The only constant is change, as the saying goes, and that is precisely what is being featured in new exhibits at McPherson Museum.
"Social Change: Then and Now" was designed by McPherson College junior Diamond Blaylock.
"It's something that interests me; it's something that I live out every day," Blaylock said.
Much of the exhibit deals with issues of discrimination that African Americans living in Kansas faced.
"(Blaylock) liked the idea of looking for this information and shaping it to be impactful to our guests who come see it," said McPherson Museum Director Anna Ruxlow said. "It's definitely a conversation starter."
While the social taboos against interracial marriage, hurdles involved in being a black homeowner and fight to close wage gaps were not a surprise to Blaylock, she was surprised to learn the Ku Klux Klan was so active in the state.
"I had no idea that Kansas had the nickname 'Klan-sas,'" Blaylock said.
Ruxlow affirmed research turned up evidence of a KKK rally held on the north side of McPherson in 1924 — with a reported 50,000 people attending.
African Americans were discouraged from living in McPherson, Ruxlow said, and Klan members turned their attention to harassing those who did not buy war bonds during World War I.
"They would have meetings where they would shun people for not buying war bonds," Blaylock said.
The names of those who did not buy war bonds — many of whom were Mennonite and pacifists for religious reasons — were written on what was called a "slacker board," a large wooden sign posted along Main Street in McPherson.
"It was lit up so people could see it at night, too," Ruxlow said. "...If you hadn't bought a war bond, they put your name up on it so everyone knew you weren't supporting it."
In "Social Change: Then and Now," a mannequin dressed in a period suit tells a story about how he overheard the KKK planning to lynch someone for not buying war bonds. One specific detail noted is that the Klan members wore the same shoes to church as they did to their meetings to plot violence against others
Another historical event that fascinated Blaylock was the Dockum Drug Store sit-in that began on July 19, 1958, in Wichita. For 23 days, African Americans sat at the lunch counter to protest the segregation in the diner that refused to serve them a meal.
"I had no idea about the Wichita sit-in," Blaylock said. "...It served as the catalyst for the other sit-ins."
"When she and I started discussing that we really wanted to have that in there, I said, 'let's make a drugstore counter to put in this exhibit,'" Ruxlow said.
Museum staff built a replica of a counter for Blaylock's exhibit, complete with a button to push to hear audio relating to the sit-ins of the 1960s and a menu with details about the Dockum Drug Store sit-in.
"The museum staff helped me tremendously. There is no way I'd be able to pull that off by myself," Blaylock said. "...I kind of gave them my vision and they put it together."
Blayock also learned more than history as she worked to create the exhibit.
"Anna taught me how to sew. There were a lot of life skills that I didn't have yet that I accumulated through this process," Blaylock said.
Scheduling the exhibit to coincide with Black History Month was something both Ruxlow and Blaylock noted made sense.
"People are going to learn things about McPherson that they didn't know," Ruxlow said.
"Kansas was more involved in the civil rights movement than (people) think," Blaylock said. "...A lot of these things are not taught in public schools, so this is good for younger individuals."
Younger people may also not be aware of how recently some social changes have happened.
"These pictures aren't in black and white. It's not as far away as you think it is," Blaylock said.
Adults can also view the exhibit and reflect on the progress — or lack of it — that they have seen.
"People are aware we have progressed quite a bit, but (the exhibit) is also to remind them that we still have a lot to do," Blaylock said.
l Also currently on display at the museum is "Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Identity and Stereotypes in Thrift Store Donations," an exhibit from Kauffman Museum that won an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for its look at racial stereotypes in advertising.
"Social Change: Then and Now" will be open through March 15.
The McPherson Museum, located at 1111 E. Kansas Ave., is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children and free for students with student ID, seniors and children 4 and under.
For more information, visit http://www.mcphersonmuseum.com or call 620-241-8464.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.