Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Dear Soldier

October 15th, 2021

In the fall of 2007, Air National Guard Sergeant William Leggett was doing his laundry. He was serving a third tour of duty in the Middle East, this time in Iraq. As he walked past a trash bin, he glanced into it and saw a large envelope addressed “To Any Soldier.” Never one to resist a possible trash treasure, he opened the envelope to find a packet of “Dear Soldier” letters, written by fifth- and sixth-grade students from Oil Hill Elementary School in El Dorado, Kansas.

Photograph of a uniformed soldier standing at a desk. The students are sitting in chairs facing him.
Sergeant Bill Leggett talking with students at Oil Hill Elementary School, 2008. Photo taken and provided by Kathy Lafferty. Click image to enlarge.

Sergeant Leggett was my brother, five years younger than me. From this point on I will call him Bill. Growing up together in Pennsylvania, he was the typical little brother. He chased me with Cicada shells from his bug collection, ditched me when we had chores, and announced on the school bus that I wore flowered underwear. On long car rides, he annoyed me by looking out of my window or breathing on me.

Nevertheless, we were close, despite our age difference. We made bike ramps out of old scrap wood our Dad had in his workshop, and we rode our bikes up and down our long driveway, trying to best each other’s jumps. I taught him how to make a bridge for his Tonka toys out of books and a rug, but he sometimes forgot the “trick” for getting the books to stay in place, so he asked me to show him again…and again…and again. We played baseball, taking turns pitching. On some of those long car rides, if I was feeling a little motherly and he didn’t smell too badly, I let him put his head on my lap to sleep (this was before seatbelts laws). He shared a bunk bed with our youngest brother, and many nights, after he had gone to bed, I heard him crying over something. We talked it out until he felt better, while I stood on tip toes on the bottom bunk. After I moved away, we wrote letters to each other throughout the rest of his childhood. I still have them.

Bill lived in Pennsylvania, with his family. He had been to Kansas to visit me a few times, and I saw him whenever I went to Pennsylvania. But we didn’t see each other, or have opportunities to talk, very often. He called me on my birthday and sang to me, badly on purpose. I wish I would have kept at least one of those voicemails. While he was in Iraq, we emailed each other almost every day. It was wonderful to talk again. He told me about the packet of letters he had found. I was excited to learn that the school was in Kansas, just off I-70, only two hours from my house.

He told me that he planned to hand-write letters to each student, individually. While I found it rather over the top that he would actually take the time to respond to each child, rather than just writing to the class as a whole or using email, I wasn’t surprised that he would do that. He told me that he felt the students deserved individual letters because THEY were the ones who had written individual letters in the first place, and it would be a shame if they each didn’t get a response. Besides, it gave him a project to pass the time.

Black-and-white scan of a handwritten letter. The border of the paper has pencils and schoolhouses.
Letter from fifth grader Megan D. to Bill Leggett, October 2007. Sergeant William J. Leggett Correspondence with Students of Oil Hill Elementary School. Call Number: RH MS 1525. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white scan of a handwritten letter. The paper's background is an American flag.
Letter from Bill Leggett to fifth grader Megan D., January 2008. Sergeant William J. Leggett Correspondence with Students of Oil Hill Elementary School. Call Number: RH MS 1525. Click image to enlarge.

So, for the rest of his tour of duty, he wrote to them, and they wrote back. He asked them to call him Bill. The students wrote of family members, pets, favorite sports, and things of childhood and school. They sent him artwork. They asked Bill questions about his life, what it was like to be in the military, and what his favorite things were. They closed by asking him to please write back. Bill wrote about his boys, Peanut Jelly the cat, and NASCAR. He described Iraq, its people, and the places he had been. He talked about life in the military, his job, and things like what food the soldiers ate. He wrote of what he missed back home. In each letter, he made sure to include encouragement. He reminded the students to do their best, to study hard, and to pursue their dreams. And he often included a smiley face when he signed off.

As the time to come back to the States got closer, Bill and I started talking about a visit to Kansas and the school. I contacted the teacher who had given the letter writing assignment about the possibility, and she took it from there. All we had to do was get him there. The visit was a surprise for the students, and it went beautifully. He hand-delivered his last letters, gave out some gifts he brought back from Iraq, held a question/answer session, played basketball with them at recess, and ate lunch with them. Students had their picture taken with him. He was presented with a school t-shirt and a flag that had been signed by the students and teachers. Bill was treated like royalty. When he left, there were hugs and tears, and promises to keep writing.

The students are in their mid-twenties today. They probably don’t know that Bill has passed. He died in 2020, in a work-related accident, just fifty-five years old. I hope they know, or someday know, that their letters are now the “Sergeant William J. Leggett Correspondence with Students of Oil Hill Elementary School, El Dorado, Kansas” collection, in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. When I asked Bill if I could make copies of the letters and donate them, he asked me why anyone would be interested in them. I explained that the best parts of the collections in Spencer are the personal stories that put history in context and make it real. He wasn’t convinced, but he let me do it anyway. He kept the originals because he wasn’t ready to part with them yet. I believe the letters meant as much to him as they did to the students.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Vigilance Committees in Kansas During the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression

August 19th, 2021

When people find out about my job, or when students are interviewing me to figure out their career options, they often ask me what my favorite thing about my job is. I usually say something about the variety or about the fact that I get to learn something new every day.

Take, for example, when I was creating a finding aid for a manuscript collection we’ve held at Spencer Research Library for several decades but that never had an online presence before. The Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company was located downtown on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kansas, from the 1860s until the early 1990s. After several mergers and changes of hand, what was this bank and trust is now part of the U.S. Bank banking system.

This collection has been minimally processed—in archival parlance, this means we haven’t done a lot of physical rehousing of the materials, and we’ve described at the box or volume level without going into a whole lot of detail for each folder or individual volume. In order to describe the collection, I had to do some quick surveying for the inventory, which is how I learned about vigilante committees of the 1920s and 1930s.

Vigilante, or vigilance, committees were formed by bank associations in order to stop bank robberies. They were apparently formed throughout the Midwestern United States during the 1920s, when the likes of John Dillinger and “Pretty Boy” Floyd were headline news. Daytime robberies increased exponentially in the early 1930s during the Great Depression, typically against banks with few staff in towns of small population, according to a member of the American Bank Association’s Protective Department.

Black text on a neutral background or page.
Part of an address by James E. Baum, deputy manager of the Protective Department of the American Bankers Association, from the Proceedings of the 44th Annual Convention of the Kansas Bankers Association, May 21-22, 1931. Call Number: RH C679. Click image to enlarge.

Kansas had one of the earliest bank associations, organized in 1887, according to the Story of Banking in Kansas, available at Spencer Research Library (Call Number: RH C4040). The Kansas Bankers Association began its vigilante system in 1925. Individual banks throughout the state contributed vigilantes (over 3,500 individuals in the 1920s), who were commissioned as deputy sheriffs and provided with arms and ammunition by the local banks. Another part of this security program was installing alarm systems.

A vertical form with instructions to operators in case of a bank attack and a grid to record names and phone numbers.
A blank placard used by the vigilance committees to provide names and telephone numbers for local vigilantes in case of bank attacks. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

The Kansas Bankers Association, and other associations around the country, established these vigilance committees not only to slow down the number of robberies taking place but also to lessen robbery insurance rates for banks. James E. Baum, a deputy manager with the American Bankers Association, noted in his 1931 address at the annual state convention that Kansas had 97 out of 105 counties organized into vigilante committees.

W.E. Decker, an employee of the Lawrence National Bank & Trust, was the Secretary for the Douglas County Bankers’ Association in the 1930s. The bank’s records at Spencer Research Library include approximately half a box of correspondence and financial records from the association.

Page listing receipts and disbursements, each $601.86. Receipts are for "regular meeting" ($37.34), "vigilante maintenance" ($324.02), and "4-H Club Banquet" ($240.50).
“Vigilante maintenance” brought the Douglas County Bankers Association the most receipts from 1934 to 1935, more only than the 4-H Club Banquet, according to the secretary’s report for that fiscal year. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

Much of this material details the local association’s vigilante committee, records they kept to be in good standing with the Kansas Bankers’ Association. Other records from the local association include information regarding a banquet they held annually on behalf of the 4-H Club, as well as agreements amongst the county banks about interest rates and other banking matters.

Short typed letter with First National Bank letterhead.
In between organizing the vigilantes committee, the Douglas County Bankers Association also discussed savings rates and other banking matters. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

Members of the local association participated in regional and statewide Vigilante Shoots, both a competition and an opportunity to improve one’s marksmanship.

Full-page typed letter with Kansas Bankers Association letterhead.
A form letter from the Kansas Bankers Association regarding logistics for county shoots around Kansas in the fall of 1934. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

I’ve studied a lot of Kansas history over the years working at the Spencer Research Library and elsewhere, but I had never heard about these vigilante committees until I stumbled across the information in the Lawrence National Bank & Trust records. As the old adage says, “You learn something new every day!”

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Brown v. Board of Education Resources at Spencer Research Library

August 11th, 2021

For over fifty years it was legal to segregate elementary children in the United States into schools based on the color of their skin. In Kansas, unless the town had a population less than 15,000, Black and white children went to different elementary schools. 

Less than a half-hour drive west from the University of Kansas campus is the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Located in Topeka, Kansas, this important historic site is one of the origins of the Supreme Court case that marked the end of legal racial segregation in the nation’s public schools. 

The court case was five separate lawsuits brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the Supreme Court. One of the five lawsuits was filed against the Topeka Board of Education after the local NAACP assembled a group of thirteen African American parents and instructed them to attempt enrollment of their children in a segregated all-white school near their home. As anticipated, they were denied. All total the parents attempted enrollment in eight of the eighteen segregated all-white schools in the city. The Topeka School Board had established only four schools segregated for the city’s African American children. One of those parents was Oliver Brown. When the case was filed his name headed the roster of Topeka plaintiffs. On appeal to the United States Supreme Court the Topeka, Kansas, case was consolidated with cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The high court ruled on the cases under the heading of the Kansas case, Oliver L. Brown et al vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS) et al. The unanimous decision was announced on May 17, 1954, with the court finding that racially segregated schools violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision marked a turning point for the pursuit of equal opportunity in education.  

Photograph of Ms. Lois Abbott’s kindergarten class at the Washington School in Topeka, Kansas, 1955
Ms. Lois Abbott’s kindergarten class at Washington School in Topeka, Kansas, 1955. Washington School was one of Topeka’s four elementary schools for African American students. Joe Douglas Collection. Call Number: RH PH 90. Click image to enlarge.

The court case was complicated and is difficult to describe in a few paragraphs. Fortunately, there are good resources that provide a summary of the history, such as the website for the Brown Foundation, the progenitor of the National Park Site. The Brown Foundation was the leader of the community’s success in establishing the Brown v Board National Historic Site in 1992. They created the concept and worked with Congress to establish it. The Foundation’s website contains a wealth of information and curriculum materials that can be ordered for classroom teachers. The website for the National Park Service’s Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site contains excellent information on the story of Brown v Board of Education and civil rights. In addition, resources such as the KU Libraries’ publication Recovering Untold Stories: An Enduring Legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision, a project of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, give a greater understanding of the court case and the individuals involved. 

For those wanting to conduct in-depth research on the court case and the circumstances behind it, Spencer Research Library has many primary resources available.

Although the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site was closed to visitors during COVID-19, I wanted to see if there were any volunteer opportunities. When I contacted the volunteer coordinator, Dexter Armstrong, in October 2020, he was open to suggestions for off-site volunteering projects. I offered to assemble a list of local primary resources to not only aid their staff, but also any visitors, teachers, or site researchers that may need it. He agreed that a list of local primary resources would be a valuable tool. 

Listed below are the Brown v. Board of Education resources and closely related material at Spencer Research Library. 

Online Exhibits

Education: The Mightiest Weapon
Curated by Deborah Dandridge, Field Archivist and Curator, African American Experience Collections

Archival Resources

Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research Records
Date Range of Materials: 1970-2017
Call Number: RH MS 876

The records in this collection are those of the Topeka, Kansas-based Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research, established in 1988 as a tribute to the 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case and its plaintiffs and participants. These records include general information on the foundation and related subjects and events.

Paul Wilson Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1962-1995
Call Number: RH MS 746

Paul Wilson was a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Kansas, who, prior to his University service, participated in the Brown v. Board of Education case on behalf of the State of Kansas. This collection contains research and notes on Wilson’s book, A Time to Lose: Representing Kansas in Brown v. Board of Education.

See also:

  • Paul Wilson’s oral interview with the Endacott Society, an organization for retired KU faculty, staff, and spouses (Call Number: UA RG 67/754)
  • Paul Wilson talks about Brown v. Board of Education (Call Number: UA RG 44/1, cassette tape 0329)

Charles S. Scott Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1918-1989
Call Number: RH MS 1145

The Charles S. Scott Papers are those of a prominent native Topeka, Kansas, lawyer who focused on civil rights and was one of the plaintiff’s lawyers in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case.

Records of the Topeka Back Home Reunion
Date Range of Materials: 1975-2010
Call Number: RH MS 1291

The Topeka Back Home Reunion originated in 1973 thanks to the efforts of Charles Scott, Carl Williams, and Eugene Johnson. The purpose of the Reunion was to bring together those who attended the four elementary schools in Topeka, Kansas, designated for Black students (Buchanan, McKinley, Monroe, and Washington) before the 1954 Brown v. Board U.S. Supreme Court decision and, later, African Americans who attended Topeka schools after 1954. The Reunion took place triennially, supplemented by regular meetings and newsletters. The final reunion took place in 2010. 

State Street Elementary School Photograph
Date Range of Materials: circa 1944
Call Number: RH PH P16

This collection contains one photograph of a fifth-grade classroom at the State Street Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. The print shows teacher Louise Becker helping her class with a penmanship lesson; student Ruth Lassiter-Snell stands in front of the teacher.

Topeka Public Schools Class Photographs
Date Range of Materials: 1892
Call Number: RH PH 151

This collection contains class portraits from the public schools in Topeka, Kansas, in 1892.

Jesse Milan Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1931-2012
Call Number: RH MS 623

Jesse Milan, a longtime resident of northeast Kansas, was the first African American teacher to serve in the integrated Lawrence Unified School District #497. An active community leader, he was involved in the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education commemoration and other Brown v. Board of Education projects. He later became an Assistant Professor of Education at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Cheryl Brown Henderson Campaign Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1968-1979; 1989-1998
Call Number: RH MS 1190

This collection contains the papers of Henderson’s political campaigns. Cheryl Brown was born in 1950 to Oliver L. and Leola (Williams) Brown. Following her family’s involvement in the landmark Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education, Brown attended public schools in Topeka, Kansas, and Springfield, Missouri. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Baker University (Baldwin, Kansas) and a Master of Science degree in Counseling from Emporia State University. Cheryl Brown married Larry Henderson in 1972. She worked as a classroom teacher and, from 1979 to 1994, as a consultant to the Kansas State Board of Education. In 1988 she co-founded the Brown Foundation for Educational Equality, Excellence, and Research and served as its Executive Director. In 2010 Henderson served as the Superintendent of the Brown v. Board National Historic Site.

Nathaniel Sawyer Family Papers
Date Range of Materials: circa 1880-2012 (bulk 1950s-1990s)
Call Number: RH MS 1460

Nathaniel Sawyer was an active opponent to the expansion of segregation in Kansas schools, helping to defeat a 1918 legislative bill that would have allowed communities with as few as 2,000 people to segregate their public schools. Sawyer’s family members were prominent in Topeka. They were involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had some involvement with the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site occupies the Monroe Elementary School building, formally one of Topeka’s schools for African American students. Linda Brown attended Monroe Elementary, which was 24 blocks from her home. Photo by Lynn Ward. Click image to enlarge.

To view these materials in person, contact Spencer Research Library. Besides the collections listed, pertinent materials can be found in other collections at Spencer, such as the single photograph (above) of Ms. Abbott’s kindergarten class in the Joe Douglas Collection. Be sure to speak with our knowledgeable reference staff during your visit. They can help you find information relevant to your topic.

I suggest also visiting the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka to experience in-depth, thought-provoking exhibits. Visitors to the site leave with an understanding of how Topeka’s schools led to the Supreme Court declaring that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”   

To see the complete local primary resource, which also includes resources at the Kansas Historical Society and the Eisenhower Library, contact the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Special thanks go to Dexter Armstrong, Park Ranger at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, for his support and encouragement for the list of local primary resources.

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist

Throwback Thursday: Lawrence View Edition

June 24th, 2021

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Information about KU’s past can be found in Spencer collections beyond University Archives. This week’s photo, for example, comes from our Kansas Collection.

Black-and-white photograph of two people walking up Mount Oread on a pathway. Behind them, down the hill, are houses, trees, and unpaved streets.
A view of Lawrence from KU’s North College, 1886. Note the two people, possibly students, standing on the walkway up to the building. Lawrence, Kansas, Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 18, Box 8, Folder G:6. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

North College was located roughly where Corbin Hall now stands, between Tenth and Eleventh streets. The notation on this photograph states that it shows the view looking west from North College. However, a cursory exploration of maps and other photos – plus a portion of the Kansas River in the background – suggests that the view might actually be looking north from the building, likely up Louisiana Street.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

Fields of Gold

June 15th, 2021

Summer has arrived and with it one of the busiest times of the year for Kansas farmers: wheat harvest!

Kansas is the leading state in the nation for winter wheat – wheat planted in the fall and harvested in the summer – with seven to eight million acres planted and hundreds of millions of bushels produced each year.

With the start of harvest fast approaching, please enjoy these photos of the wheat harvests of the past!

Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1913. Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH P2603. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1914. Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. The back of the postcard says this: “Much wheat is harvested in Kansas, with a header cutting 10 or 12 feet. The header is pushed into the grain by six or eight horses, a sickle clipping the heads and a rolling canvas elevating them into a headerbarge drawn alongside, and in it conveyed to stacks in convenient places, to be threshed later.” Call Number: RH PH P2606. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Thomas County, Kansas, 1907-1910. Call Number: RH PH P1130.2. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Emily Beran
Public Services