“But It Was Too Late for Me”

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Despite a long history in Harvey County, stories from the Black community have often been ignored. In recent years, efforts have been made to tell some of these stories – stories that  often reveal painful events. The experiences of Black athletes at Newton High School in the late 1940s through the 1950s highlight the difficulties, pain and perseverance of several young men.

The Truth About the Late 40s

In 1997, the Committee planning the 50th reunion for the NHS class of 1948 attempted allow room for Black NHS graduates to share their experiences.  Editor of the 50th reunion book, Norma Werner Wilson, posed this question:

We need to know the truth about the late 40s . . .Do you remember any incidents that clearly showed bigotry or racial callousness?”

The answers published in Our Journey: 50th Reunion Book NHS 1948-1998,” illustrated a community divided along painful racial lines with white student often unaware of the experiences of Black students. Some of the hardest stories revolved around the NHS basketball team and Coach Frank Lindley.

While Lindley was coach at Newton High, 1914-1945, the men’s team was wildly successful with several state championships and undefeated seasons. As coach of the high school basketball team, Lindley was insistent that only white students play on the team.  After he retired from coaching, Lindley continued as NHS  principal 1923-1951.

The 1945 Railroader illustrates the long standing division  with one small photo for the  “Colored Team,” and several photos for the “NHS Railroader Basketball team.”

Page from the Newton High School Railroader, 1945.

What was the experience of the Black athlete in the late 1940s? The stories returned to the reunion committee reveal deep wounds.

“But, it was too late for me”

Clifford Rickman, 1948 graduate from NHS,  shared his experiences and thoughts from the late 1940s.

“Unfortunately my memories of Newton High are not the same as yours.  My memories are of the way African Americans were treated.  The school board still has a building named after Coach Lindley, the biggest bigot . . . You were students just like me, but I thought maybe someone would wonder why some of us don’t come (to reunions) even after all these years.

Clifford Rickman, 1947.

Rickman asked  hard questions.

“Did you ever ask when you went to the movies why all the Blacks sat in one place behind a chrome fence? Did you ever ask why Blacks could not ever swim in the city pool? Did you ever ask why Blacks did not skate at the public skating rink?”

 

He recalled his experiences on the separate basketball team.

“We had a separate Black basketball team. We had to play other Black teams that were in the same boat we were in.  I remember traveling to towns like Chanute, Salina, Hutchinson . . . Sure they gave us high school letters but only because they used Blacks to play football and run track. Newton never changed until Lindley left. I understand when Ravenscroft took over, things changed —but too late for me.”

“Since I couldn’t play basketball on the White team, . . . I would not play football on the White team”

Another response came from Clayton Garnett, who also graduated in 1948.

“I must tell you that what Clifford Rickman wrote was true.  Mr. Lindley, who was coach before Mr. Ravenscroft,  . .  would not let Blacks or Mexicans play on the all White basketball team.” 

“Mr. Lindley, as principal, agreed to let us form our own team made up of all Black guys and let us play our games in the junior high gym.  He also let us use the old outdated basketball uniforms of the White team. “

They were not allowed to play in the high school gym (Lindley Hall), except by special exemption.

“Our coach was Jack Smith and he got permission to play one game in Lindley Hall because we were playing Tulsa and we knew the junior high gym would not accommodate the number of spectators.”

Other sports at NHS did not have these restrictions. Garnett recalled a conversation with the football coach.

“I was asked by the football coach to come out to play on the football team because he saw how fast I was in the 100 yard dash during the Jr/Sr track meet.  But since I couldn’t play basketball on the White team, I told him I would not play football on the White team for him.

He stated that the policy would change as soon as Lindley retired.  Sure enough, as soon as Mr. Lindley retired as principal, Mr. Ravenscroft said that anyone could play on the then exclusively White team. My brother, Floyd (Skip) Garnett did just that in 1958.”

Floyd “Skippy” Garnett

He also recalled restrictions at public places, like the movie theater and swimming pool.

“We also could not swim in the municipal swimming pool at Athletic Park.  We only had one night every two weeks to skate at the skating rink.  We had to sit in the back of the movie theaters.” 

“With Bitter Clarity”

Norris D. Garnett, a Black student from the class of 1949 shared:

“What sticks in my memory with bitter clarity is the racial discrimination and racial prejudice we non-White students had to bear. First there was the matter of the all-White Newton High School basketball team.

We were all great friends in the classrooms and gym, but as soon as school let out, it was as if we didn’t know each other.”

“I sure didn’t know”

In contrast, the response from the white former students reveals an unawareness of what the Black students experienced.

“The thing that  had the greatest impact on me . .. . was the honor assembly  our senior year.  This was when Mr. Lindley introduced the Black basketball team.  I did not know we had such a thing. The  main feeling I had was embarrassment. I’m not sure it was for the boys for being put on exhibit or for the explanation by Mr. Lindley as to why we had the team . . .” – Lee Schroeder

“I never knew we had a separate Black basketball team. I remember being shocked to discover the ‘Mexican’ girls were not allowed to take showers after gym class.” -Jean Maberry Wendt

“I sure didn’t know that these guys were not allowed on the team.” Jennie Anderson Beneke

After Frank Lindley retired, things did change at Newton High School.  Community change was also slow.  In a newspaper article  for the 125th Anniversary of the Kansan, Judy Burks concluded;  “Integration laws came.  Minority students began to play on Railer basketball teams in new uniforms in stead of the discarded uniforms of white players.” Sadly, it was too late for gifted athletes like Clifford Rickman, Clayton Garnett and Norris D. Garnett.

For Additional Stories:

http://harveycountyvoices.blogspot.com/2012/07/makin-splash.html

http://harveycountyvoices.blogspot.com/2014/02/does-this-mean-all-children-aw-roberson.html

Sources:

  • Willson, Norma Werner, ed Our Journey: NHS 1948-1998. 50th Reunion Committee, 1999.  HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Newton High Class of 1949, Along the Golden Trail: 50th Anniversary Book of Memories.  HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Burks, Judy.  “On Equal Ground: Stories of Newton’s Black Settlers.” 125th Anniversary Ed of the Kansan, 1997.

 

Harvey County Roots: Jesse L. Dickinson

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In 1976, the Dickinson Fine Arts Academy, South Bend, IN, was dedicated.  Named for Jesse L. Dickinson, who was active in South Bend, IN as a musician and civic leader, the school continues today as a magnet school for grades 5-8 and  is noted for the After-School Arts Adventure program.

Who was Jesse L. Dickinson? What is the connection to Harvey County?

An accomplished musician, Dickinson was also active in public service.  He served six terms in the Indiana House of Representatives and two terms in the state Senate.  Although he spent his adult life in Indiana, his childhood was spent in Newton, Ks.

Jesse L. Dickinson, 1924 Newtonian, HCHM Archives

Known all over the state for his tenor voice

Jesse L. Dickinson was born in Chandler, Oklahoma in 1906 to George & Fannie Junkin Dickinson. By 1910, his family had moved to Newton, Kansas.  Shortly after arrival in Newton, his mother, Fannie, died and Jesse lived with his grandmother, Elizabeth Dickinson. At a young age he was active in Newton’s Junior Boys’ Working Reserve. A gifted musician, Dickinson was a  popular soloist for Newton High activities, “known all over the state for his tenor voice.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 12 April 1922.

Involved in “All School Plays” throughout his high school years, Dickinson often sang. He was recognized by the by his peers and received a gold medal for the “best student in the state” from the State of Kansas.

Evening Kansan Republican, 11 Nov. 1922.

NHS Glee Club, 1925-1926. Jesse Dickinson identified.

In addition to vocal and instrumental pursuits, Dickinson was active in debate and on the track team.

Newtonian, 1924.

In 1924, he graduated from Newton High and married Helen Bledsoe, the daughter of Rev. William & Adella Bledsoe of Newton, Kansas. He studied music at Bethel College, followed by Western University, Kansas City. Throughout the 1920s, he performed on the Redpath Chautauque and Lyceum circuits.  In 1928, he moved to South Bend, Indiana. He and Helen had four sons.

In South Bend, Dickinson was also well known for his musical talents.  He directed a popular quintet known as Dickinson Plantation Singers in the 1930s.  He also conducted choirs at churches and local festivals.

He entered public life and was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives for the first time in 1943.

Throughout his life Dickinson’s commitment to others was evident in the organizations he served.  The finding aide for his collection at Indiana Historical Society reveal areas of interest including education, health, aging, human relations, and urbanization. Dickinson is included on the Indiana University “Outstanding Black Americans” list for his efforts in improving race relations in South Bend, including the desegregation of the Natatorium (a segregated swimming pool in South Bend).

He maintained connections with Newton, Ks and attended his 50th class reunion in 1975.

Newton High School Class of 1925 50th Anniversary, August 30-31, 1975.

Dickinson died 5 June 1986.

Sources:

  • The Newtonian, 1924.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 17 March 1913, 9 November 1917, 22 May 1918,  29 May 1920, 26 February 1921, 14 May 1921, 12 April 1922, 14 April 1922, 15 April 1922, 23 May 1922, 14 October 1922, 11 November 1922
  • Kansan: 14 April 1939.
  • Site for the Dickinson Fine Arts Academy:  http://dickinson.sb.school/home_old-aug15
  • https://library.iusb.edu/search-find/archives/crhc/JesseDickinson.html
  • The repository for Jesse L. Dickinson Collection, 1911-1986 at Manuscript Collections Department, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN. www.indianahistory.org

 

Harvey County Main Street 5

The clues for this Harvey County Main Street include Old Settler’s Picnic, the transparent Anatomical Mannequin, Valeda, and the filming of the movie “Picnic.”

Parade on Main for Old Settler’s Picnic, n.d.,

1873 Halstead

The Halstead Town Co. purchased 480 acres and platted a new town at the confluence of the Little Arkansas River & Black Kettle Creek.

The town was named for journalist Murat Halstead. G.W. Sweesy built a two story wood frame hotel at the site.

1877

Halstead incorporated as a 3rd class city on March 12, 1877.

1887

First Old Settler’s Picnic.  The event continues today and is Harvey County’s longest running event.

1907 Old Settler’s Picnic, Main Street, Halstead, Ks

1902

Dr. Arthur Hertzler establishes a clinic and hospital. In 2002, the Hertzler Hospital & Clinic closed due to financial difficulty.

1955

The movie, Picnic is filmed in historic Riverside Park.

1965

The Kansas Health Museum, Halstead,  opened as a “teaching” museum.  Valeda, “the transparent woman,” and other exhibits were designed to educate about the systems of the body. Today the museum, known as the Kansas Learning Center for Health, continues to provide health education for all ages.

Valeda Kansas Learning Center, Halstead, Ks

Valeda fun facts:

  • She is 5’7” and, if alive, would weigh around 145 lbs.
  • The  model actually weighs 98 lbs.
  • She describes the human body as various organs light up.
  • The original mold was made by completely coating the body of a living, 28-year-old German woman with a rubber composition. This was allowed to harden, then peeled off to form the mold for Valeda’s plastic skin.
  • Her aluminum skeleton is situated exactly as it is in the normal human body.
  • In 1965, she cost $14,105.00.

1994

Federal Flood Control Project is completed, protecting the city from future floods.