Kansas – The Sunflower State

Kansas is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States. The name is derived from the word “Kansas” in the Sioux language, which means “people of the south wind.” Its capital is the city of Topeka. Topeka became very important as the home of American Pentecostalism in the early 20th century. In 1954, Monroe Elementary School in Topeka was one of four elementary schools where legal steps were being taken against segregation. In the landmark decision Brown vs. the Board of Education the United States Supreme Court ended this kind of discrimination. In 1992, Monroe Elementary was established as the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site.

The period prior to the foundation of the state became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” The so-called “Kansas-Nebraska Act” was passed on May 30, 1854, and Nebraska and Kansas became part of the U.S. as so-called “territories.” The territories were part of the US, but not yet states with the corresponding rights. Settlers quickly opened up the territory, some on their own, some with the help of settlement organizations (such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company, which founded several cities). The non-native population quickly grew from 140,000 in 1865 to one million in 1880. Life in the Kansas territory was dangerous, since supporters of slavery and abolitionists were fighting for control over the future states and guerilla fighters were making trouble. During the intense political dispute about the abolishment of slavery, four separate constitutions were framed for the future state. Kansas became the 34th state in the Union on January 29, 1861. It joined as a free state, i.e. it had abolished slavery.

Many Germans settlers came to Kansas

32 percent of people from Kansas are of German descent, which is well above the U.S. average of 23.3 percent. The proportion of German-speaking immigrants is even higher, since many of them came from Austria, Switzerland, or the Alsace. Thousands of Mennonites and the first Amish arrived during the 1870s, when the railroads were expanded into the West and railroad companies started selling land. Especially the stockyards for cattle along the Chisholm Trail attracted settlers and cities like Abilene and Newton developed. German Baptists settled near Abilene and the greatest congregation of Mennonites west of the Mississippi settled in the area around Newton. Today, only few still speak German or a German dialect, even though the number of Low German-speaking Amish is increasing.

Kansas has a continental climate with cold winters, hot summers and low precipitation, and is, after Florida and Oklahoma, the state that has most tornados per square miles per year. These tornados frequently cause a lot of damage and even lead to some fatalities. Important economic factors are agriculture, aircraft construction, mining, and helium production. Kansas is the largest producer of wheat in the US, has the largest natural gas deposit in the world, and is the second largest producer of beef in the US.

Real GDP in 2006 was $34,242 (national average of all 50 US states: $37,714, place in the national ranking: 32).

Find more about Kansas here and more about Kansas German dialects here.