Hidden History: 1958 Wichita Dockum Drug Store sit-in

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The 1958 Dockum Drugstore sit-in was a catalyst move for an event  that would shake the nation and it started in Kansas.  The Wichita that we know know today was not the same in the 50’s. Much of downtown was segregated; African American’s were not allowed to eat in the same restaurants as Caucasian Americans or allowed to use the same recreational spaces.

“We had two lives,” explained Wichita native, Gayln Vesey. “We had a life with our families and inner communities where it was okay to be black and then we had a life that we knew we were not wanted in.”

Vesey grew up in Wichita. It is a place that he says has changed a lot since the 50’s. Vesey recalls the climate back then, saying in high school black students were not allowed to swim in the same pool as white students.

“Before the pool was changed in order for the students the following week, whom would have been all the white students, to have fresh water.”

Dockum Drug Store

Wichita took 18 years to desegregate their schools after Brown v. Board of Education passed. But Vesey and his friends weren’t going to wait that long to address segregated business’ like the popular downtown Dockum Drug Store.

“They said, you know what, as young people do, we’re going to change the world, and in their case, they actually did,” said Mark McCormick, Kansas African-American Museum.

Black students, one by one, would come and sit at the Dockum lunch counter and refuse to move until they were served

“See if we could get a Coke or maybe a slice of pie, and we had done it enough to know it wasn’t going to happen,” said Vesey.

But then, it did happen. After months of protesting, they were served at an all-white lunch counter.

“The Dockum sit-in of 1958 is considered the first successful student led sit-in,” said McCormick. “It happened about 19 months before the ones in Greensboro, which most people know about.”

People like Andee Higgens, who works for the Ambassador Hotel, where the Dockum Drug Store used to be. She said the reason people didn’t know Kansas came first is because most media outlets refused to write about it.

“Only people who published it were the black newspapers so everyone else just put it behind them.”

Higgins grandmother worked at the original Dockum Drug Store, and now, Higgens makes sure to add the history of Dockum in her tours of the Ambassador Hotel, adding that there is a speakeasy inside of Ambassador named Dockum so that the building will always carry the history of the sit-ins.

“I’ve had the privilege to meet five of the sit-in people and they’re like, ‘We’re not heroes. We just did what we had to do.'”

“At some point, somebody prayed for us. somebody encouraged us. All of that was necessary,” said Vesey.


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