While celebrating the annual day dedicated to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a group of Newtonians will also be looking at more local history – and the public is invited.
The Newton Community for Racial Justice has planned a walk that highlights, through personal stories, Newton’s own history of racial segregation and integration.
This family-friendly event takes place on the Martin Luther King holiday, Jan. 16, with a choice of two starting times.
The walk starts at either 3 or 3:30 p.m. at the Amtrak station on the southeast corner of Main and 5th Streets in Newton (park in the city lot behind 500 Main, the former Railroad Savings & Loan building).
The volunteer tour guides are Larry Lee, pastor of All Nations Church in Newton, for one of the groups, and Michelle Armster, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee-Central States in North Newton, for the other.
Although there are enough stories to fill an entire day or more, this first-ever “racial history walk” will focus on the experience of two of Newton’s minority communities – Mexican and African-American.
Each group will begin their walk with a short time of silence to acknowledge and remember the Native peoples who inhabited the land before any other settlers.
Featured at the train station will be acoustic musician Cotton, and storytellers Celio Sandate, Newton, and Raymond Olais, North Newton, who will talk about the Ranchito community, an area on First Street where some of the first Mexicans in Newton lived when they came to work for the Santa Fe Railroad.
The group will then move two blocks north and one block west to the Santa Fe 5/6 Center, which was originally Newton High School.
NHS’s Azteca Dancers will perform in the cafeteria, followed by Zona Galle, North Newton, sharing her memories of participating in the integration of the Fox when it was a movie theater and (tentatively scheduled) Floyd Edwards, Newton, telling about integration of high-school sports.
The final stop is the Newton Et Cetera Shop (closed for business Jan. 16 but open for the walk), in a building that once housed a Woolworth’s five-and-dime store.
Here, the Newton Community Children’s Choir will sing one selection, followed by stories from Winnifred Garnett, Newton, about integrating the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and Sylvia Kelly, Newton, about integrating the downtown work force.
The walk has its roots in an event a number of years ago in which Barbara Lee, Newton, participated. Then, Bethel College students and community members walked from the campus to the former 2nd Baptist Church, a historically African-American church, at the corner of Oak and 2nd streets in Newton.
In the debriefing discussion that followed the earlier walk, Lee said, “it was interesting to hear from people who had experienced segregation [in Newton].”
She continued, “When you see what happened then, you also see what’s happening now. People who don’t feel the negative think [segregation has] gone away, but it hasn’t. People of color still feel discrimination.
“I hope we can [have more] discussion by hearing the stories of the past. This is a way to get a taste of the history of our community through stories that aren’t often told.”
There is no charge to participate in the walk, which is planned to take 60-90 minutes, depending on number of participants in a group, and no reservations required – simply show up at your chosen time.
For more information, call Sara Dick at the Newton Et Cetera Shop, 316-283-9461, or Larry Lee, 316-288-3548.
The public is invited to conclude the Newton observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day by participating in the annual celebration at Bethel College, 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center, which is also free and open to everyone.
The featured speaker for that event is Regina Shands Stoltzfus, assistant professor for peace, justice and conflict studies at Goshen (Indiana) College, who will reflect on “Renewing the Spirit of Empowerment: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” along with student participation through visual art, music and poetry.