Wichita Library to be Named After Civil Rights Icon
The Wichita city council has voted to name the city’s newest library at 4195 East Harry after local civil rights leader Dr. Ronald W. Walters, who led the Dockum Drug Store sit-in which helped to end racial segregation in Wichita.
The 5-1 vote came after his name was recommended by the Library Board, with the dissenting vote coming from council member Jeff Blubaugh, who argued the new branch should be named after former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer, the city’s first Black mayor.
Before the vote, the council heard an impassioned plea from his widow, Patricia Walters, via teleconference. She cited his contributions both to local history and later contributions to national affairs as an academic and advisor to three US presidents. One example she gave was when President Clinton sent Walters, who personally knew Nelson Mandela, to monitor South Africa’s first multi-racial elections after the end of apartheid.
“And I think that he’s beyond, almost, Kansas, although he has not lost his roots,” Patricia Walters said. “He loved his home.”
As an East High graduate and president of the local NAACP youth council, the then 20-year-old Walters organized the Dockum Drug store sit-ins in July 1958, more than 18 months before the more widely publicized Greensboro sit-ins began in February 1960. The student led effort came as many restaurants in downtown Wichita refused to serve African Americans at the counter.
When the protests began, the students were accosted by white patrons and refused service, but they held steadfast. It continued for a month until the owner caved as he was losing too much money not serving them as patrons, according to the Kansas Historical Society. Once the Dockum Drug Store changed their policy, many other stores in downtown Wichita began to change theirs as well. Walters later became a respected academic and celebrated author.
The new library will replace the Linwood Branch, scheduled to close Jan. 15, and will enshrine a member of local history hopefully for generations to come.