, and the Art of Ulrick Jean-Pierre in Comparative Perspective.” The exhibition notes explain that “both the United States and Haiti were impacted by complex encounters among European colonizers, Indigenous populations, and enslaved peoples. These nations share common revolutions for independence and violent but ultimately successful attempts to abolish slavery. The ongoing migration of citizens between Haiti and the United States has led to hybrid forms of architecture, language, food, and religion.”
In addition to the core exhibits about Douglas County history on display at Watkins Museum, such as this 1870s playhouse, there is always something new to see, according to Steve Nowak, Executive Director.
Sometimes the “new” is an addition to an existing exhibit. For example, the story of Lawrence’s efforts to establish a Fair Housing Ordinance in the 1960’s has been added to the “Enduring Struggles—Lawrence Fights for Change.” Documents, music, photographs, artifacts, and oral histories combine in an interactive display highlighting Lawrence’s spirit of activism and community spirit in various decades.
Changing exhibits can focus attention on a particular aspect of local history. For example, “Community and Culture: the Lawrence Turnverein” tells the story of the Germans who were among the earliest settlers in Lawrence.
“Hidden Treasures: Staff Favorites from the Watkins Collection” showcases artifacts in new ways. Find a cowboy hat signed by John Wayne and a sculpture made of the soles of shoes, as well as other treasures.
“Mass St. Magic—Weaver’s Window Displays” celebrates the 160th anniversary of the local department store by recreating some of the window displays it featured over the years. Founded in 1857, Weaver’s is one of the longest running department stores in the United States. Even in 1850’s, it was known to bring NYC fashion to Lawrence.
On Saturday, December 2, the museum will host “Tails and Traditions Holiday Festival.” Stop by between 9 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. for prime horse parade-viewing spots, snacks, kids’ crafts and games, and live holiday music. The Watkins Museum of History hosted 17,500 visitors in 2017, up from 6,000 seven years ago when Nowak began his tenure.
In the late 1960s, POW/MIA wives bucked government protocol and broke public silence to demand accounting for their husbands and to pursue their safe return after years of imprisonment and torture by the North Vietnamese. Audrey McKanna Coleman, Senior Curator at the Dole Institute of Politics and member of Lawrence Central Rotary, highlighted how these women worked with Congress and the Nixon administration to challenge the traditional role of “military wife.” Senator Robert Dole helped them to gather a coalition in Congress and to sponsor the 1970 May Day event when they stepped forward publically as advocates for their husbands.
The story of these courageous women is chronicled at the Dole Institute of Politics in “The League of Wives: Vietnam’s POW/MIA Allies and Advocates.” The display is the most recent of a series of exhibits conceived by Coleman that highlight the people and events with whom Senator Robert Dole interacted during his career. Past exhibits included one in 2015 on Dole’s leadership in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act and one in 2017 commemorating Dole’s nomination in 1976 at Kemper Arena to run for the Vice Presidency on the Republican ticket with Gerald Ford.
Curated by 2017 Dole Archives Curatorial Fellow Heath Hardage Lee, the current exhibition features 200 items that tell the story: documents, photos, oral histories and memorabilia from the Dole Archives, personal collections of POW/MIA families, and other institutions. Lee has written a book on the subject: The League of Wives: a True Story of Survival and Rescue from the Homefront (2019, St. Martin’s Press).
Lawrence Rotary Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year! Longtime member Andrea Norris outlined the distinguished history of the organization for Lawrence Central members.
The Lawrence Rotary Club began in April 1917, just twelve years after Paul Harris and his business colleagues in Chicago began to meet to network and share business opportunities. Sponsored by the Topeka Rotary Club, there were 23 charter members. W.C. Simons was the first president. Numerous leaders of the Lawrence community have been members. In 1987, the club was among the first to invite women to join. Lawrence Rotary launched the two other Rotary clubs in the community: Jayhawk Rotary Club in 1994 and Lawrence Central Rotary in 2003. In 2015, they initiated Rotary Prime, an organization aimed at involving young professionals with Rotary.
From the start, the organization eagerly promoted the aims of Rotary International, raising money and conducting service projects and fundraisers in addition to enjoying social activities. Lawrence Rotary has contributed signiticant time and money to support the work of numerous non-profit organizations in Lawrence over the years. In honor of Rotary International’s 100th anniversary in 2005, Lawrence Rotary Club partnered with the other Rotary clubs in Lawrence and with the City to create the Rotary Arboretum. In addition to local commitments, they have been actively involved with international projects and with raising money for polio eradication.
Lawrence Historian Tom Arnold (Photo Credit LJWorld)
The City of Lawrence was one of the first communities in the nation to establish a Fair Housing Ordinance, said local historian Tom Arnold. This important event took place in Lawrence in July 1967, well before the federal Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968.
Tom Arnold has spent the past months doing research and developing an oral history to commemorate the passage of Lawrence’s Fair Housing Ordinance fifty years ago. After thirty years in the U.S. Navy, Tom came to Lawrence to teach Naval Science at KU for three years as an adjunct professor. He retired from the University six years ago and began volunteering at the Watkins Museum. As the anniversary of the Fair Housing Ordinance approached, Arnold took the archival work that began in the City Attorney’s office by LCR member Scott Wagner, Management Analyst, and accepted the task of developing an oral history to complement the historical documents. Those interviews were conducted in October and November 2016. The goal was to get the personal perspectives and motives of individuals who participated in this important set of decisions in Lawrence during the 1960s. Arnold conducted nine interviews with eleven people, generating twelve hours of recordings. The recordings have now been transcribed so that they are searchable for future research needs.
The milestone anniversary of the Fair Housing Ordinance will be celebrated with a variety of events and displays during the coming months. There will be a visual display at the Watkins Museum and a traveling exhibit as well. Documents will be archived at the KU Spencer Museum.
The Lawrence Human Rights Commission (HRC) was established in 1961. Before that time, none of the public swimming pools were open to non-whites. Businesses routinely segregated Afro-Americans and even refused services. The Fair Housing initiative began as a grassroots movement among Lawrence citizens in 1964 when the Lawrence Fair Housing Committee formed. Attempts to pass state legislation on Fair Housing failed, so the group transferred their focus to the local level. The Lawrence Ordinance was the result of effort and risk-taking by many to address the housing discrimination and inequities that existed in the Lawrence community. The Committee sent a resolution to the Human Relations Commission of the City of Lawrence in 1967. By that time, there was broad support. Many community groups and churches collaborated to bring this significant milestone to reality.