Editorials

Vandals may have defaced John Brown statue, but they can’t scar Quindaro’s significance

A statue of abolitionist John Brown was crudely defaced over the weekend with a swastika and a racist slur. But the overall site, the Quindaro ruins, is being prepared for consideration as a National Historic Landmark.
A statue of abolitionist John Brown was crudely defaced over the weekend with a swastika and a racist slur. But the overall site, the Quindaro ruins, is being prepared for consideration as a National Historic Landmark. kmyers@kcstar.com

To the ne’er-do-wells who scrawled a racist slur and other crudities on the marble likeness of abolitionist John Brown at the Quindaro ruins: Thank you. Your little stunt — which will be scrubbed up promptly — highlights why this historical site deserves support as it aims for a national profile.

In fact, by this summer, the final documentation should be ready for the acreage in Kansas City, Kan., to be considered for designation as a National Historic Landmark.

It’s already on the National Register of Historic Places, but Quindaro needs the higher recognition to spark additional research and — underline this again — awareness of Quindaro’s importance. A three-day symposium April 19-21 will bring scholars and the interested public together to build momentum.

Beginning in the late 1850s, Quindaro was an example of people from different walks of life working together for the greater good, at a time fraught with violence and division.

“There were Native Americans, African Americans, Anglos all working and living together based on the premise of freedoms for all of them,” said Jim Ogle, executive director of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. “There are days when it seems that they were more civilized than we are in current times.”

Nowadays, the term “border war” is used to denote college sports rivalries, or the luring and relocating of businesses between Missouri and Kansas. But it obviously refers to the Civil War era, back when Kansas was a territory, not yet a state. A time when states entering the union would decide by popular vote whether they would allow slavery, like Missouri did.

The Quindaro district was named for a woman from the Wyandot tribe, the wife of a white man. It was a free-state port used by Missouri slaves as they made their way to Kansas. That meant the slave hunters would patrol there, seeking to claim bounties on escaped slaves.

But in its six years of existence, Quindaro grew into a small, well-known city, written about in Eastern newspapers.

The Wyandot tribe relocated there after being forced off their land in Ohio (and not receiving land they were promised). European immigrants traveled there to settle the Kansas prairie. Abolitionists gathered there. And it was home to a strong women’s rights movement.

The John Brown statue recently vandalized was dedicated in 1911. It was meant as an act of defiance, according to Fred Whitehead, a local historian who had the displeasure of discovering the statue defaced on Sunday. Kansas City, Kan., had elected a segregationist mayor. “Washer women” — black women who did laundry — played a large role in raising money for the tribute.

In the 1980s the site almost was turned into a landfill. But as archaeologists unearthed artifacts from the Quindaro Township, the community banded together to save the ruins.

Considering the history it’s already lived, a bit of graffiti is miniscule in comparison to the strengths seeped into the grounds of Quindaro.

  Comments