Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

The school where the Brown v Board of Education historic site is...

 

Truman's Oval office

Outside the Truman Library

Lamar Hunt

Outside the KC Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium

KC Royals Baseball stadium

Very regal

Arrowhead Stadium


November 14, 2011

Today we had a massive, long drive and we decided to leave early. I had hoped to take a route which went slightly north through Wyoming and Nebraska but as the weather wasn’t looking great I decided to take a slightly quicker route which went right the way across Kansas. We got up at 5:30 and packed and got everything in the car. The paths around the hotel were not very well lit and it was a bit hazardous getting everything to the car. The car had a snow covering which we had to wait a while to clear and as we were waiting Elizabeth noticed elk tracks in the snow. The roads in Estes Park were clear and once we got onto the highway and down to a lower elevation the snow soon cleared up.

The route through Kansas took us about 10 hours of driving although this would’ve been over 11 if we’d gone the other route. I did the first bit of driving which got us almost as far as the Kansas border and around Denver we unknowingly ended up on a toll road and racked up a bit in tolls although we weren’t sure how we were supposed to pay them! We eventually saw a sign with a website address and Elizabeth noted it down to check later. As we entered the eastern part of Colorado it looked very similar to what we were to find in Kansas with lots of wide open prairielands and barely any variations in the land. It was really flat and pretty dull in all directions. Elizabeth drove the first half through Kansas and there was a lot of construction along I70 nearly the entire way and she was soon getting annoyed with rude drivers and the boring, flat scenery didn’t help! We’d bought some CDs and made some music to listen to and we listened to these as we drove. There were lots of signs about Christ and anti-abortion along the roadside and even one anti-Obama sign which called him the next Marxist dictator and again questioned his “fake” citizenship! We were truly in the bible belt and bigots were obviously high on the agenda here!

We stopped at a rest stop for lunch and it was a stop on the go, with a sandwich filled with turkey pepperoni, Swiss cheese and chipotle mayo with some jalapeno kettle chips and fruit. It was good to get a break from the endless roads but we couldn’t afford to sit around for too long and taking over, I drove us into Topeka. We decided that we had time to make a stop and break up the journey and it turned out to be a good idea. We were both feeling a bit tired and a break and stretching our legs gave us a bit extra energy.

The stop in Topeka was at the site known as the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Brown v Board is known in the US as one of the key cases in removing segregation from schools in the southern states (many northern states had already banned segregation) and this site was one of the original African American elementary schools in this region, Monroe Elementary School. There were 4 segregated elementary schools in Topeka and over the door as we went in there was a sign which showed which side was for whites and which was for blacks. There was a pretty good introductory video which had 5 different segments set up as a girl asking a “civil rights” leader questions about the history of segregation. It was obviously meant for a younger audience but it still gave some good background and some interesting stories. Much of the situation that led to Brown v Board actually began with an 1896 case of Plessy v Ferguson where a black man refused to leave a white rail car. The law at the time stated that blacks should have “separate but equal” treatment and this case reinforced that judgement although the reality was that the rights of blacks were severely limited and that while they were separate they were nowhere near equal.

The descriptions of the actual case of Brown v. Board and the civil rights movement were described in a separate room and the unanimous decision made in 1954 should have been seen as a great victory for the civil rights movement. In May 1955 the Supreme Court ruled that integration should be implemented with “all deliberate speed”. One county in Virginia refused to comply and rather than go against the Supreme Court it closed all schools in its district and this remained the case for 5 years from 1959 to 1964. It is crazy to think that a school would rather stop teaching all pupils than to integrate blacks with whites.

There was also a hall which recreated what it would have been like to have been a black child going to an integrated school with the white mob yelling at you. When you consider that these were just children it was crazy to imagine the hatred and vitriol aimed at them. One such example was a school in New Orleans where one six year old black girl turned up and nobody else in her class did. She ended up being taught separately the rest of the entire year. Another room told of the legacy of Brown v Board and how it affected other similar situations around the world, including in South Africa. In fact, we’d seen a version of this display before when we were in Durban.

From there we drove to a town called Lawrence. Much of the road from Topeka to Lawrence was toll road but again we had little choice of where we were driving. There were lots of cool old homes around both Topeka and Lawrence and it was just a shame they were located in such a bland state! In Lawrence we stopped at the Free State Brewery which was the first brewery in Kansas. It was very busy in the bar but they had some great beer specials and we were able to try two of their beers, the Wheat State Golden and Ad Astra Ale, for just $1.75 each! It was a shame we still had more driving to do and couldn’t stay longer, especially at those prices!

Our next major port of call was Kansas City which is split into two by the state border. The area within Kansas was nothing special but as we entered Missouri the city seemed to liven up a bit. We decided to eat dinner before we headed for our hotel and we had read that Kansas City was known for barbeque and so we found a place called LC’s. The little building was almost like a cafeteria and the owner, LC I assume, was half asleep in the corner! We both ordered the brisket sandwich plates which came loaded with a tri fold sandwich and hand cut fries and I ordered some coleslaw on the side and Elizabeth got some fried okra. The portion of fried okra was massive and I ate a few pieces but there was still loads left when we were both done. The food was delicious but there was just so much of it that there was plenty leftover at the end. It was quite quiet when we arrived but was much busier as we left.

Our final leg took us into Independence where we were staying at the Best Western Truman Inn. Most of the hotel reservations are in my name and I have to show ID when we check in and the woman at reception here really seemed to struggle with my driving licence as she couldn’t work out why there wasn’t a state on it and had trouble finding my country on her system! The room we had was pretty nice although after being on the road since 6am anything would’ve looked good! Elizabeth spent some time looking through some information she’d picked up about the city whilst I watched the football and did some more journal. We’re both still way behind but we’ll catch up eventually!

November 15, 2011

We had a bit of a lie in this morning. I was really tired last night but hadn’t slept well because the bed was so soft. Elizabeth decided to have some oatmeal for breakfast but managed to have a bit of a disaster using the microwave so she wasn’t very happy. She did get to wear her cowboy boots for the first time though and she looked good in them.

We drove out to the Truman Library. My knowledge of American presidents isn’t great but I do know that Truman was the president during the end of WW2 and was responsible for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Harry Truman was the 33rd president of the US and this library was dedicated in 1957. The library started with a mural called “Independence & The Opening of the West”. The mural was by painter Thomas Hart Benton and was of native Indians and cowboys and was painted in very vibrant colors.

We watched a video about Truman’s early life as a farmer; before he moved to work in Kansas City at various banks. He couldn’t afford to go to college and ended up working back at his family’s farm. As a child he dreamed of becoming a concert pianist but after some failed investments, mostly in oil he signed up for the army and served in WW1. He started a haberdashery business with an army colleague when he returned but this failed during the depression. By this time though he’d become well known in the town and was approached by a man called Prendergast to become a judge and work on behalf of county works programs. As time went on he tried to distance himself from Prendergast’s “political machine” by openly accepting tenders for various building contracts rather than Prendergast’s concrete company but he was forever linked with this man, who was eventually convicted of tax evasion and sent to jail. His campaign to run for senator was tough with these links but he managed to gain re-election and became a leading figure during the early part of WW2 as he headed a Senate investigative committee about defense spending. He was eventually pushed into becoming a vice presidency candidate for FDR and with FDR’s poor health, many knew that they were effectively selecting the next president. FDR died shortly after his re-election and this left Truman as President.

At the White House when he was told of FDR’s death, he’d asked Eleanor Roosevelt what he could do to help her. Her response was “What can we do to help you? You are the one in trouble now”. Given the events which followed in the next six months, the former first lady couldn’t have been closer to the truth.

There was a replica of the Oval Office here, like at Reagan’s library, but the contrast between the two styles, some 40 years apart, could not have been more stark. Truman’s recorded voice introduced many of the items around the office which consisted of green walls, many maps and landscape paintings as well as an older desk with a “Buck Stops Here” sign, a phrase that became one of Truman’s trademarks. Just outside, alongside a Presidential portrait, was a typical day in the White House for Truman. This often involved waking up around 5 before heading onto various meetings, reading all the newspapers he could manage, a two hour lunch and nap before more afternoon meetings and heading to bed around 10:30 pm. It showed a very full day with both political and social engagements and many of these meetings were limited to 15 minutes each, even with top ranking officials.

The first few months of his presidency certainly hit the headlines as he was quickly forced into making a decision about the war with Japan and one of his earliest and biggest decisions was to drop the atomic bombs. One room in the library focused on whether dropping the atomic bomb was the right decision and in a comment book most Americans wrote that it was and that it was too bad that we didn’t have a President with the guts to do it now. These kind of comments are so naïve and are very xenophobic, showing a real lack of understanding about how the world works. If everyone in Afghanistan is a terrorist, everyone in America is a gun-toting redneck, right?

Postwar America didn’t treat Truman much better, either with a housing shortage, increased prices, the baby boom as well as the Cold War and mass poverty in Europe. The Truman Doctrine opened up US trade and military aid to Europe, particularly Turkey and Greece, and this was believed to be the start of the Cold War. There were many other things which occurred during Truman’s two terms including the recognition of Israel as a separate country (the start of problems over Palestine), civil rights and desegregation (brought about when Truman found out about the beatings of black war veterans) and the Korean War. It is amazing to think how many of these things still affect society and the stabilization of world peace even in the current day.

His re-election campaign was thought to be a waste of time as no one thought he would win but with the aid of a whistle-stop tour, sometimes talking at a dozen places a day, he managed to win his second term.

When he left office in 1952, his popularity was at an all time low, mainly due to the stalemate that had occurred in Korea once the Chinese had got involved. It was hard to feel too sorry for him given some of the decisions he made but you had to feel for him as it is hard to imagine any president before or after would ever have to face so many difficult decisions over such a short period. Given that many of his decisions still affect what happens right now it is probably too soon to really evaluate his presidency and how he is perceived.

Leading out into the garden where his grave lies, there was a statue of Truman which was quite creepy looking and didn’t look that lifelike. Truman died in 1972 aged 88 and his wife Bess died aged 97 in 1982 and is buried alongside him.

When the library was inaugurated, Truman kept a personal office here and as he left his presidency with no pension and very little other than his name and reputation, he spent the rest of his life here working on the library and raising funds for the library and museum. He raised millions to support the library with the biggest single donation being just $50,000. The original office was still here with his collection of personal books, photos of later presidents he had met including JFK and Lyndon Johnson. His most cherished possession though was an oval-shaped photo of Bess Truman when she was young.

The museum was really good and gave quite an insight into the difficult life of a president. Whilst it wasn’t as personal as the Reagan Library, it was still very eye-opening.

From the library we headed to the National Park visitor centre. As we drove there we saw some beautiful old homes in the city of Independence which looked like they hadn’t changed in the 40 years since Truman’s death. One of these homes was an elegant white building on a corner lot which was originally Bess’ grandparent’s home. In the visitor centre there were lots of pictured there of Truman walking with a cane, something he became known for. I wasn’t really interested in buying a replica cane though! There was also a picture of Truman playing the piano with Lauren Bacall sat atop it. It appears the picture made Bess mad and she suggested that Truman stopped playing the piano!

We walked around Independence main square with the large courthouse on one side and a statue of Truman. This really was a town that revolved around the former president! We had lunch at a place called the Courthouse Exchange which has been around since the late 1800s. There I got a Boulevard Wheat Ale and Elizabeth had an iced tea in a mason jar. The food was typical homestyle cooking and Elizabeth got meatloaf with mac and cheese and green beans and I got a Philly cheese steak.

Our next stop was Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs NFL team. I wanted to get some pictures of the stadium and we popped into the Chief’s Shop. I had never known that the Chiefs originally started as the Dallas Texans and they had some old banners with the old name and we decided to get one as they were really cool. After taking some pictures of the stadium and the neighbouring Kansas City Royals baseball stadium we got back on the road.

We drove to an area known as the Country Club Plaza which was a 14 square block of outdoor shopping that had been designed in 1922. Most of the shops were now regular chain stores, mostly upmarket, but the buildings were really cool and were similar to Spanish missionary style buildings. There were lots of ceramic tiles and mosaics around as well as fountains and statues. It was a really nice area, spoilt only by people constantly asking for money – not beggars, but charity workers on every corner! We stopped in a couple of stores and grabbed me a Christmas special peppermint mocha from Starbucks before walking back to the car. This part of the city was really pretty and had lots of green, open spaces and with the autumn colours on the leaves it looked like a nice place to live.

We drove back to Independence and Elizabeth decided she wanted to get a frozen custard with Andes mint and sprinkles from the store next to the hotel. We hung out in the hotel in the evening and had sandwiches and chips for lunch and had another of the beers we’d picked up in Denver.



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