Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Mr. Gillham was my third grade teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary. I remember the day our class went on a walking field trip to Raytown City Hall and the Raytown Historical Society Museum. It was the first time History became a tangible reality to me. I'm not entirely sure if this was the moment that made me realize the importance of history, but the trip to the museum burns brightly in my mind. Last year I began writing my thesis for my Senior Capstone course for my History degree at UMKC. I wanted to know about life in Raytown during the Civil Rights Movement. I decided that the museum would be my first stop to start digging.
I encountered two volunteers who gave me a book about the history of Raytown and the man mentioned that the first time he ever had a Black student was either the late 70s or early 80s. Coincidently, the gentleman was Mr. Gillham himself. It all made sense to me, he was the first historian to influence me. He has to be the reason for my interest in the study of the past. Mr. Gillham's information was first, astonishing to me. The Civil Rights Act had been adopted in 1964 by the Federal Government, why weren't their Black families within the boundaries of the Raytown School District. Secondly, there are no records at the Museum that identify the role Raytown citizens or city officials may have played in the Civil Rights Era. Thirdly, apparently, history in Raytown ended in 1972. The volunteers at the Museum were certainly busy the day I visited, creating a special exhibit of vintage Valentine's Day cards. I will be the first to admit that art is important in the study of the past. It reflects the attitudes and behaviors of humanity during a different era, but I didn't understand its importance to the history of Raytown's society.
The majority of the museum, from what I remember, had remained the same since my first visit in the mid 1980s. I was saddened at first by this lack of updating at the museum. The museum reflected what many Kansas City metropolitan citizens think of this town, as a town stuck in the past. By visiting the museum, one would assume that Raytown only has a Pioneer history with a brief stint of progressivism during the 1950s & 1960s. Fortunately, my sadness transitioned into hope. I thought about what the words Historical Society mean. It is very simply, a study of the history of societies. Compared to Lee's Summit, Olathe, Blue Springs, and the others; Raytown is comprised of an unique ethnically diverse population. It would be interesting to study how these ethnic groups migrated into Raytown rather than other surrounding suburbs. It would be interesting to see where the former slaves moved to after emancipation. I know. But shouldn't everybody else? A Historical Society Museum should be representative of the society which it represents. I have high hopes for the Raytown Museum. I've decided that as a Historian in Raytown, I will undertake the task of finding grants and monies to help visitors glimpse what has happened in the town since 1972. This is a suburb that can become exemplary. It has a hidden history to reveal, one that many suburbs experienced during the Civil Rights Era and the aftermath.
There are individuals in this town who are interested in seeing the city modernize. I have always believed that in order to propel into the future, a community must understand its past first. Once we have a firm grasp on who we are and where we come from, we can truly look ahead with an attitude of hope for prosperity.