“I guess Kansas is getting like the South, isn’t it, ma?” Sandy said to his
grandmother as they came out on the porch that evening after supper. “They don’t
like us here either, do they?”
But Aunt Hager gave him no answer. In silence they watched the sunset fade
from the sky. Slowly the evening star grew bright, and, looking at the stars, Hager
began to sing, very softly at first:
From this world o’trouble free,
Stars beyond! . . .
There’s a star fo’ you an’ me,
The boy “Sandy” and his grandmother are fictional characters. Yet the Kansas
sunsets that the author describes are real—as real as the evening stars that have
inspired millions of people who called the place “home,” the same stars that con-
temporary Kansans continue to honor in their state motto.
From his family’s
house at 732 Alabama Street in Lawrence during the early 1900s, the creator of
Sandy and Aunt Hager had much opportunity to enjoy Kansas’s admirable stars
and sunsets but also to endure some of its less admirable racial qualities. The au-
thor was Langston Hughes, the famed poet and novelist of the Harlem Renais-
James N. Leiker i
s an assistant professor of History at Johnson County Community College. He earned
his B.S. and M.A. at Fort Hays State University and his Ph.D. in U.S. social history at the University of Kansas.
Leiker’s articles on race and the American West have appeared in
Great Plains Quarterly
Western Historical Quarterly
. His book,
Racial Borders: Black Soldiers along the Rio Grande
1. Langston Hughes,
Not Without Laughter: A Novel
(1930; reprint, New York: Simon and Schuster,
1969; paperback edition, 1995), 201–2.
Ad astra per aspera
(“To the stars through difficulties”).
by James N. Leiker
In a fine addition to this series
evaluating existing histories and
suggesting new directions histori-
ans might take, Professor James N.
Leiker tackles one of the most im-
portant yet least understood topics
in Kansas history. Race, in a sense,
has defined Kansas from the start.
Nevertheless, as Leiker points out,
Kansans seem largely unaware of
their racial past.
Clearly, Kansas society has
been structured by race. Yet, until
recently, historians ignored that
fact. Many people wanted African
Americans barred from the state.
School segregation was wide-
spread in Kansas even where it
was not legal, and blacks were ex-
cluded from some but not all pub-
lic institutions. Not only has soci-
ety been structured by racial
inequality, but there also were
powerful overt manifestations of
racism in the Wyandotte Constitu-
tion, in some aspects of the re-
sponse to the Great Exodus, in the
activities of Ku Klux Klan in the
1920s, and in the more recent ac-
tivities of the Posse Comitatus.
Race Relations in the