Post-Civil War photo negatives document African- American Exodusters building new lives in Leavenworth

In the turbulent years following the Civil War, around 27,000 former slaves migrated to Kansas. They called themselves “exodusters” and they were fleeing Jim Crow laws. Some of them are remembered in a portrait exhibition of an African-American community in Leavenworth, Kansas.

by Julie Denesha, KCUR and Kansas News Service

Photographer E.E. Henry’s portrait of Samuel Green, 1880 and an unknown photographer’s portrait of Geraldine Jones, 1870s-1900s. Glass plate negatives photographed in Leavenworth, Kansas, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Unknown photographer’s portrait of James Turner circa 1895 and photographer Harrison Putney’s portrait of Private Paul Schrader of Ottawa, Kansas, and three soldiers from the 23rd Volunteer Infantry circa 1895-1899. Glass plate negatives photographed in Leavenworth, Kansas, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Unknown photographer’s portrait of H. Hopkins children and an unknown photographer’s portrait of Thomas Meadows circa 1890. Glass plate negatives photographed in Leavenworth, Kansas, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Photographer’s studios lined Delaware Street, in the early days of Leavenworth, Kansas. Everyday people rushed to take advantage of the new technology that could produce an image within minutes. This enlargement of a negative from the Everhard collection shows the studios of Jay Noble and E.E. Henry.

Photo studios were busy places in Leavenworth, Kansas, in the late 1870s. Thousands of everyday people flocked to have their pictures taken.

Today, some of those pictures have re-emerged — and they tell a story of an African-American community that took root in the town as Black families migrated to escape the Jim Crow south.

An exhibit on display at the Black Archives Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, features a series of black-and-white portraits that have survived more than a century. (

An older man and woman are decked out in their Sunday best. A quartet of soldiers poses in front of a woodsy backdrop. A young woman in a black hat looks boldly into the camera lens. All of the subjects are African-American.

Jade Powers is assistant curator of art at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. She takes a special interest in highlighting artists and subjects underrepresented in museum collections. (Photo by Julie Denesha)

Jade Powers, assistant curator of art at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, wasn’t involved in the creation of the exhibit, but she takes a special interest in highlighting artists and subjects underrepresented in museum collections.

“So often, the portrayals before were not maybe how African-Americans saw themselves or they were very political in a negative way to keep, you know, a certain status quo. And so with these images, it’s so exciting,” Powers said.

“I mean, you’re looking at couples, you’re looking at soldiers. It just really expands on the history of America.”

In the turbulent years following the Civil War, around 27,000 former slaves migrated to the land of John Brown. They called themselves “Exodusters” and they were refugees from Jim Crow laws and lynch mobs. Their journey came to be known as the “Great Exodus.”

“There seems to be a real interest from Black and Brown artists, to really look at historical figures and reimagine them or be able to uplift them in different ways,” Powers said. “I am not a practicing artist, but I imagine someone could have a field day with stories of these people taken from this historical narrative.”

Volunteer Mary Ann Brown, left, and Samantha Poirier, director of the Leavenworth County Historical Society, flipped through enlargements from negatives saved by Mary Everhard at the Carroll Mansion Museum. (Photo by Julie Denesha)

The photos would never have come to the public eye if not for the persistence of Mary Everhard, a photographer who moved to Leavenworth in the 1920s.

Everhard had a keen interest in history. As older photographers closed their doors, she bought up their archives.

Eventually, her collection took up an entire room, floor to ceiling, 40,000 negatives in all. Everhard guarded them for years, through two tornadoes, a flood and a fire.

“It’s such an incredible story,” said Mary Ann Brown, a volunteer at the Leavenworth County Historical Society “It’s hard to know even where to start with Miss Everhard.”

Brown is part of a team that’s been scanning Everhard’s negatives since 1998. She considers Everhard a folk hero — the woman who preserved decades of early Leavenworth history. But people didn’t always appreciate Everhard’s efforts.

Mary Ellen Everhard studied photography in New York City before moving to the Midwest in the 1920s to set up a studio in Leavenworth, Kansas. (Photo from Leavenworth County Historical Society)

“When she decided to retire, she went to the local banker and she wanted to know what she could get for these negatives,” Brown said. “And he said, Miss Everhard, you might as well just throw these in the Missouri River. They’re not worth anything.”

Thankfully, the negatives escaped a watery grave. A collector from Chicago purchased them in 1967. He sold off parts of the collection to different museums.

One of them was The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Today the Carter keeps around 6,000 of Everhard’s negatives in temperature-controlled vaults. The portraits on display at St. Joseph’s Black Archives Museum come from that collection.

“Even though photography is often talked about as one of the more democratic art forms, that still took a certain amount of money and a certain amount of access and standing to have an image taken,” said Kristen Gaylord, the museum’s assistant curator of photographs.

“A lot of Black Americans didn’t have that right away after the end of slavery,” she noted. “So especially the 19th Century images, I would say, are unusual, which is why they’re so valuable to us.”

Gaylord sees Mary Everhard as a woman ahead of her time.

“Not only was she a successful female photographer at the time, but she’s also the one who saw the need to conserve all these negatives,” she said.

The Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California, also acquired a portion of the Everhard collection. In the late 1990s, the Leavenworth County Historical Society raised the funds to purchase 25,000 negatives from the Autry and return some of the images to the city where they started. They form the heart of the historical society’s photography collection — the one that Brown and fellow volunteers have been working on for years.

Thanks to Mary Everhard, the Chicago collector and those volunteers, the images that could have landed in the Missouri River now tell a story about early Leavenworth and the people who called it home.

And the exhibit at the Black Archives Museum in St. Joseph tells us that the story includes former Black residents of the South, who put down new roots in the state of Kansas.

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
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Kansas prisons have some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country

More than 5,000 inmates and 975 prison staff have tested positive for the coronavirus.

by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service

Leoti Masterson hasn’t seen her son, Jeff, since March. She used to visit him at the Winfield Correctional Facility once a week to play cards, reminisce and pray together, sometimes for hours at a time.

But when the pandemic started, Kansas prisons stopped allowing visitors as a coronavirus precaution. Now, Masterson makes do with daily phone calls no longer than 20 minutes.

“He’s my closest family member,” Masterson said. “So, yeah, this is hard.”

Yet suspending visits hasn’t kept the coronavirus from Kansas prisons. It was first detected at the Lansing Correctional Facility in early April. Cases have been found in staff and inmates at nearly every facility since.

More than 5,000 inmates have tested positive. The nonprofit news website The Marshall Project, which takes a critical look at the country’s criminal justice system, says that puts Kansas among the states with the highest infection rates in its prisons.

Out of roughly 2,800 prison workers in Kansas, 975 have tested positive for the virus. Twelve inmates and three staff members have died. Meanwhile, Kansas has yet to respond to requests to release inmates to reduce their chance of getting sick.

The Kansas Department of Corrections has instituted some policy changes to prevent the spread of the virus, including quarantining all positive inmates at Lansing, which has newer buildings with better ventilation.

The agency has also given cloth masks to all inmates and staff and tried various social distancing measures at prisons.

Still, some staff and inmates have said such measures are either ineffective or hard to enforce. And like other prison systems, the corrections department has not stopped transferring inmates between facilities.

Meanwhile, advocates for incarcerated people continue to say that releasing prisoners would alleviate some of the close quarters where it spreads most quickly — protecting both those inmates and the surrounding communities where staff live.

Corrections officials declined multiple requests for interviews and did not answer emailed questions. But in a statement, spokesperson Randy Bowman said the department was working closely with public health officials.

“We continue to coordinate our response to COVID-19 with officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to ensure all mitigation efforts are consistent with current public health practices,” Bowman said in an email.

Social distancing

Jeff Masterson, Leoti Masterson’s son, said he tested positive for the virus in August and was moved from Winfield to Lansing. In emails and letters, he said that inmates don’t always wear masks properly and some quarantined at Lansing claimed they no longer had symptoms even if they were still feeling sick.

“Everyone wants out of there and back to their relative normal,” Masterson said. “So inmates work the system.”

Masterson was moved back to Winfield after about two weeks. In early December, he was transferred to the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility.

At Winfield, where he usually serves his sentence, Masterson said the dining hall was closed, but inmates sit near each other to eat in residential areas. They have access to soap in bathrooms, but hand sanitizer, paper towels, bleach and vinegar are banned. Recreation is separated by floor, although he says people typically don’t wear masks and there are no social distancing rules.

People in other prisons have reported a similar lack of distancing. Mari Flowers, the mother of a woman in the Topeka Correctional Facility, said her daughter has been quarantined in a tent in the prison’s laundry room since she began her sentence at the end of October.

“They put these women in an impossible situation,” Flowers said. “They can’t even make it inside the prison.”

Flowers said her daughter, Jordan Fuller, had been tested for COVID nine times. Fuller’s quarantine has started over four times. Flowers said the prison was waiting for every new arrival to the prison — dozens of women — to all test negative at the same time before letting them into the main prison buildings.

“They don’t deserve to be treated that way. They’re already in a bad place. They put themselves there and they know that,” Flowers said. “But I just feel they need to take better care of these people.”

The corrections department did not respond to questions about the facility. The Topeka prison did not return a request for comment.

Jon-Wesley O’Hara is a corrections officer at Topeka, the state’s only women’s prison. Enforcing pandemic precautions is difficult, he said, now that the prison has been relaxing disciplinary measures that can sometimes delay early releases for good behavior. He said officers are left with little recourse when inmates refuse to wear masks.

“It is up to us to try to mitigate their decisions as much as possible,” O’Hara said. “We need to take this a lot more seriously.”

Kansas prisons have struggled with understaffing, which the pandemic has exacerbated. Officers have to miss work because they’re quarantining, taking care of children or working at other prisons that need the help. The ones who are left sometimes have to pull double shifts that can last as long as 16 hours. O’Hara said.

The corrections department offers extra pay for officers in COVID-positive units, but O’Hara said that for some employees, that extra money is approaching the state’s statutory limit for employee merit pay.

“This is a hard job,” he said. “It gets harder every day, and this is just another level of stress.”

When O’Hara’s roommate, who also works at the prison, tested positive for COVID, they had to stay home from work. O’Hara said he had to call his ex-wife to tell her he couldn’t see his children for Thanksgiving.

“That is the hardest thing in the world to not be able to see your kids,” he said. “You will never be able to replace that in-person contact.”


Throughout the pandemic, criminal justice activists have advocated for the widespread release of people from prisons, jails and detention centers as the only effective way to socially distance. Jails and prisons in California, Michigan, New Jersey and other states released thousands of people over the course of the year.

In April, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas filed a lawsuit to compel Kansas prisons to do the same. Leavenworth County Judge David King dismissed the suit. Gov. Laura Kelly’s office approved the release of only six people in May.

Since then, the ACLU says it has filed more than 90 clemency applications for Kansas prisoners with the state’s prisoner review board. About 30 of them are waiting for a decision from Kelly, but the applications haven’t been denied or approved. The organization still maintains that release is the best solution for COVID spread in prisons.

“The only way to make sure that the transmission rates go down,” said ACLU legal director Lauren Bonds, “is to make sure that people in prisons can observe the same protocols that we’re being told to observe out here in the community.”

Bonds said many of the clemency applications are for people who have a short time remaining on their sentences or have jobs, housing and family waiting for them on the outside. Their release, she said, could also mean reducing community spread in towns where many of the residents work at prisons.

“The consequences … are not limited to what will happen to inmates,” Bonds said. “This is a community health issue.”

In an email, a Kelly spokesman said the governor is still considering the requests.

“The Governor will consider every clemency request after she receives a full process of developing facts and with input from those affected,” he said in an email.

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service. You can email her at nomin (at) kcur (dot) org and follow her on Twitter @NominUJ.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
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Questionnaire from Rep. Jeff Pittman, candidate for state Senate, 5th District

Name and office sought
Rep. Jeff Pittman, seeking state Senate District 5, Democrat


Occupation and experience

I am currently a supply chain engineer at a software company. I have worked there applying algorithms, technology and industry best practices to save companies hundreds of millions of dollars, while enabling them to deal with major disruption and uncertainty.
I was formerly a big data technology consultant, focused on creating data intersections and analytics used to help drive insights into companies bottom lines. My wife and I also have a small business around property rentals.
Serving two terms as a state representative, my experience and education have helped position me well for handling the current state challenges around budgets, technology and working through the challenges of the pandemic.


Graduated high school, Leavenworth High
Bachelors of Arts Degree from NCF
Masters in Engineering, MIT
Masters in Business Administration, Oxford University, UK

Organizations, clubs, groups to which you belong

VFW Post 56 Auxiliary Officer;
Honorary Member of American Legion Post 94;
Criminal Justice Chair of the Leavenworth Chapter NAACP;
Member of the Lansing High School Site Council;
Ducks Unlimited Leadership team;
Member Chamber of Commerce of Leavenworth/Lansing;
Member Chamber of Commerce of Bonner Springs/Edwardsville;
Member Chamber of Commerce of KCK ;
Board member of Unity in the Community;
Past board member of the Leavenworth County Humane Society;
Leavenworth Main Street Investor (Downtown development organization);
Parents As Teacher Advisory Board;
Member of Leavenworth County Mental Health Task Force;
Member of Kansas Information Technology Executive Council;
National Legislator of the year from Educational Theatre Association;
Kansas Legislator of the Year from Kansas Thespians;
Buffalo soldier award from the Local Buffalo Soldier Club;
Richard Allen Cultural Center member;
Leavenworth/Lansing Young Professional Club member;
Leavenworth County Historic Society member;
Traveling Youth Baseball 13-14 coach
Leavenworth-Wyandotte Caucus;
Democratic Military & Veterans Caucus;

Endorsed by:
Firefighters #64 Covering EMT and Firefighters in LVCO, WYCO and Edwardsville;
Fraternal Order of Police #4;
Fraternal Order of Police #40;
Kansas Mental Health Coalition;
Kansas Hospital Association;
KNEA Teachers;
KC Biz Pac of the Greater KC Chamber;
Main PAC;
3.14 Organization Promoting Science in Politics;
Equality Kansas;
Laborers 1290;
Operators 101;
IBEW Local 51;
UAW local 31;
Kansas AFT;
and more

Reasons for running

The state Senate needs a change. I have enjoyed my time as a state Representative and developed skills and understanding I can bring to this broader area, my home town area, in the state senate. We need more voices like mine of moderation and of solutions. I have fought for and will continue to build on a proven track record of supporting properly funded public education. During this time of crisis, we need proven, trusted, reliable leadership, and that’s what I bring. We need to make sure that people can go back to work, that they can reopen their businesses, and we need to do it so that everyone feels safe. From our manufacturing industries, to small businesses in our downtown. We need to make sure businesses have access to the capital they need to stay afloat, and we support workers getting back employed as long as they are safe, so they can provide for their families.

What are the three most important issues facing this district and how would you handle them?

One of the biggest issues facing us now is getting through this COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has hit our jobs and businesses hard. Making sure our citizens are safe, and balancing that with ensuring our economy gets ramped back up. Small business needs access to capital. Our schools are affected by it; our ability to provide for our families is affected by it; our socializing is affected by it. By working together we can recover from this and pandemic and move our economy forward. My professional background is in helping businesses find innovative solutions to challenges they are experiencing. I am uniquely qualified to help our local businesses navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and get our economy thriving again.

As I talk to citizens at the door (at a distance), I also see affordable healthcare as a major challenge for our citizens who are not retired military. Whether it’s those on a fixed income facing increasing pharmaceutical costs or workers making minimum wage who can’t take care of their chronic conditions, healthcare costs are making access increasing difficult for many people. Rising healthcare costs drive workers from local businesses to bigger businesses that offer health insurance benefits—and that makes it harder to find stable workers in local businesses. An educated workforce is good for business. I stepped up before to ensure our education system was funded and provided every student an equitable education no matter their zip code. We face a new crisis as students go online for education during COVID. Students who are most at risk are even more at risk. Whether access to internet, quality of homelife, self-discipline or unfortunately abuse, we must work toward better solutions and be willing to flex our public education system.

Lastly innovation fuels growth. We need to encourage entrepreneurialism and business to business innovation. Collaboration between local businesses fosters cross-marketing and regional identity building. Unaffordable healthcare plagues many people. Simply stated, the Chambers of Leavenworth and KCK have jumped on board and understand that Medicaid expansion is a workforce development tool and infrastructure stimulus. We have given up $4 billion in federal funding over five years. It’s time to get past the politics in the Senate and move forward. Regarding fostering growth, the government should have bipartisan stability. We must foster innovation, show economic leadership and develop strategic long term plans in conjunction with local, state and federal partners.

If you are an incumbent, list your top accomplishments in office. If you are not an incumbent, what would you change if elected?

The state of Kansas was in a financial crisis with our credit rating dropping 3 times in 18 months during Governor Brownback’s tax experiment. I promised to put fiscally responsible measures in place to properly fund public education, support funding our KPERs promise to the people, supporting investment in roads and I kept that promise. I have served on the following committees: Veterans and Military Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation, Publics Safety Budget, Joint Committee on IT, and the Information Technology Executive Committee. I have sponsored in my time over 18 bills, many bipartisan in nature. I was a key driver in the Cybersecurity Act creating a framework for security. I positioned amendments for COLA (cost of living adjustment) increases in KPERs repeatedly. I brought forward increased funding amendments to meet our federal special education funding requirements. I fought to ensure Corrections workers infected with COVID that died would have automatic death benefits for their families from workers comp. I repeatedly fought to get rid of the sales tax on food, and to allow itemization of tax deductions at the state level, even when taking the federal standard deduction. And being from Leavenworth, I introduced numerous bills, one of which ended up working in the budget to stablize lottery fund disbursement resulting in hundreds of thousands more each year to be used for military service organizations like VFW and American Legion, giving restitution to Native American veterans and being the first to introduce two bills that would start the process of bringing a new veterans home to Northeast Kansas.

Have you run for elected office previously? When, results?

Yes, I’m proud to have been elected in a general election twice for Kansas State Representative. My first term was in 2016 when I promised to reverse Governor Brownback’s tax experiment and we did so. I was then re-elected in 2018. Raising my family here with my wife Holly, we have been heavily involved in our community. I understand the unique needs of our area. I have worked on behalf of my constituents every day. I hope for your support as state Senator.