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Kansas Memory Blog

Apr 14, 2017 by Megan Macken

Governor Walter Huxman

Four months into Walter Huxman's first and only term as governor, the Kansas Legislature passed the Human Retailers' Sales Tax Act in April of 1937. Like many states, Kansas' traditional streams of revenue were in jeopardy as property lost value during the Great Depression. Huxman preferred indirect taxation, but he failed to persuade lawmakers of indirect methods of generating revenue. For Huxman, sales tax was a last resort, but necessary to avoid bankruptcy and to fund social security.

Most Kansans did not agree. Governor Huxman's records in the State Archives* reveal the incovenience, frustration, and outrage the sales tax and token system caused Kansans, even Huxman's supporters. Unlike Oklahoma, which offered a one-mill token, Kansas only issued a two-mill sales tax token. This token represented two tenths of one cent. It allowed a child buying a 10-cent, double-scoop ice cream cone to pay exact sales tax. Without tokens, any tax less than a penny would have to be paid with a penny. Paying a whole penny tax on a 10-cent cone would be a 10% tax rate instead of a 2% rate. With the two-mill token, the child could pay the exact 2% tax or 0.002 cents. For a single-scoop, five-cent cone, however, a child would pay twice the required tax. It wasn't possible to pay the exact amount (1/1000th of a cent) because there was no one-mill token.

Confused? Concerned? So were many consumers in the 1930s. And what kinds of items were taxed? Definitely ice cream, but what about boy and girl scout badges? The badges were not taxed because the Scouts were an educational organization. Newspapers were taxable, but advertising, a service, was not, as the publisher of the Mound City Republic found out only after writing directly to the Governor. Could coal miners' supplies be exempt from sales tax? No, Governor Huxman had to tell United Mine Workers of America there was nothing to be done. Another letter writer declared the tax "a fine law for rich doctors, half-witted lawyers." A heating and plumbing business couldn't afford to hire the new bookkeeper needed to stay on top of all the new work the law created. Another business owner, Lawrence Photo Supply Co., cited evidence that their profits had actually decreased since the sales tax and tokens were instated. A self-described lifelong Democrat advised the Governor not to seek re-election by "adding blood suckers by the thousands" to the state's payroll. Two other writers asked for additional taxes for old age pensions, one requested an additional tax on cigarettes and beer.

It might come as no surprise, then, that during the elections of 1938, Republican nominee Payne Ratner promised to put an end to "Huxies" if elected. Ratner was elected, winning by about 52,000 votes, and upon inauguration in 1939 eliminated sales tax tokens. The tokens could be redeemed for cash for two years and were subsequently melted down. This made Kansas the first state in the country to eliminate sales tax tokens. With the exception of Missouri most other states followed suit, putting tokens out of circulation by the start of World War II. Governor Huxman's career did not end there. Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Huxman to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth District in April of 1939.

*When viewing Governor Huxman's correspondence records in Kansas Memory, the Governor's typewritten response appears before the correspondent's original letter to the Governor. This is because they were originally stapled together with the Governor's response on top.

Feb 4, 2017 by Megan Macken

Private First Class Albert Thompson, Jr.This photograph of Private First Class Albert Thompson, Jr. was taken in a photography studio while he served in France during World War I. In October 1917 the National Army assigned Thompson to the 302nd Stevedore Regiment in Camp Hill, Virginia, but whether he was drafted or volunteered is unknown. The conditions in the camp were very poor--upon arrival they had no shelter, few blankets, three mess kits for every ten men, and nowhere to bathe. Two months later Thompson's unit set sail from Hoboken, New Jersey for France.

In Europe, Stevedore regiments--formed of African American men--provided every variety of manual labor. At the port of Bordeaux, Thompson's regiment loaded and unloaded cargo from ships, reportedly 800,000 tons in one month or 25,000 tons on average per day.

In September 1918 the men of the 302nd were transferred to the 813th Stevedore Battallion of the Transportation Corps, part of the Service of Supply or SOS. Their new duties in "Graves Registration" made light work of their previous stint as dockworkers. The 813th, along with two other black regiments, removed 23,000 decomposing bodies from the battlefields of Romagne, France into the future Argonne National Cemetery.

Military and community leaders back home likened the black troops to Simon of Cyrene, the African who carried Jesus' cross to Golgotha. White American soldiers in France, however, spread word that the African American regiments were sent to remove the dead because the regiments were diseased. By the end of the war it was evident that the latter sentiment, which dismissed the black contribution to the Allied cause, largely prevailed. Black American soldiers were excluded from marching in the Allied victory parade in Paris, although black soliders from France and England took part. Fearing that black soliders would return to the U.S. with radical ideas of equality, military leaders restricted the movements of black soldiers in France. Upon their return home, especially in the south, African American soldiers were stripped of their uniforms, excluded from service organizations, and labeled cowards.

In 1919 Private First Class Albert Thompson, Jr. returned from France to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he died on July 16th of an unknown illness at age 23. He wasn't commended for his service until after he was buried on the 21st of July in Topeka, Kansas. In a large public ceremony on July 30, 1919, Kansas Governor Arthur Capper, Topeka city officials, and African American community leaders honored Thompson and other African American servicemen, particularly of the 92nd Division. Colonel Charles Young, a black West Point graduate, addressed the assembly. In her 1922 letter to the Kansas Historical Society, Thompson's mother, Alice, mentions that her son also received a diploma from France honoring his service and an unspecified memorial from Washington, D.C. 

Further reading:

Barbeau, Arthur E., and Florette Henri. 1996. The unknown soldiers: African-American troops in World War I. New York: Da Capo Press.

"Colored Fighters of 92nd Division Honored by City" in Topeka Daily Capital, Wednesday, July 30, 1919. Accessed February 4, 2017. (Please click here to login first). 

Dalessandro, Robert J., Gerald Torrence, and Michael G. Knapp. 2009. Willing patriots: men of color in the First World War. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History.

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