Lawrence to host free screening of film “Jayhawkers” to commemorate Fair Housing Act’s 50th anniversary

On July 18, 1967, Lawrence mayor Dick Raney signed into law city ordinance 3749, enacting the city’s first fair housing protections. Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin were declared illegal, a year before congress adopted the Fair Housing Act of 1968 in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


To commemorate this move toward equality, Lawrence is hosting a free screening of a local film that encapsulates what life was like in Lawrence at that time.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, July 16, the film “Jayhawkers” will be shown at Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 East 6th St., in Lawrence. From first glance, the film is a basketball narrative, telling the tragic loss the University of Kansas faced against bitter rivals from the University of North Carolina in triple overtime on March 23, 1957.

However, KU film professor and the writer and director of the film, Kevin Willmott, explained that “Jayhawkers,” set in the mid-1950s, tells the story of how a small group of KU staff and the family and friends of basketball player Wilt Chamberlain modernized college sports and changed a community, serving as a parallel to the civil rights movement that would later transform American society.

“I think the reason they chose it (to be screened on the 50th anniversary) is that the film is about one of the major moments in Lawrence history that led to progress with civil rights in the city,” Willmott said.

Willmott explained the three main dynamics of the film are between Franklin Murphy, the chancellor at KU at the time Chamberlain agreed to play basketball there, coach Forrest “Phog” Allen and Chamberlain himself. Murphy attempted to use Chamberlain’s celebrity status to make a change in the community, while coach Allen, who Willmott explained was in the middle of the movement, battled with wanting to win basketball games, but also support his black players’ push for equality. Chamberlain had his own struggles — those of an 18-year-old who wanted to play basketball in a community where he was accepted.

“Most of the films I make deal with social issues in various ways, and a lot of them deal with history and civil rights and race relations, so it was just a story I felt needed to be told,” Willmott said.

“Jayhawkers” was released in February 2014 and premiered at the Lied Center of Kansas, where Willmott said thousands of guests attended the showing.

“I think people — one of the immediate responses to the film from people who were around at that time — was people didn’t realize all the different levels of what was going on,” Willmott said. “What Wilt went through, and what chancellor Murphy had to do and what black people had to go through at that time.”

Willmott explained that segregation was prominent in Lawrence in the 1950s, but not as pronounced as in other states. Signs stating a right not to serve anyone were commonly found, and black people could often order food at restaurants but had to take it to go.

The screening on Sunday will be followed by a panel discussion with Willmott at Abe and Jake’s. For information about the film, visit


Related Event:

Join The Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence on Tuesday, July 18 for an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Lawrence fair housing ordinance, which was signed at the Watkins building in 1967.

The schedule is as follows:

- 5:00 p.m., proclamation honoring the 50th anniversary of the passage of Ordinance No. 3749 followed by the introduction of honorary guests.

- Remarks by Fred Six, secretary of the 1967 Human Relations Commission

- Remarks by Ursula Minor, president of the Lawrence NAACP

- Introduction of the fair housing historical exhibit and the civil rights kiosk by Steve Nowak

- From 5:45 to 7 p.m. view exhibits and attend following reception with refreshments