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Oct 10, 2018 by

By: Haley Suby, Digital archivist 

Emigrating from Russia to Kansas in the late nineteenth century, Volga Germans brought their culture and language to the United States and sought to preserve them. One example of Volga German culture in Kansas is Turnvereins, commonly referred to as Turner Halls. Turner Halls were the epicenters of socializing and athleticism in these communities and often centered around the production and consumption of beer. Soon after establishing their communities and breweries Volga Germans fought to preserve their right to brew and drink beer against new state laws on the prohibition of alcohol. 

 Figure 1: Turner Hall, UID 209348

Kansans were early adopters of prohibition forming the first temperance organization in 1850, passing a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution in 1880 and bringing prohibition to the national stage in 1884 when Kansas Governor John St. John ran as a presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party. To influence legislation that would allow Turner Halls to continue providing beer for their communities, Volga Germans promoted their moderate approach to consumption, rejecting the over-indulgence often exhibited by some Americans, and provided samples of beer to government officials. Volga Germans along with other immigrants and brewers were successful enough for a time that some Kansans hoping to preserve their own right to indulge even sought their help. In one letter from a Mr. L.W. Clay of Lawrence to John Walruff , Prussian brewer, in 1882, Clay asks Walruff for his advice of how to purchase beer for the City Council without facing the legal backlash of prohibition in Kansas.

 

Figure 2: John Walruff Brewery, UID 209348

To continue providing beer for their communities and preserve their culture, Turner Halls could purchase and be awarded lemonade licenses by the State. The origin of the name “lemonade license” is unclear but it may have come from a refinement method to produce beer that contained less alcohol and aroma of traditional brewing methods. The Denton and Doniphan County Turnverein was a well-known source of bottled beer for both Volga Germans and non-Volga Germans (Topeka State Journal, 1895) But as prohibition laws continued  to tighten their grip on all communities serving liquor, Turner Halls “(…) forced a compromise allowing Germans to buy beer on Sundays except during church service hours” (Higgins, 1992, p. 15) . 

For some Turner Halls this was not enough and they continued selling beer during operating hours illegally and paid fines. To maintain operating costs, such as paying fines and purchasing lemonade licenses, Turner Halls began charging memberships fees and beer coin fees. Their open rebellion to prohibition came from their “(…) German subculture’s resistance to assimilate and reluctance to abandon the past” (Higgins, 1993, p. 6). This should not have come as a surprise to Kansans, as Volga Germans firm belief in preserving their lifestyle and culture led them to emigrate from Germany to Russia and finally to Kansas.

Figure 3: Turner Society, UID 209368

 

In the end, Turner Halls lost their right to sell beer. The prohibitory amendment proposed by state legislature was passed in 1879 by voters reflecting Kansans disapproving attitudes toward drinking and unruly behavior. The amendment faced rebellion by breweries as they continued to serve alcohol through the end of the nineteenth-century, but as penalties became more severe, breweries were forced to accept the law by the early 1900s. In response to closing breweries and prohibition, Kansans as well as other states turned to new sources for their liquor, one such instance being a physician’s prescription card to purchase liquor at a pharmacy. By the beginning of the twenthieth-century, Turner Halls turned their attention to promoting athletic endeavors for young men in their community.'

 Further reading:

 Higgins, C. “Kansas Breweries, 1854-1911,” Kansas History 16, no. 1 (1993): 2-21.

Higgins, C. Kansas Breweries & Beer, 1854-1911. Kansas: Ad Astra Press, 1992.

“From Far Away Russia,” Kansas Museum of History (online exhibit), accessed April 2018, https://www.kshs.org/p/from-far-away-russia-introduction/10679

Kansas State Historical Society. “Brewers Clogs,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified December 2014, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/brewers-clogs/10187

Kansas State Historical Society, Brewery Album, https://www.kshs.org/dart/units/subunits/209348

Kansas State Historical Society. “Germans from Russia in Kansas,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified December 2017, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/germans-from-russia-in-kansas/12231

Kansas State Historical Society. “Lewelling, Lorenzo, D.,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified February 2017, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/lorenzo-d-lewelling/17109

Kansas State Historical Society. “Prohibition,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified March 2014, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/prohibition/14523

Jun 14, 2017 by Megan Macken

Frederick Douglass 1868Born a slave in Maryland, Frederick Douglass became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time. Douglass, like his colleague John Brown, was a leader in the antislavery movement, and the two worked together in 1858, as this letter shows. Douglass also advocated for public schools to be free and open to all children. As a child, he was only literate because he had furtively taught himself to read. Sometimes, when his owners weren't looking, he asked free children if they would stop playing for a minute to help him decipher words. Douglass believed that his education had led to his own freedom, and likewise, it was essential to the freedom of African American people. Despite the successful abolition of slavery--traditionally celebrated on June 19th or Juneteenth--within his lifetime, injustice toward African Americans has persisted after his death.

A 1902 Kansas Supreme Court case pivoted on a school presumably named for him in Topeka. Lowman Hill School had served both black and white children until a fire destroyed it in 1900 (and its temporary location again in 1901).* When Lowman Hill was rebuilt, African American children were instead sent to Douglass (or Douglas) School, a two-room building without running water, while white children attended the new brick school (with running water) so spacious that its second story went unused.

Douglas or Douglass School, Topeka, Kansas in Kansa Memory.orgMore than fifty years after Lowman Hill Elementary Lowman Hill School was segregated, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education legally required all schools to be integrated. During that trial, the Board of Education's arguments cited Frederick Douglass. They maintained that because African Americans like Frederick Douglass had been resilient--emerging from segregation and many other obstacles as great Americans--segregated schools did not harm children. This did not persuade the Supreme Court, which ultimately decided that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" and that the children had been "deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."

Integration was not a total victory. African American schoolteachers in Topeka were not integrated into white schools along with the students. Instead they lost their jobs (see also here). Such inequality continued to play out well into the 1980s and 1990s, when the Brown v. Board case was reopened. Witnesses during the trial reported that African American teachers were discouraged from promoting black viewpoints, even in school plays; one was "permanently suspended" for his persistence in trying. Although high schools had been integrated for many years, some, like Topeka High School, were internally segregated with separate teams and activities for white and black students. Black teachers were also still being placed in black schools, actively separated from white schools and white teachers. Although the city of Topeka had become much more residentially integrated, especially by the late 1980s, the schools had not; in the early 1990s new west side schools had a 5% population of African American students, while on the other side of town schools like Belvoir had a 70% population of black students. Other factors such as attendance boundaries, school construction, school closing, bussing, administrative policies, test scores, and community perceptions of Topeka Schools were presented by the plaintiff as supporting evidence of ongoing segregation.

Wendell R. Godwin, Superintendent of Schools in Topeka, Kansas from 1951 to 1961

This case, known as "Brown III" went all the way to the Supreme Court. Ultimately an appeals court ruled in 1992 that the Topeka School District had never fully achieved desegregation. In order to comply with the ruling, the Topeka Schools built three magnet schools to increase racial diversity in the district. One of these, Scott Dual Language Magnet, now delivers a bilingual eduation. In 1992 Monroe Elementary School, the segregated school at the center of the Brown v. Board case, was designated a national park.

Never having been to school, Frederick Douglass did not know what it was to have his education taken from him by fire, although his own house was destroyed by arson in 1872, or what it was like to attend an integrated school. What Frederick Douglass would make of the 122 years of history since his death, or the discussions on equality and education today, is impossible to know. Douglass did, however, record his own legacy in his own words, which still resonate powerfully today. In a speech preserved as "What the Black Man Wants" in the pamphlet "The Equality of All Men before the Law," Douglass himself said, "What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice."

*Kansas residents can access Newspapers.com for free here - please click here to log in, then return to this page and click on the links for access.


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