Rotary Freedom Festival 2018 will be held in downtown Topeka on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Freedom Festival activities explore and recognize our Kansas history, our diversity and our pride in being community where important things happened. The purpose of the Freedom Festival is not only to recognize our history in Topeka, but to learn from it and grow in understanding as we build the momentum to move forward.
The following activities are currently being planned.
- A Rotary Freedom March, involving all the Rotary Clubs in Topeka, as well as other groups in the community. Marchers will go from the Brown-v-Board site to Constitution Hall with stops at the Ritchie House and the Colmery Memorial on Kansas Avenue. This event begins at 11:30 at Brown v Board site with music and speakers. The march itself will step off at noon.
- Expressions of Freedom is a student art project on storefront windows or sidewalks. It will involve students writing poetry on diversity and the freedom theme (below); then use those writings as a basis for the design of more art for downtown windows or sidewalks.
- Family-oriented activities from 1:00 PM to 4:30 PM will be offered by many non-profit or governmental agencies—face-painting, games, storytelling, exhibits, and a Learning Tent where children can do fun activities. Most activities will be free, although some may have a small charge.
- Displays include antique military vehicles, various military assets and perhaps classic cars. A variety of street vendors will be available.
- 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!
- Voices of Freedom begins at 1:00 PM on the stage opposite the post office on 5th street. Musicians, poets and other speakers will entertain the crowd. This free outdoor concert will feature nationally recognized artist, Kelley Hunt at 9:00 PM. Chairs are available to rent for a reserved seating section. Ticketing through City Spin will allow for better marketing and notification if plans change because of weather.
- 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 purpose of the Freedom Festival is to recognize our history in Topeka, learn from it and grow in understanding as we build the momentum to move forward.
The Topeka Rotary Club is one of the largest and oldest service clubs in Topeka. Its membership includes approximately 200 top local business leaders all committed to the motto, “Service Above Self.” Through the club foundation over $30,000 is annually given to support local charities such as the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, and to provide shoes and winter coats for deserving school children. Rotary raises the funds to support these programs through the Rotary Freedom Festival.
For more information contact co-chairs:
Joan Wagnon Carol Wheeler