KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) -- As images surfaced of the riot in the U.S. Capitol last week, one photograph created buzz in the Kansas City metro. The photograph shows a member of the mob carrying a Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol building as a portrait of Senator Charles Sumner hangs on the wall. Sumner was a passionate abolitionist leading up to the Civil War.
The FBI wants the public's help to identify the man seen in photos, widely circulated online…
Sumner Academy of Arts and Science in Kansas City, Kansas pays homage to Senator Sumner, who fought for equality. Before the building opened at 8th Street and Oakland Avenue, Sumner High School was originally located at 9th Street and Washington Boulevard. Chester Owens Jr. graduated from Sumner High School.
“The school attracted the best; we were the best,” says Owens Jr. reflecting on the prestige of his alma mater.
Owens Jr. says when he saw the image of the man holding a confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol building, he immediately thought of his grandfather who was born into slavery. Other historians also took note of the historical irony on social media. Dr. Diane Mutti Burke, Professor and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Missouri -Kansas City, says she caught wind of the photograph online.
“I started to see a lot of chatter among fellow Civil War era historians who pointed out who was on the wall,” said Dr. Mutti Burke.
Charles Sumner, was an anti-slavery Republican Senator from Massachusetts who opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1856, Sumner delivered his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, where he called out Senators Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina by name on the issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the union as a slave or free state.
“This was becoming a huge national story. It is no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the nation were on the border of Kansas and Missouri,” said Dr. Mutti Burke.
Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina was Butler's relative. Days after Sumner delivered his fiery speech, Rep. Brooks attacked him in the Senate chambers.
“There are people nearby, but the hall is empty. And he starts to beat him over the head with a gold tipped cane. He really beat him within an inch of his life,” described Dr. Mutti Burke.
In spite of the years past since that day Sumner was nearly beaten to death, Owens Jr. believes history has a way of repeating itself.
“Being a student of history, and I hear many people tell you it was a surprise, this is not surprising. People said ‘this is not America’ [but] I contend that this is America,” said Owens Jr.