Hey pals! It’s me, writing from the authentic and original Lawrence, Kansas.
I’m in America until term starts in September. After a short holiday with my family, I’m finally back in Kansas. *Cue Wizard of Oz joke.* I have bit to myself to relax and write before Tuva, Erling, and Gregor show up to stay with me. I’m really looking forward to showing my flatmates my hometown. Lawrence isn’t as big as Oslo or as old as Crieff but I hope they will enjoy their time here.
For those unaware, Lawrence was founded by an abolitionist group from Massachusetts in 1854. It sits on the border between Kansas and Missouri. Prior to the official beginning of the American Civil War, Lawrence was a central part to the period known as “Bleeding Kansas.” “Bleeding Kansas” was the struggle between pro-slavery factions who wished the see the Kansas Territory enter the Union as a slave state and abolitionists who fought to see Kansas enter as a Free State. The Kansas Territory was the hot ticket at the time as it would tip the scales (Free States to Slave States) either way it went – so there was plenty of fighting within the territory as well as external groups such as the one from Massachusetts establishing cities to gather support and abolitionist votes.
In 1855, John Brown visited the territory in support of the abolitionists and aided Lawrenicans known as ‘Jayhawkers’ to help free slaves across the Missouri border and take them to Underground Railroad stations. The Underground Railroad was a system of safe-houses leading from the American South to the North and finally to Canada to help African-Americans escape slavery. Because of Lawrence’s involvement in both of freeing of slaves and the setting up of a provisional abolitionist government headquarters it was attacked by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones in 1856. Jones and his men burned many of the buildings on Massachusetts Street (the central street in Lawrence), including the Free State Hotel which had served as the abolitionist headquarters. Lawrence rebuilt and continued to resist the pro-slavery factions based in both Missouri and nearby then official capital of Kansas, Lecompton. Between the period of 1858 to 1861, Lawrence became the ‘people’s capital of Kansas’ and the rival to Lecompton. Finally, in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a Free State.
However, in the early morning of August 21, 1863, Lawrence was attacked again by pro-slavery forces in the form of William Quantrill and his band of about 450 Missouri Bushwhackers. Quantrill and his men burned Lawrence, including the rebuilt Free State Hotel now called the Eldridge Hotel on Massachusetts Street, and murdered 200 men and boys. The attack had been systematically planned over months and orchestrated with Quantrill compiling a list of known abolitionists to kill and buildings to burn. It wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision. However despite it all… Lawrence rebuilt and aided the Union throughout the American Civil War. I’ve included engraving from Harper’s Weekly below to show the destruction from the raid. Harper’s Weekly was a national newspaper at the time and Quantrill’s Raid for sure made national news.
After the American Civil War, Lawrence continued to be a liberal hotspot in Kansas. Our city seal is even of a phoenix rising from the ruins of a burning building, a remembrance of the two raids that tried to destroy Lawrence. Into the twentieth century, Lawrence acted as a halfway point between New York and San Francisco. As such, it was a hotbed for the Civil Rights Movement and protestors of the Vietnam War. There were sit-ins and protests such as the one held by 50 black students at the very high school I would later attend. In April of 1970, the Student Union at the University of Kansas (the university in the center of Lawrence) was set on fire in protest.
In today’s world, Douglas County is one of the few consistently Democratic counties in the state. The one time there was an Alt-Right rally in Lawrence a few weeks ago, 750 counter-protestors showed up against the Alt-Rights’ 8. The most recent city wide protest is the protection of art as the voice of the people. So, if you’re wondering where I get my politics from, it has a lot to do from where I grew up.
Coming back to America is draining for me both physically from the flight and mentally with all the batshit politics. But, at least being back in Lawrence, I see people who continue to speak out and stand up for what’s right. And, maybe Kansas isn’t the top of the list for visits to America but I’m pretty proud to call Lawrence my hometown. Especially now because, admit all the current bullshit, we still remember our history and try each day to do the right thing.
And, I hope when the rest of Roseneath visits they’ll be able to see that too.