Wyandotte County has a diverse and provocative history, and it deserves a deeper understanding by the community that now lives within its boundaries. That is the goal of the Wyandotte County Museum – the staff is intent on highlighting the region’s significance through public outreach and building strong relationships within the community to cooperatively tell the county’s history. Apparently, the museum has not had a good record with collaboratively telling Wyandotte County’s history, a fact that the staff will freely admit is an obstacle the museum to overcome. While this has already posed challenges for my internship, it is my goal as well to help rebuild the museum’s reputation.
My internship at the Wyandotte County Museum has definitely had an interesting beginning. It started with uncertainty, as I tried to gauge my role in the museum’s team. My historical research prior to interning has primarily focused on the experience of African Americans post-Emancipation, and there is certainly a compelling story of black migration to the Kansas City area from the South after the Civil War. Therefore, after some guidance from Amy Loch, the director at WyCo Museum, we have created a series of goals for my internship that are related to that field of history. The long-term goal is to potentially create a hallway exhibit for Quindaro, and to develop a role-playing game for elementary and middle school students that emphasizes the importance of stewardship of archaeological sites, and respect towards Native culture.
Thus far, I have researched the “Potato King,” Junius G. Groves, who emigrated from Kentucky to what is now Kansas City, Kansas. Groves became among the richest African Americans in the nation through his business and became a notable philanthropist for black farmers in the region, undoubtedly wishing to provide opportunities of success for others. Currently, I am working on a project related to Sumner High School, and its notable graduates. Research into graduates who stayed in the area has proven difficult, which led me to consult the curator at the Alumni Room at Sumner Academy. We spoke for two hours, and my intention was to gain a deeper understanding of black education in KCK. This connection will undoubtedly be beneficial as I move forward in interpreting African American history in the region.
It was on the same day that I contacted a notable black community leader in Kansas City, Kansas to get their input as well. This is where the reputation of the museum caught up to me. While they were polite, and indicated that they were willing to help, they certainly did not hold back their criticisms of the museum when I spoke with them on the phone. Unfortunately, this encounter was not as fruitful as I had expected, but I now understand the importance of building trust with the community. Their criticisms were well placed, and the museum can undoubtedly do better at building trust. Amy Loch recognizes this as a problem, and has worked diligently to bridge the gap, and the individual on the phone had only positive things to say about her efforts. It is my goal, in the limited degree of influence I have at the museum, to also work towards this endeavor. It will be fascinating to see where that effort goes.