• Richard Allen Cultural Center: African-American treasure right outside fort’s gate

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  • At the Richard Allen Cultural Center, 412 Kiowa St., a Ku Klux Klan cloak is displayed in a clear protective casing to serve as a reminder of a time less than a century ago when hatred brimmed American streets. Photos of Klansmen lining Delaware Street displayed on a nearby wall are a harsh reminder of Leavenworth’s past.
    Opened in 1992, the RACC displays photographs, uniforms, statues and other artifacts from local and national African-American heritage and is an annex to the original renovated home of Capt. William D. Bly, a World War I Buffalo Soldier, and his son, 1st Lt. Edward Bly, a World War II Buffalo Soldier.
    Displayed on the center’s walls are some of the Black Dignity photos from the Mary Everhard collection. These photos feature African-Americans residing and passing through Leavenworth and span from the 1870s-1920s. Some photos include Lady Geraldine Jones, a school teacher whose father had a coal company; educator and author Booker T. Washington, and Banjamin “Pap” Singleton, who organized the movement of thousands of black colonists from the post-Reconstruction South to found settlements in Kansas.
    “I just think that’s amazing,” 84-year-old Phyllis Bass, director of the RACC said. “To think that man led thousands of people out of the south that were in slavery. To think that his photo was taken in Leavenworth, that’s what’s so interesting to me.”
    During that time in America everything was segregated — schools, churches, theaters, even Fort Leavenworth’s military units.
    “When I was a girl, that’s when prejudice was everywhere,” Bass said. “They told us we were good for nothing. They told us that it won’t do us any good to go to school, because it won’t amount to anything. I never will forget that they treated us any kind of way they wanted to.
    “You know what I used to tell them? If you knew me, you might like me. I’ve never done anything to you. What makes you think that we don’t want the same thing for our children that you do. I want them to have the best education, I want them to be a citizen in the community just like everybody else, have a family like everyone else. It was so degrading to go in the alley to go in the back door of a theater.”
    Bass was secretary for the NAACP for 25 years and was walking, marching, writing letters, and doing everything she could to aid in the Civil Rights Movement. Now, even though society has changed, Bass says it’s important for people of all races to visit black museums and to understand that history.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Historians say, ‘A nation or race of people who refuses to learn its past is soon doomed to relive it,’” Bass said. “I’m so thankful that’s no longer in existence that I know of and that people see you for what you are and that’s the way God intended it to be. I love living, and I love people. When people come in here, it’s a privilege to tell them the history of our people.”
    In addition to the museum, the RACC offers tutoring weekday afternoons for children and adult students.
    Edna Wagner, executive director of the RACC, was hired in November to step in for Bass when she decides to retire. Wagner worked more than five years for nearby Lawson Elementary School, and her husband, retired Col. Dwayne Wagner, teaches at the Command and General Staff College. With his military career, they’ve lived in Leavenworth a total of three times in 30 years, amounting to close to 20 years. They returned when her husband retired. Her love for children, Wagner said, makes her passionate about promoting the tutoring program — something she hopes to build upon as executive director.
    “I like history, and I love working with kids,” Wagner said. “With me in the school district, I know the tutoring program is very important in that it makes a difference that kids have somewhere that they can get tutoring and that parents don’t have to worry about the expense of it or if there’s kids in the district that you know that can’t afford it. We know that we’re here, and we can offer that service.”
    Volunteer tutor Anita Wilson has driven from Lansing to the cultural center four days a week for the last five years.
    “It helps the kids,” Wilson said. “Just because I don’t know the kids doesn’t mean I don’t want to help them achieve or at least help them in places where their parents can’t help them. Right now they’re here because somebody at home can’t help them.”
    She used one young boy in second grade as an example of how tutoring at the center expands traditional learning. The student brought in his spelling words, which he then memorized, defined, used in a sentence, alphabetized and was tested on.
    “All that with just spelling words should have some kind of impact, because he’s working them in so many different type of ways,” Wilson said. “You have to think outside the box. When the kids come in and say they don’t have homework, that’s not an option.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Many tutors are CGSC students who are members of ROCKS Inc. ROCKS began in the 1960s to support black officers and the challenges they faced while attending CGSC. Now the organization is open to people of all races and is involved in a variety of mentoring and community service activities.
    To find out more about the tutoring program, contact the RACC at 682-8772. The center is open 1-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Two-hour tours are $5 per person. Tutoring is 4-6 p.m. weekdays on the ground level.
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