Freedom Festival is Rotary’s signature fund-raising event to be held in downtown Topeka on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Freedom Festival activities explore and celebrate our Kansas history, our diversity and our pride in being community where important things happened. The festival underscores our community generosity and spirit as we move forward to meet new challenges. The following activities are currently being planned.
- A Rotary Freedom March, involving all the Rotary Clubs in Topeka, from the Brown-v-Board site to Constitution Hall.
- Expressions of Freedom is a student art project on the storefront windows. It will involve getting students from Topeka High School or other schools to write poetry or essays on diversity and the freedom theme (below); then use those as a basis for the design of more art for downtown windows. Monetary prizes will be offered to the winners.
- Family-oriented activities will be offered by many non-profit or governmental agencies—face-painting, games, exhibits, a Learning Tent where children can do fun activities.
- During the day on the main stage musicians and storytellers will entertain the crowd. Other displays include antique military vehicles, various military assets and perhaps classic cars. Activities are being planned now.
- At Constitution Hall and the post office costumed reenactors will portray the dispersal of the legislature by President Pierce on July 4, 1856, complete with cannon!
- Later in the afternoon a free outdoor concert will feature a varied array of local bands, headlined by a nationally recognized artist, to be selected. The concert will be free, but chairs are available to rent for a reserved seating section. Ticketing through City Spin will allow for better marketing.
Other features include food trucks, beer gardens. In 2017 about 2,000 people attended the evening concert, with another 500-1000 people attending during the day. Attendance in 2018 should be even larger.
Theme: Topeka is a crossroads for freedom’s struggle – a concept that has changed over time as events in Topeka’s history have evolved.
Topeka was first a crossing for pioneers heading west on the Oregon trail; then in 1854 Topeka settlers came who believed Kansas should be a free state erected Constitution Hall as the first Free State Capitol. When President Pierce sought to block the Free-Staters, he sent Col. Sumner to Topeka to prevent the legislature from meeting. Despite this conflict, Kansas became a state free of slavery in 1861 and its pioneers enshrined concepts of equality and freedom in its constitution. Kansans were also on the forefront of the struggle for Women’s suffrage, religious freedom in ensuring years.
In 1952 when the landmark civil rights case, Brown v Board of Education was tried in our own post office building, all eyes were once again on Topeka as the struggle for freedom evolved and its schools quietly integrated.
Many Topeka landmarks reflect this evolving understanding of freedom: the State Capitol, Constitution Hall, the John and Mary Ritchie House. A more recent instance is the memorial on Kansas Avenue to Harry Colmery who authored the GI Bill of Rights which gave educational opportunities to returning veterans—another form of freedom.
The Topeka Rotary Club is one of the largest and oldest service clubs in Topeka. Our membership includes approximately 200 top local business leaders all committed to the motto, “Service Above Self.” Through our club foundation over $30,000 is annually given to support local charities such as the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, and providing shoes and winter coats for deserving school children. One of the ways Rotary raises the funds to support these programs is through the Rotary Freedom Festival.