The Butler County History Center and Kansas Oil Museum rolled out several new exhibits, as well as featured a guest speaker during a special event Friday evening.
Among the exhibits is one titled “Glitz, Glam, Glitter!” It features dresses ranging from the 1920s up through the 1960s, including a 1940s evening gown, 1950s wedding dress and more, as well as accessories. This exhibit is made up of items from the museum’s permanent collection. It will remain on display in the front part of the museum through the end of May.
Also new was an oil model inside the museum, which is a temporary exhibit but one Mindy Tallent, director, hopes they will have for a long time.
Another permanent exhibit is an interactive computer that tells the history of agriculture, business and technology, military, sports, and writers and authors of Butler County.
In addition to these exhibits, a new micro-reader can be found in the research library and they have a new Web site, kansasoilmuseum.org, which includes a calendar of events, hours, education/camps, research details, links to news articles, the oil and gas legacy gallery inductees and their biographies, a membership form, information on facility rentals, the gift shop and ways to donate.
In the outdoor exhibit area people can now see the Wash House, which includes a variety of old washing machines and other items used to wash, as well as the Log Cabin, which is now open for visitors to see the inside of.
After having time to look at the new additions, guests then gathered for a presentation by Dr. Gretchen Eick, titled “Civil Rights Working in Kansas.”
She said Wichita has a tremendous civil rights history.
“I want to introduce you to Chet Lewis,” she said.
She said he was someone very influential in civil rights.
He was from Hutchinson and although his parents were college-educated, they could not get a job in the segregated town. Lewis was at the top of his class all the way through high school and then attended KU Law School. He also served in the Army of Occupation in Japan.
After that he married, then started his law practice.
“He brought the first-ever civil rights law suit against Wichita’s government because they segregated the pool,” Eick said.
He won that suit.
He also had an encounter with Wesley Hospital when his wife was having a baby and they located all of the black babies at the back of the nursery. Because his wife was light skinned, they thought the baby was white and put their child at the front of the nursery. When Lewis was down looking at their child, they realized the baby was black and said they would move the baby right away. Lewis said he would bring lawsuit against the hospital and they changed their policy within 24 hours.
Page 2 of 2 - “He also learned to fly and had his own plane,” Eick said. “He flew into McPherson Airport and they wouldn’t serve him in the airport cafe.”
Lewis wrote a letter to them and they too changed their policy.
“These were some of the segregation laws changed just by Chester Lewis being Chester Lewis,” she said.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ordered segregated schools must end. Eick talked about the different middle schools and how the school district would continue to redraw the districts to send white children to their new middle school.
Another important moment in civil rights history was in 1958 when the NAACP youth council organized a sit-in at Dockum Drug Store, which lasted three weeks. Their issue was segregation at the lunch counter. Management changed their policy in that store and said they would serve them at the counter. Lewis then called and asked if they were going to desegregate all of the Dockums in Wichita, which the manager agreed to, and then Lewis asked if they also were going to desegregate all of the Rexalls in the United States, which was affiliated. After a pause, he agreed to that as well.
“All of the people who participated in this sit-in went on to do great things,” Eick said. “This was the first successful student-led sit-in that we know of in the United States.”
Lewis went on to be elected to the national board of the NAACP and often held press conferences. Some of his work made discriminating a misdemeanor.
In 1964 the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Later Lewis filed a formal complaint against the Wichita schools and they were the first district to have a federal investigation in the Midwest.
Lewis also monitored the enforcement of the laws.
“He just continued to be an advocate,” Eick said. “He stayed in Wichita but was better known outside Kansas. He is an amazing man.”
The next event at the History Center will be a lecture, “Civil War Letters,” by Ken Spurgeon on May 16. He has written the book, “A Kansas Soldier at War: The Civil War Letters of Christian and Elise Dubach Iseley.”