What The History Of 'Noose Road' Tells Us About Kansas, Race And The Lynchings Of Black MenBreaking News
tags: racism, lynching, Kansas, public history
HAYS, Kansas — On the night of Jan. 6, 1869, Luke Barnes, Lee Watkins and James Ponder sat in jail accused of shooting a white railroad worker in this northwest Kansas town.
By sunrise, the three Black men had been dragged from their cell by a mob of white townspeople and hanged from a railroad trestle over the creek that separates the town from Fort Hays, where the men were stationed in the U.S. Army. A Leavenworth newspaper reported that the town “indulged them in a dance in mid-air.”
One hundred and twenty years later — in 1989 — the county commission gave a five-mile stretch of road near that bridge a new name drawn from that ugly history: Noose Road.
“The lynching at the bridge was just one episode in a long story of bad blood,” said historian Jim Leiker, who grew up in Hays and now teaches at Johnson County Community College. “It kind of left a mark on Hays’ early history of race relations that never quite went away.”
The two events — the 1869 lynching and the 1989 naming of Noose Road — represent a small glimpse into an uncomfortable history of racism that lingers today.
Kansans sometimes romanticize the Bleeding Kansas days and abolitionist John Brown’s raids in the fight to determine whether the state would join the union with or without slavery. But that “free state” pride tends to paper over brutally racist parts of Kansas history. To be sure, white supremacy was not as openly embraced here as in the Deep South, but Kansas has at times been violently, even murderously, unwelcoming to African Americans.
Leiker, who is white, has had ancestors in this area since the 1870s.
“Growing up in Hays, I heard the old-timers tell stories about how this was a Jim Crow town, how Blacks were not allowed to stay overnight here. It was a sundown town,” Leiker said. “So there was always that legacy that kind of hung over the town going back to the lynching.”
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