Created By: Wichita History Walk
This park is the first publicly funded art project in downtown Wichita depicting an African American.
In a letter to the editor of The Wichita Beacon on February 22, 1957, Chester I. Lewis, Jr. wrote:
"Here in Wichita Negroes are denied the right to find employment suitable for their abilities, to own homes in desired locations, and to enter many places of amusement and public accommodation. This is our land... We helped to build it. We have defended it from Boston Common to Iwo Jima. We have made it a better land through our songs, our laughter, our expansion and clarification of its Constitution and its Bill of Rights, through our talents and skills, all the way from Benjamin Banneker, who helped lay out the city of Washington, D.C., to Ralph Bunche, who made the work of peace a reality in 1949. We are Americans, and in the American way, with American weapons and with American determination to be free, we intend to slug it out, to fight right ohere on this home front if it takes forty or more years until victory is ours."
Chester I. Lewis, Jr. (1928-1990), a Hutchinson, Kansas native, became a Wichita-based attorney and leader in the modern Civil Rights Movement. He won hundreds of court cases that provided opportunities for African Americans to gain more access to housing, jobs, swimming pools, restaurants, and schools in Wichita.
By his early 20s, he had served in the U.S. Army, earned a law degree from the University of Kansas, and won his first Civil Rights case.
As President of the Wichita Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he supported the first successful youth-led sit-in in the United States. Mr. Lewis worked on a city-wide campaign to end racial discrimination in renting and purchasing homes. His formal complaint regarding the ongoing separation by race of children in the Wichita Public Schools led to the first federal investigation of school segregation in the Midwest. He represented Wichitans who lost family and homes in the 1965 Piatt Street plane crash.
Mr. Lewis led a national effort to expand the focus of the national NAACP beyond civic rights to include economic rights.
Mr. Lewis challenged Wichita's largest employers to hire, train, and promote people of color. In his final court case, he won millions of dollars for train porters who had been underpaid from the 1920s-1970s.