I’m a Jayhawk — and very proud of it. I finished my Ph. D. in organic chemistry at the University of Kansas in 1963 and while my studies were demanding, found time to intensely follow all its sports — football, basketball, track and field and even baseball.
Sports were important! Phog Allen, the legendary father of all basketball coaching, was retired by then, but still alive and very much around. My university mentor was actively involved in recruiting Wilt Chamberlain. And I remember Olympic miler Jim Ryun as a 14-year-old runner from Wichita, coming close to a four minute mile in the Kansas relays. As a Jayhawk himself a few years later, he would run a mile in 3:51.3, a record that would stand for nine years.
Not far from the university, on the other side of the Kansas River, was Lincoln school. It was long all Black, and during World War II, some town leaders actually wanted to move African-American students in other schools in the city to Lincoln, because the federal government was building a gunpowder manufacturing plant east of Lawrence. Those people moving to Lawrence to work there were thought to want their kids in all-white schools. But church leaders, many of whom were Black, objected, and they, along with men like my chemistry mentor Cal VanderWerf, later a college president himself, and the director of the Lawrence YMCA got that idea deep-sixed within days.
And although Lawrence was a university town, it remained partly segregated, as were many places in America then, North as well as South. But you didn’t have to live there for long to know that change was in the air.
One soon became aware that the citizens of Kansas, and Lawrence in particular, were very different than the Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, six-gun toting heroes of old Dodge City and cowboy movie lore.
One of Phog Allen’s first recruits, Clyde Lovellette, was an Indiana native who after an illustrious Hall-of-Fame career in the NBA went on to become a coach and city councilman in a town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and then sheriff of Vigo County, Indiana.
Kansas is a reliably Republican state in Presidential elections, and in part because of gerrymandering has sent a disproportionate number of right wing Republicans to Congress – including, for a time, Jim Ryun. Yet it is not a multidimensional place at all, but an honorable; diverse and mostly good citizen-based set of communities that many places could learn from.
So while the national pundits may have been stunned, it didn’t surprise me a bit that on Aug. 2, a huge turnout of Kansans soundly defeated (59 to 41 percent) a proposed measure from the Kansas legislature to restrict abortion rights. As a quote in The Blade from President Biden noted, “The Republicans don’t have a clue about the power of the American people. Last night in Kansas, they found out.”
The Kansas legislature, and the mostly western Kansas-dominated creatures who occupy state government have, for generations, given the good citizens of the state a bad name. After all wasn’t that a Harvard law alum from Topeka, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who first claimed that thousands of dead people had voted (presumably for Democrats) at the start of the Trump administration?
True, the only one he could name turned out to be alive and raking his leaves when a reporter went to check on him. Later, when Mr. Kobach claimed that thousands of illegal immigrants were voting, he came up with six names at best.
The Republicans in Kansas, like current members of their party everywhere, have to learn that the citizens are smarter than they are. A minority of minorities can manipulate and unbalance the voting systems in America for just so long, before enough real Americans stand up and say, with Shakespeare in Macbeth, ‘Hold, enough” — and put them in their place. That happened to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and it may, if they aren’t careful, happen to others this year, including GOP Ohio Senate nominee J.D.Vance, and perhaps J.R. Majewski, the QAnon sympathizer running against Toledo’s Marcy Kaptur, who has served in Congress longer than any other woman there.
We should all be talking more about the lesson taught us this month by Kansas and the royal, wonderful Jayhawks. If it takes a few energetic Kansas voters to set America straight, so be it. For too long, the unscrupulous have made a big enough mess of American government and politics.
Time to say, “Out dark spot!- and let the Kansas sun shine in.
Douglas Neckers is an organic chemist, the McMaster distinguished professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University. He is also a former board chair of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y.
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