Second Freedom Festival offers window to past in downtown Topeka

Straw hats and bonnets, fake muskets and full skirts mixed with modern tennis shoes and baseball caps Saturday during a re-enactment at Constitution Hall in downtown Topeka.

 

The re-enactment of the dispersal of the Legislature by Col. Sumner in 1854 was the first of three during the daylong Freedom Festival.

The festival, in its second year, is meant to represent freedom in Kansas’ capital city from the fight to end slavery to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and how the concept of freedom continues to evolve.

Grant Glenn, president of the Topeka Downtown Rotary Club, which sponsored the festival, said events like these help people recognize Topeka’s history.

“Often we don’t know, we don’t understand and we don’t appreciate our history,” he said. “This is who we are, and we should be proud of it. And this is why the Rotary picked the Freedom Festival as a theme and to celebrate it on the Fourth of July weekend.”

Booths were spread out along several blocks of S. Kansas Avenue, and some were even set up along surrounding blocks too. Festivities began at 9:00 a.m. and lasted all day Saturday, offering a variety of activities for community members and visitors.

The festival included art projects, evening concerts and food trucks — just a few of the additions that show its growth.

“We’ve greatly expanded the number of activities,” said Joan Wagnon, who served as chairwoman of this year’s festival. “We wanted to support downtown and let people know there’s lots to do downtown.”

The celebration focused on expanding the definition of freedom, Wagnon said. Organizers invited high school students to participate in the discussion. Students read poetry and other readings with the theme of freedom, then chose different phrases and words for what freedom meant to them. Early Saturday afternoon, students used stencils to draw the phrases on the glass windows of downtown buildings.

The festival was free and funded by community businesses and organizations.

Shanta Shump, a Topeka resident who brought her four daughters to the festival, said she thought it was a good way to connect with the community.

“I think it’s bringing out a crowd, people are curious,” she said.

That was exactly what Wagnon hoped would happen.

“It’s always been my vision for Topeka — to have a lot of people downtown,” she said.

 

More