KS Orgs Receive Grant To Document Boeing’s Legacy In Wichita

Jun 1, 2012

The Kansas Humanities Council has received an award from the Library of Congress to document Boeing’s legacy in Wichita through an oral history project.

The Kansas Humanities Council was one of five recipients of the Archie Green Fellowship through the American Folk Life Center.

The fellowship’s namesake, Archie Green, was a prominent scholar of labor-related folklore. Supported projects uphold his tradition of preserving the culture and experiences of American workers.

The Boeing Oral History Project is a collaboration between the KHC and the Wichita Sedgwick County Historical Museum and will explore the question: What will happen to the “Air Capital of the World” without the Boeing plant?

Murl Riedel, director of grants and programs at KHC says with the plant set to close sometime in 2013, it’s crucial that Wichita’s Boeing story is collected.

“I think it’s very important for Kansas history because aviation is a huge economic engine in our state,” says Riedel.

“And with Boeing pulling out that will certainly have an impact on that sector, and it will have an impact on a city that has come to define itself by the aviation industry… Boeing was kind of an icon of that particular field so it is going to require a change in how this city views itself, it is going to require a change in how the state views its economy.”

This summer and fall, fieldworkers will identify, locate and interview about 20 people who were either directly involved or profoundly affected by Boeing over the course of the past 85 years.

Wichita Sedgwick County Historical Museum director Eric Cale will be tasked with finding the final interview subjects, which he says he will likely have the pull from a large potential pool.

“What is said is Wichita is comprised of aircraft workers and 500 other people, so there really isn’t anyone who wouldn’t have something interesting to say,” says Cale.

“It would be wonderful to find someone with experience from the WWII era and it would be great to deal with those who depended on Boeing being here, but were not in the company.”

And says Riedel, capturing diverse stories through oral histories will provide a multi-faceted look into Boeing’s impact and legacy.

“It’s more than just about economics, it’s about the people that worked there and took their work and experience from working at Boeing and took it to other places and did other things,” he says.

“I think the mayor of Wichita is a former Boeing employee. These skills that were gained by working in that particular plant were spread out across the world.”

The interviews will be conducted by fieldworkers, then transcribed and shared with the Library of Congress American Folklife Center and the Wichita Public Library.

With the audio files and transcriptions will be an analysis of the collected stories by an academic, drawing conclusions and likely answering the question: What will happen to the “Air Capital of the World” without Boeing?

The Boeing Oral History Project is part of a larger initiative across the state in 2012 and 2013 called The Way We Worked In Kansas.

The initiative includes multiple KHC sponsored work-themed projects and a 9-month state tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition, The Way We Worked.