John Brown as portrayed by Kerry Altenbernd told the story.
When Jim Daniels, a slave in Missouri, found that his owner had died, he feared that he and his family would be sold and separated. Daniels contacted John Brown for help. Brown brought Daniels and his family out of Missouri to the Grover farm near Lawrence. The “cargo” of 12 people stayed several nights in the Grover’s new stone barn, then began a journey on the Underground Railway that would take them north and east through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan, en route to freedom in Canada. The Grovers defied federal law by harboring the fugitives, risking fines and imprisonment.
Judy Sweets, local historian and archivist, has dedicated her energy to researching the Underground Railroad in Douglas County. She explained that there are originally thirty sites on the Railroad in the area. Two remain in Lawrence: the Grover Barn at Stone Barn Terrace and Lawrence Avenue and the Miller Farm at Haskell and 19th Street.
The stone barn was built in 1858 by Joel Grover and his wife Emily on their 180-acre farm located about a mile-and-a-half south and west of the center of Lawrence at the time. When the Grover family finally left the farm in 1953, the barn was used as a sculpture studio for many years. In 1981, the Grover Barn was refurbished by the City of Lawrence to serve as Fire Station #4.
Recently, the Guardians of Grover Barn announced that the barn has been designated as a documented Underground Railroad site on the Network to Freedom by the National Park Service.
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.