Racial Equality in 1960s Junction City: Part 1

This photograph shows the first grade class at a Topeka elementary school, taken in 1955 shortly after the Supreme Court mandated integration. In 1963, Junction City civil rights leaders noted that the city’s public schools and sanitation department were the only source of public equal opportunity jobs in the city.

In 1963, as the Civil Rights Movement pushed against a resistant public for racial equality, local civil rights leaders spoke about problems in Junction City’s communities on July 18, 1963. One of the greatest problems identified was equal opportunity and job availability for the city’s Black population.

Part 1 of the article follows:

A call for Junction City’s Negro population to prepare itself for equal status in the community was issued by Negro leaders Friday night in a civil rights conference sponsored by the Junction City Improvement Association in the Second Baptist church.

Speakers were Rev. Benjamin Reid, pastor of the Church of God, president of the Improvement Association; Rev. P. H. Hamlin, pastor, Second Baptist Church; Rev. John Matlock, pastor, Ward Chapel A.M.E. Church; and Samuel Jackson, Topeka, vice chairman, Kansas Council of the National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People.

Approximately 175 Negroes attended the meeting. There were six white persons in attendance, including a Daily Union reporter; Rev. Lloyd Hanson, minister, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, and two members of his congregation; Rev. Joseph Kurtright, associate pastor, First Presbyterian Church; and James A. Brice.

The theme of talks by the three local ministers was the the Negro of Junction City must prepare for the opportunities which should be his and then go after would should be rightfully his.

Mr. Hamlin said: “We have talked enough. Now we must take action. We must prepare ourselves. The sun is shining high and we as citizens must be ready to accept the opportunities when they are offered to us.

“We are in the machine age. Machines are putting us out of jobs in business. You must learn to operate these machines. ...

“If it’s a job you want, you must put a white collar around your neck first. ...

“Get up and see yourself as others see us. Our goal in life is not what it was ten years ago. Stand up a little bit higher and demand what you can hold. You must not only desire a better job and job conditions; higher paying salaries; higher respect in the community, but you must have a desire to merit in these things.

“We are a non-violent people. We do not feel violence is necessary.

“You must see God, you must prepare yourself, you must apply for the work you are qualified; then, if you are turned down, you must take the necessary steps.

“You must do your part first,” Mr. Hamlin concluded.

Mr. Reid, who was moderator of the meeting, said, “There has been muse speculation concerning this meeting tonight. Some have wondered why Civil Rights should be a live issue in Junction City. I have had many good people point out to me how good race relations are in our city. Other have felt that we are merely stirring up trouble where there is really no trouble. Others feel that Rev. Reid and a few of his benchmen are just trying to get some free publicity and notoriety. Others feel that were are sincere but misguided people who really want to do good, but have not the vaguest idea of how to go about it.

“But believe me when I tell you that we are not here for free publicity. We are not here to start riots and perpetrate violence in Junction City. We are not here to destroy whatever good relationships exist between the races in Junction City. We are not here to initiate law breaking and mob rule. We are here tonight because we have a dream.

“A dream that is akin to the dream that started the Pilgrims for America, that drove the 13 colonies to band together and declare that ‘all men are created equal and that they are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights — among these are the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ The dream that we have tonight is of an America in which all men are completely equal under the law and in fact, and regardless of race or color, all have the same opportunity to live with worth and dignity.

“I have a dream of Junction City becoming a place where any man regardless of what he looks like or where he hails from can live and work at whatever he is best qualified, whether it be as garbage collector, supermarket manager or chief of police.

“Let’s lay the emotions of the thing aside for the moment and look at the real picture. There are something like 3,000 Negroes in Junction City. They run from the illiterate to the college-trained. Yet out of this substantial number — there is not one Negro employed by the City of Junction City, except as garbage collectors. There is not a policeman, not a fireman, not a clerk secretary, or anything.

“Now, there is nothing wrong with working in the sanitation department, but I find it difficult to believe that out of 3,000 or better Negroes we are only qualified to be garbage collectors. Our people pay taxes, but like anyone else — They are governed and law-abiding — why cannot some who are qualified be hired in dignified and responsible city positions?

The situation down town is just as eloquent. Despite the fact that we spend our money in Junction City stores, we don’t have a clerk, saleslady, window dresser, cashier, or receptionist in the entire downtown area. And this situation is not due to a lack of applications. Many have been filled. Again it is hard for me to believe that not one Negro in 3,000 is qualified and eligible for employment in this area. Montgomery Ward’s is the first major downtown business establishment to my knowledge to place a Negro in a responsible position in the stock department.

“In the supermarkets, Dillon’s Market is the only one that has used a Negro as cashier. Surely there were others — I know that there were others, we sent them to apply at other supermarkets. Some of these same girls were were turned down as not qualified have had several promotions at Fort Riley which to me says they were qualified — Why could not they have been given the same chance in Junction City?

“The list could go on and on. But there is something wrong in this town when it comes to the hiring of Negroes. Many of our same youth that could not seem to be placed in Junction City have gone to other towns and made good.

“I readily admit there are notable exceptions, Dillon’s, Kientz IGA, Safeway and Allen’s are among them. There are employers who have bent over backward to give a fair deal to Negroes. The public school system has been a real trailblazer in recent years! But by and large, I don’t believe that this has been true. Other cities in Kansas have Negro policemen — clerks — secretaries — cashiers — school-teachers — telephone operators — etc. What is wrong here in Junction that we have none of these except school teachers? Don’t tell me that no one is qualified! Negroes can be trained just as anyone else!

“What do we want then? We want no favors — no hand outs — no token and show case jobs and positions. These things do not get to the root of the problem....”

The remainder of this 1963 speech will be published next week. For comments or questions, please email GearyHistory@gmail.com or call us at 785-238-1666. The museum is open to visitors 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, except when inclement weather interferes. Stay warm!

KATIE GOERL is the Executive Director of the Geary County Historical Society in Junction City.

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