“Wichita’s Dockum Drug Store Sit-Ins Make History”
Wellington – The Sumner County Historical & Genealogical Society will host “Wichita’s Dockum Drug Store Sit-Ins Make History,” a video presentation and discussion by Dr. Galyn Vesey, Wichita, on August 27th at 1:00 p.m., at the Good Taste Chinese Buffet, 1311 E. 16th St., Wellington. Buffet available from 12:00 Noon to 1:00 p.m. The program is free. Visitors are always welcome. Contact Sherry Kline, Vice President of the Sumner County Historical & Genealogical Society at 316-833-6161 for more information.
In the mid 1950’s Galyn Vesey was attending junior high and working in the kitchen at Kress’s.
Vesey said this was an era when blacks sat in the back of the bus and most job opportunities for blacks were for kitchen or janitorial work.
It was a time when young Vesey could work in the restaurant’s kitchen, but was not allowed to eat at that restaurant’s counter.
When Vesey was a twenty-one-year-old Wichita University student and a member of the of the Young Adult Chapter of the NAACP, the Young Adult Chapter decided to address these inequalities.
“Because, see, it was not unusual to be treated shabbily downtown, so our leaders were looking for an activity of a civic nature,” Vesey said.
The group decided to hold a sit-in at the Dockum Drug Store Lunch Counter. A lunch counter that only served whites. The sit-in was to be a peaceful demonstration during which young black students would sit down at a. lunch counter they had never been allowed to sit at, and politely wait to be served.
Vesey said that the planning and preparation for the 1958 sit-in began in 1957. Because of violence in other parts of the country, including the treatment of the high school students in Little Rock, and the murder of Emmet Till, Vesey’s group was concerned enough to prepare for anything that might happen.
They prepared by rehearsing all the possible scenarios, each playing a different role. They were instructed to wear their “Sunday best clothes.” They were told to be polite.
“I went during the day or on Saturday mornings” Vesey said. According to Vesey, twelve to twenty young people, usually students of high school, college, and some of elementary school age, came and took turns sitting at the Dockum Drug Store counter waiting to be served.
“Sometimes if some whites came in and saw what was going on, they would turn around and leave,” Vesey said.
“There were youths whose parents knew they were down there,” Vesey said, “and there were other youths like myself, whose parents didn’t know.”
“My father had the kind of job that if they had known, my father could have lost his job,” Vesey said, “my dad died and never knew what I had done, but my mother lived long enough to attend the banquet in 2006.”
In August of 1958, after approximately two weeks, the sit-in was over when a Dockum Drug Store executive said “Serve them, I’m losing too much money.”
They had no idea when they began that their success would have such far reaching effects. Sit-ins were staged across the nation, and restaurants began to be desegregated.
“Once I got up to Syracuse University, and started reflecting on my life I decided that it needed to be written about,” Vesey said, “when I was working on my PhD, a light came on about all that.”
Now, Vesey is the Project Director for the “Research on Black Wichita” Project, (www.robwks.com), which focuses on black history from 1873 to the mid-1970’s.
Vesey said that the project will focus on individual interviews, focus groups, and “all the documents that I can find.”
“To make it come alive, I get into the individual adversities that individuals had to deal with,” Vesey said, “sometimes people are in their graves before they are recognized. Now that I look back there were a lot of heroic people in Wichita.”
“I’m proud of what I did. It took some bravery. We could have been thrown in jail or worse,” Vesey said, “it takes a lot of steps to get someplace and it took a lot of steps to make this a better planet to live on.”
For more information about “Wichita’s Dockum Drug Store Sit-Ins Make History,” in Wellington, Kansas contact President Jane Moore 620-447-3266 or Vice President Sherry Kline 316-833-6161. Or visit www.ksschgs.com or www.ks-schgs.blogspot.com.