Dr. Kevin Harrison, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Cohen Honors College at Wichita State University, grew up in the neighborhood around 20th and Piatt Street.
He’s familiar with the black granite memorial that commemorates the tragedy that occurred on January 16, 1965, when an U.S. Air ForceKC-135 refueling tanker crashed shortly after takeoff from McConnell Air Force Base, destroying 10 homes, killing 30 people and injuring more.
Harrison said he has always thought the story of that day deserved more discussion and examination.
“I don’t think you heal unless you talk about things,” Harrison said. “I see a community that still hasn’t healed.”
So he, along with long-time friends and fellow documentarians: Ricardo Harris, executive director of Wichita GEAR UP, and independent producer Kenneth Hawkins, created an 80-minute documentary film titled “The Silent Cries of Unheard Ghetto Children” in memory of a pregnant woman and her unborn child who died that day.
On June 25, the film will debut at Piatt Park, 2037 N. Piatt, the park where a black granite memorial lists the names of those who died in the crash. The documentary begins at 8 p.m. and admission is free.
A $7,418 grant from the Kansas Humanities Council funded the documentary project.
Harrison, who was born in 1969, remembers the crash was rarely discussed as he was growing up and the park was rarely used. He was a student at Wichita East High School when he first began to explore the tragedy. Years later, a conversation on the park’s basketball court with neighborhood people who experienced that day, kicked off the project.
Harrison’s documentary explores how racism and segregation affected the ability of people in the neighborhood to recover.
“I’m looking at the trauma,” he said. “I’m looking at the racial segregation. I’m looking at the perspectives of people who I don’t think were really heard and understood.”
Harrison said that one of the interview subjects declined to talk on video because she did not want to relive that day. Another said she had never talked about that day. One said their parents never talked about that day. Another woman said she had not discussed the crash and the aftermath with her husband.
“These voices of the Black neighborhood have often been unheard,” Harrison said. “Like one of the victims told me ‘Nobody came to see about us. No doctors. No psychologists.’ I’m hoping that my documentary can help people deal with the trauma.”
It was not until 2007, 42 years after the crash, that the memorial was added to the park.
The memorial is made of Imperial Black Granite and consists of a capped entry with round columns, flanked by wings on either side. The two 12-ft. high and 22-ft. Wide wing-shaped tablets bear the names of the seven air crew members and the 23 people on the ground who died in the worst non-natural disaster in the state of Kansas.
SI Memorials of Parsons, designed the monument, and SI Funeral Services of Wichita helped with the $86,000 monument construction project.
Funding for the monument came in large part from a federal Community Development Block Grant and about $25,000 in community donations.