Kansas legislators will try again at reauthorizing mural of Black soldiers in Civil War

A Civil War reenactment shows what soldiers with the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment may have looked like.
A Civil War reenactment shows what soldiers with the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment may have looked like.

After more than two decades of efforts to honor Black soldiers in the Civil War with a mural at the Kansas Statehouse, legislators will try again next year.

The plan? To again propose legislation similar to what didn't pass last year and creation of a subcommittee.

"Maybe we'll finally get somewhere," said Patrick Zollner, chair of the Capitol Preservation Committee, at a meeting last month.

The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first unit of Black soldiers in the Civil War and has long been the subject of a proposed Statehouse mural.

"This law regiment is often referenced as the 'first to serve' and it holds a distinctive place in Kansas and the nation's Civil War experience," said Melissa Renick, a legislative researcher. "Kansas was the first northern state to recruit, train and send Black soldiers to combat during the war between the states."

More:Will the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry mural come to the Statehouse after 22-year delay?

Black soldier mural at Kansas Statehouse has been delayed since 2000

State law has called for a mural since 2000, but delays brought on by Capitol renovations and a lack of funding have now run into a technical hurdle that can only be fixed through new legislation.

The existing language on the books isn't sufficient, Renick said, because it authorized only the development of plans. The mural statute stopped short of explicitly authorizing creation of an actual mural and creation of a fund to accept donations.

At the behest of the committee, Democrats last year introduced legislation — HB 2660 in the House and SB 468 in the Senate — directing the committee to develop and approve plans for the mural. The bills also would have authorized a donation fund. Both bills died without having a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"I would hope that we could move forward and overcome the political hurdles," said Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, adding that she hopes "the significance is clearly understand" among lawmakers.

"It appears that we're in the spirit of trying to clean up what we've started and never finished," Winn said. "I don't know if it's polite to say it like that, but let's finish things before we all die. Let me be honest. I mean, it's interesting how 20 years have passed for these projects, and that just doesn't make sense. We're very intelligent people."

More:Recognize this statue? A second one could be coming to the Kansas Statehouse.

Archivists found documents from 2008 with mural plans

Kansas Historical Society archivists this summer discovered a batch of documents from 2008 on the mural, including a draft call for artists and request for qualifications.

That document listed a $250,000 budget for the project, with $100,000 earmarked for the artist. The location was to be the Visitor Center lobby.

Renick said the walls near the Visitor Center's classroom and auditorium were possible locations. She also said walls on the first floor of the Statehouse were considered.

The project, which would be financed entirely through private donations, would likely need to raise more than the 2008 budget of $250,000, which would equal $350,000 now due to inflation.

The Capitol Preservation Committee, which meets only once a year, agreed that creating a subcommittee could help expedite the mural project.

"It seems to me that subcommittees help bring things forward," said Chase Blasi, a former staffer of Senate President Ty Masterson.

Blasi said it "may be helpful to maybe propose a subcommittee on this particular project of some members of this committee to work to reach out to other stakeholders like the African American Affairs Commission and others to help start pushing this project forward."

More:Kansas Liberty Bell replica could have home at renovated Docking after decades in storage

A similar path was successful last year at ushering through passage of legislation on a women's suffrage mural while delegating work to a subcommittee.

"We still need to get this legislation passed, but we can have the subcommittee in the meantime continue to work," said Zollner, who is also the acting executive director of the Kansas Historical Society.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Will Kansas approve Statehouse mural of Black Civil War soldiers