Not Unseen

Geo Logic: Will Not Be Unseen/Finding the Holes in the System, Wichita, Ks.
Acrylic, tar, acid etch, rust, pencil on steel
Installed at the Advanced Learning Library, Wichita, Ks., 2024

This artwork refers to multiple maps articulating the ongoing legacy of housing discrimination in Wichita and specific locations the actions of Chester I. Lewis positively impacted discriminatory laws and policies in the city in the 1950s-1970s.

The light pink area refers to a 1937 map showing the extent of Wichita's "redlined" areas, encompassing about 50% of the city; redlining was a discriminatory housing practice that often limited people of color to live in specific areas of a city-- without the same resources as other areas-- by being designated "high-risk" based on race. From, "A Brief History of Redlining":

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, unemployment rates were high and many people couldn’t make their mortgage payments. A wave of foreclosures swept the country. To help keep people in their homes, the federal government established the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC). Its goal was to refinance mortgages with better terms, like lower interest rates and longer repayment periods, to help people make payments and avoid foreclosure. To determine what loans they would guarantee, HOLC sent people to appraise neighborhoods in cities across the US. They documented the types of housing in neighborhoods, along with information about the people who lived there. They also catalogued “detrimental influences,” with racist descriptions like “infiltration of Negroes” and “mixed races" as characteristics that lowered a neighborhood’s value (…).

Overlapping most of the historic redlined area (light pink) is a hot pink area referring to a 2024 U.S. Housing and Urban Development map identifying areas of Wichita classified as "difficult to develop," a contemporary signifier of the legacy of economic disadvantage. (…)

In addition, circled and numbered "holes in the system" identify historic sites where civil rights lawyer Chester I. Lewis' actions impacted laws, policies, and public life in Wichita to end discrimination and segregation:
1. Wesley Hospital, 1953: Chester I. Lewis and his wife, shortly after moving to Wichita, had a baby at Wesley Hospital, 550 N. Hillside; upon seeing babies of minorities segregated from white ones, Lewis threatened a lawsuit based on an 1874 Kansas law prohibiting segregation in public accommodations. The hospital changed its policy. (Eick, 39.)

2. Riverside Pool, 1953: Lewis and John E. Pyles sued the City of Wichita for denying entry to Riverside Pool to two Black college students, resulting in desegregation of all municipal pools. Believed to be the first civil rights lawsuit filed against the City of Wichita. (Eick, 39.)

3. – 6. Additional public pools, 1953-54: The effective legacy of Lewis’s actions regarding desegregation of municipal pools, resulting in open-access to additional municipal pools built during Lewis’ civil rights era:
3. Aley Park Pool, 1803 S. Seneca St., believed 1950s;
4. Edgemoor Park Pool, 5815 E. 9th St., 1966;
5. McAdams (now McAfee) Pool at McAdams Park, 1329 E. 16th St., 1969;
6. Linwood Park Pool, 1901 S. Kansas St., 1971.

7. Lewis residence, 1957: Lewis and family built a residence on N. Madison Ave. in 1957, but were unable to secure bank or FHA financing because of redlining practices (Eick, 40), as it was within the area of the 1937 redlining map even 20 years later (in the artwork, it is subsumed by the 2024 HUD “difficult to develop” map).

8. Dockum Drugstore Sit-In, 1958: Douglas & Broadway—“Along with the other variety stores clustered downtown on or near the corner of Douglas and Broadway…Dockum’s was one of the places to stop for a Coke and rest your feet while shopping. But if you were black, there was no resting allowed inside the stores; a Coke, once purchased, had to be consumed outside.” (Eick, 1). African-American high school and college students were organized by Chester Lewis and the local chapter of the NAACP--whose national organization at the time did not endorse sit-ins. The locals did it anyway, occupying seats at the Dockum lunch counter Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from July 9 well into August. They sat face-forward as if expecting to be served, with no other distractions or activities, for all the hours the counter was open those three days of each week. They were cursed and defamed on a regular basis, and on a few occasions left when threatened by police; on August 7, they fended off the threat of a brawl with a White student gang by calling in supporters from other community centers to outnumber the potential aggressors, then left the drugstore. The following Monday, August 11, Dockum’s agreed to serve Black customers at the lunch counter because of its extreme revenue loss during the sit-in period. The policy across the state was changed immediately. The success of the Dockum sit-in led to subsequent sit-ins in Winfield, Ks., and Oklahoma City, with the NAACP eventually changing its policy toward sit-ins and encouraging them, creating significant momentum for the burgeoning civil rights movement. (Eick, pp. 1-11.)

9. Lewis house, 1963: N. Roosevelt, north of WSU – this newly-constructed neighborhood had a Whites-only covenant, the sort of which had been ruled by the Supreme Court in 1948 to be legally unenforceable; Lewis’ wife Vashti Crutcher Lewis and White friends duped the seller into believing the Lewises were White by Vashti touring the house as the “live-in maid” and then having the White couple deed the house to the Lewises after the sale. Once moved in, the Lewises faced numerous threats and acts of violence (Eick, 77).

10. – 12. Plans for a new school on the northeast side, 1965: Plans for W. C. Coleman Middle School led to a crisis regarding boundary lines and their effect on the racial balance of nearby Wichita schools Brooks Intermediate and Mathewson Intermediate. The new school was proposed by the school board to be White only, and Mathewson was already mostly Black—which would have perpetuated the (now illegal, per Brown v. Board of Education) “separate but equal” approach to school population. Additionally, the Black parents at Mathewson did not want their children to attend a Black-only school. Lewis filed a federal lawsuit against USD 259 as a response to the proposal, resulting in Wichita being the first midwestern school district investigated by the new Office of Civil Rights. The OCR did not change the USD proposal, but did require new construction at Iseley Elementary on N. 18th St. as a result. (Eick, pp. 109-113).
10. Brooks Intermediate, 3802 E. 27th N.;
11. Mathewson Intermediate, 1847 N. Chautauqua, & Iseley Elementary next door;
12. Coleman School —1544 N. Governoeur Rd.

13. Brothers Grocery Stores, 1967—Lewis and others led efforts to fund the opening of two Black-owned Brothers Grocery stores in the northeast area, at 17th & Poplar and at N. 13th St. (Eick, 134).

This list of places in Wichita impacted by Chester I. Lewis’ activism is not exhaustive. Research for this project was largely via Gretchen Cassel Eick’s Dissent in Wichita: The Civil Rights Movement in the Midwest, 1954-72, Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, first paperback edition, 2008. Special thanks to Ellamonique Bacchus for recommending it.