Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kansas



When most persons think of Kansas they probably think of Dorothy, given how many times the line "We're not in Kansas anymore" has been used.  It's even found in the Urban Dictionary.  It represents that eerie feeling when you know you're in the wrong place and can't do anything about it.  I think that's the way many Kansans feel today after being "teabagged" in 2010 and forced to live under Sam Brownback, who acts like the Great and Powerful Oz.

It wasn't that long ago, 2008, when a much more level-headed governor presided over the state, Kathleen Sebelius, who was able to reach out to persons across the state regardless of their political differences.  For six years she provided a steady hand, winning two terms by resounding margins.  She is a Democrat, if you can imagine that!

But, somehow the state got all lit up during the Tea Party revival and seems on a collision course with destiny, much like Dorothy was when her house was yanked up by the foundations and tossed into the World of Oz by a tornado, forced into battle with a nasty old witch and her gang of flying monkeys.  It's amazing how quickly the political landscape can change!

This was also the case back in the 1850s when Stephen Douglas got the bright idea to split Kansas and Nebraska, introducing a bill in 1854 to open up new lands for settlement and leave it up to white land-grabbers to determine the fate of the two territories as far as slavery goes.  A blood bath ensued known as Bleeding Kansas, where pro-slavery elements from Missouri tried to settle Kansas.  John Brown led a band of anti-slavery "Free-Staters" (later known as Jayhawks)  to try to claim the state for the abolition movement.  Things got so violent that even Congress was up in arms, as Preston Brooks attacked Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate.  Sumner never fully recovered from the caning he took, as other senators watched aghast.  Brooks became a hero of the pro-slavery element.

Out of that rough and tumble history, Kansas became a state in  January, 1861, shortly before the United States erupted into Civil War.  South Carolina had already seceded from the Union and other Southern states soon followed.  Kansas remained in the Union but found itself on the battlefront, as pro-Confederate Missourians tried to reclaim the state during the war.  Quantrill's Raid, or the Lawrence Massacre, is probably the best known battle from the era.

Kansas would later find itself at the center of the Civil Rights struggle, when Oliver Brown sued to have his child admitted into a Topeka all white school.  This seemed a bitter irony for a state that had survived the Civil War as a "Free State." Segregation had crept across the border like it did in many parts of the Midwest, and the case was taken all the way up to the Supreme Court, where a unanimous ruling opened up all schools for access to all minorities.  100 years later, almost to the day, Kansas once again found itself at the epicenter of a civil war, as the push for Civil Rights spread throughout the South, as a result of Brown vs. Board of Education.

All it takes is a little dust-up to get things riled up in Kansas.  Frank Baum actually lived in South Dakota, which was still a territory at the time, but seemed to understand the Kansas situation well.  He had tried his hand at the newspaper business, but in 1900 got the idea for the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which he imagined being made into a Broadway play.  The book became a bestseller, spawning sequels, with numerous political references.  By the time the book was made into a movie, first in 1925, much of that political satire had been squeezed out of it and we were left with the classic children's tale we all know so well from 1939.


Yes, Dorothy, we aren't in Kansas anymore.  Who would think that such a seemingly mild-mannered state could be so easily torn asunder time and time again.

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