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K-State Today

April 20, 2016

Border War inspires College of Education film about Underground Railroad

Submitted by Patrice Scott

Long before the term Border War was co-opted by sports enthusiast, it defined a period in Kansas history during which abolitionists — including those in Wabaunsee County — fought for the soul of this nation. That story is being captured in a new documentary produced by the College of Education titled "Dawn of Day: Stories from the Underground Railroad."

The hourlong premiere is scheduled at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 5, in the K-State Student Union's Forum Hall. The event is free and open to the public, and the documentary will be available on the college's website as a resource for teachers. The film was commissioned by Debbie Mercer, dean of the college, and it is narrated by Richard Pitts, executive director of the Wonder Workshop. It also includes in-depth interviews with Michael Stubbs, a historian; Madge McDonald, a descendant of area abolitionists; and Brad Burenheide, historian and associate professor of curriculum and instruction. 

Mercer commissioned the film after the college's videographer Rusty Earl approached her with the idea. Her response was immediate. 

"It is important," Mercer said. "We don't want part of our history to be forgotten or assume that children are going to automatically know or pick up on what we think is important. We need to very purposeful in what we share with with them and what we teach them." 

Lifelong Kansans may think they know the story behind how Kansas became a Free State but according to one faculty member, few realize the true importance of the Kansas Territory in the defining issues of the time. 

"The Kansas-Nebraska Act ignited the first piece of tinder that would be the Civil War," Burenheide said. "Here, in Kansas, is the start of the modern United States in my opinion," noting people identified themselves by their home state before the Civil War and as an American after it. 

Pitts is excited about this project because it combines his greatest passions: educating children and history. 

"So often we drive past places we think we know and don't even stop to think what really went here," he said in the film. "In 1985, I first came to Manhattan, Kansas, as a student and was introduced to some of the stories about the Underground Railroad. As I began teaching and working with kids, I've tried to share my love of history with them. To me, history is a current event, whatever came before us, acts upon our lives today." 

Earl expressed gratitude to Mercer for her support for this project.

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