When I came to Wichita after being appointed the President of the Kansas Health Science Center, I learned about the history of the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park and thought immediately about the importance of its location at the future entrance of our school. I am in awe of the significant historical impact a few students had on civil rights across the nation, and the role Chester I. Lewis played in propelling critical action across our city that has had such lasting change. I am incredibly moved to imagine the Dockum Drug Store, its soda counter, and the brave Black students who peacefully demonstrated just steps away from where we will grow Kansas Health Science Center.
If you’re not familiar with this historical event in Wichita, the Dockum Drug Store, like other Wichita restaurants at that time, refused to serve African Americans at the counter. After having enough with this injustice, Black students started filling the stools at the restaurant’s counter on July 19, 1958, and continued to exhibit peaceful resistance by sitting quietly and ordering a soft drink. They were harassed and the management refused to serve them. But the students’ tenacity created lasting change. The students—and the entire nation—claimed victory on August 11, 1958, when the owner agreed to serve them. This caused a ripple effect, as other restaurants and retail establishments began to change their policies on segregation in Wichita, the state, and the nation.
It was Chester I. Lewis, president of the Wichita chapter of the NAACP and a prominent lawyer, who mentored these remarkable students, giving them the courage to take a stand for their vision of America. I’m in awe of their commitment and courage. By starting a new school in this special location, it is a constant reminder that we must teach our future students this history and continue to take action for our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park was dedicated to its namesake in 2007. Having this piece of history as the front entrance of our campus in downtown Wichita is a gift. I want our future students to embody the characteristics of those students in ’58—to be brave, to be tenacious, to stand up for what’s right, to have a vision and the courage to make our community better.
I am committed to honoring this historic corner in downtown Wichita. The KHSC leadership team will do our part to make sure that no one comes to KHSC without knowing about this historical moment that undoubtedly formed our community of today and is a framework for what a group of students and citizens can do for our community of tomorrow.