Radicalism in Southeast Kansas
In the late 19th century, continuing into the early 20th century, workers were organizing in the United States. They organized because the working conditions that they were subjected to were dangerous and cost many workers their lives. Another element of this organization is that many people began to subscribe to the ideals of Socialism and other left-wing ideologies. They felt that these forms of government would provide every human being with a better quality of life, less exploitation, more access to resources, and a less corrupt government.
To bring about these ideals, workers began to organize political parties, informal organizations, newspapers, and unions. One area where this was prominent was Southeast Kansas. An extremely important example of this was The Appeal to Reason (1895-1922), which was a Socialist newspaper published in Girard, Kansas (about 20 miles from Fort Scott). However, there were other components of Southeast Kansas that made it a hotbed for Socialist activity. These included the radicalism of the people in the area, high union membership, and the independent efforts made to expand their ideologies. These efforts were important to the national struggle for workers’ liberation, but also helped create the conditions for the People’s College and the Little Blue Books to be founded in Southeast Kansas.
The people who immigrated to Southeast Kansas were tough people, mostly moving there to work in mining industry. These people came from all over the world. However, after 1900 most of the immigrants who came to work in Cherokee, Crawford, and Bourbon counties came from the southeastern region of Europe known as the Balkans. This led to Southeastern Kansas gaining the nickname “The Little Balkans”. This nickname has stuck and every Labor Day weekend since September 1984 in Pittsburg, Kansas there is a festival called “Little Balkans Day” where homage is paid to the region’s history, ethnic diversity, and community spirit. This nickname, “Little Balkans”, did not just come from the ethnic makeup of those who immigrated to Southeast Kansas. Originally a pejorative term (Balkans of Kansas) that described the economic and political climate of the region. Labor unions and strikes were a staple of the region, somewhat due to the politics immigrants brought, but more importantly, due to the treatment of the workers in the mines.