The African American experience in Wichita, the Heart of the Country, is rich and worth exploring. People in the Heart of the Country are nice and approachable, friendly and caring. Plus, there are a variety of events, activities and unique experiences to celebrate the history and culture of Black Americans in Wichita.
Explore the Kansas African American Museum
The Kansas African American Museum (TKAAM) is housed in the former Calvary Baptist Church, once the cornerstone of Wichita’s vibrant Black community. The museum is also a stop on the Kansas African American History Trail and is considered the preeminent home of Kansas African American history and artifacts.
In addition to permanent exhibitions, “A Tribute to Samella Lewis” is on display through Black History Month. This exhibit pays tribute to the late Dr. Samella Lewis, a major benefactor and supporter of the museum. A nationally known artist and art historian, Lewis gifted to TKAAM a portion of her private collection of paintings and sculptures as well as her own work.
Go on a journey at Exploration Place
In collaboration with TKAAM for the third year, Exploration Place will be featuring a large-scale outdoor exhibit during Black History Month, “Celebrating African American Scientists.” Each night during February, Exploration Place will honor African American scientists by projecting giant portraits onto the side of its iconic island building. The display will be freely viewable from the path along the Arkansas River. Admission is not required to view the display from the Exploration Place promenade.
Make it an evening and stay to watch the nightly Ring of Fire lighting at the Keeper of the Plains, which lights at 7 p.m. during winter months. Additionally, visitors can see the display from inside Exploration Place on Thursday nights, when the museum is open until 8 p.m.
Discover the sounds of talented Wichita musicians
Delight in the musical sounds of local, Black musicians at various venues across the city. One you have to hear for yourself is Rudy Love, Jr. Son of legendary bluesman Rudy Love, his music defies genres and forms a connection with audiences. You can find Rudy on stage locally at venues like Mort’s Martini & Cigar Bar, WAVE, and the Brickyard (Part of Public's Restaurant). Head over to his Facebook page to keep tabs on where he is performing.
Another Black artist worth seeking out in Wichita is Injoy Fountain. You might remember her from “The Voice” or maybe you saw her when she was on tour with Postmodern Jukebox. Locally, she brings her musical talent to a variety of venues like Chicken N Pickle and has also performed in Music Theatre Wichita and Roxy’s Downtown productions. On Tuesdays, join her for karaoke at Vorshay’s Cocktail Lounge.
Learn about black aviators at the Kansas Aviation Museum
The Kansas Aviation Museum recently added three new exhibits, one of which is a reimagined Black aviators display that was renamed the Rip Gooch Black Aviators exhibit. Ulysses Lee “Rip” Gooch was a retired Kansas state senator and former Wichita City Council member whose passion for flight and dedication to civil rights helped pave the way for Black leaders in the aviation industry. See it on display in addition to the museum’s other permanent exhibits.
Support African American art and artists
Now through Feb. 25, CityArts is featuring “Art That Touches Your Heart” Community and National Art Exhibit, a special annual traveling exhibit that works with artists in Wichita and beyond to bring Black art to the Midwest. The exhibit provides education about Black History Month and is designed to celebrate Black artists from Wichita and across the country. For 10 years, this charitable art show was held at Wichita State University and is being held at CityArts for the fourth time in conjunction with Black History Month. Admission is free.
Poetry lovers will delight in Poetry Night at Simply Sangria, a winery specializing in the blending and bottling of premium sangrias, on Feb. 15. Seating is limited for this night of food, fun, wine, and amazing poets, so call ahead to RSVP is recommended.
Gain insight about Black Wichita through the Wichita Public Library
Wichita’s largest library facility, the Advanced Learning Center, is presenting a series of programs, “Celebrating Wichita’s Black History,” in February to recognize Black History Month and to highlight the achievements of people and events that have shaped Wichita’s history. Find details in Visit Wichita’s Black History Month blog.
Visit the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame
Learn about exceptional coaches and athletes from Kansas, including inductees Willie Jeffries, the first African American head football coach at the NCAA Division 1 level; NFL great Barry Sanders; and basketball star Lynette Woodard, who became the first female Harlem Globetrotter. To visit the exhibits, request an appointment by calling the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Go on outdoor adventures at local parks, trails
Several Wichita parks honor notable Black leaders, celebrities, and more. Downtown Wichita’s Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park is named for Chester I. Lewis, the late prominent local Civil Rights leader who served on the legal team that argued the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case before the Supreme Court.
Funding is being raised for renovations to Finlay Ross Park, also located in downtown Wichita, which will provide the history and artifacts of the many African Americans who made an impact in the community. It will also be the new home of a bronze sculpture immortalizing the efforts of the students who participated in the 1958 Dockum Drug Store Sit-In.
Wichita’s Black history is showcased along the Redbud Trail. Approximately 11 miles of this biking and walking trail is located within the city. It has three rest areas that tell the story of the people who live in nearby neighborhoods with art and history-filled installations at 9th & Hillside, 13th & Roosevelt, and 17th & Oliver. The entire trail spans two counties and is more than 15 miles, providing the perfect opportunity for those who want to mix culture with an outdoor challenge.
While not a park, you can visit a memorial for Hattie McDaniel, famed actress from “Gone with the Wind” who was born in Wichita, across from her childhood home, located at 925 N. Wichita Street.