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Background Image A portion of the Independence local Crossroads exhibition

Independence: A Culture of Innovation

Independence, Kansas prides itself on a culture of entrepreneurship and volunteerism, cultivated since the community’s days as a frontier settlement. How did these characteristics develop and what does this spirit look like in the 21st Century and beyond?

Explore these questions and more in the “Crossroads Independence” online exhibit from Independence Public Library and Independence Historical Museum and Art Center. The exhibit complements Crossroads: Change in Rural America, Humanities Kansas’ statewide initiative anchored by the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition of the same name. Crossroads sparks fresh thinking and dialogue about the history of rural communities and the changes small towns have made to survive and thrive. As the local exhibit illustrates, innovation meant embracing a convergence of cultures for Independence.

Visit the exhibition


Photo courtesy of Kansas Tourism.

Questions for Discussion

Take a few minutes to explore the Independence Public Library and Independence Historical Museum and Art Center’s online exhibit, “Crossroads Independence,” and then answer the following questions:

  1. The central question of “Crossroads Independence” is “What do we need to survive and thrive?” A history of cultural diversity, volunteerism, and entrepreneurship are the focus in the exhibit. What other qualities do rural communities need to survive and thrive today?
  2. “Crossroads Independence” considers how German, Hispanic, and African American cultures blended to instill volunteerism and entrepreneurship as important values to the community. What cultures are prominent in your community? What has been their influence and impact, past and present?
  3. Rural communities are often portrayed in popular culture as more close-knit and caring than urban centers. Independence’s emphasis on volunteerism reinforces the idea that neighbors in small towns commit to supporting one another for the betterment of their community. Is this narrative of rural areas accurate in your experience? How do communities of all sizes cultivate and sustain active volunteerism? What supports this kind of culture?


Go Further

Now that you’ve explored “Crossroads Independence,” consider the following activities as ways to enhance your learning:

  1. Learn about the history of Black entrepreneurship from Dr. Robert E. Weems Jr., the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University. In his Big Idea essay, “It’s Time to Tell the Stories of African American Entrepreneurs,” Dr. Weems explains that this portion of history has been a relatively understudied but important aspect of the Black experience in America. Then, watch Dr. Weems discuss his essay in a Big Idea interview with Dr. Valerie Mendoza of Washburn University.
  2. Explore the history of your own community’s culture and traditions through food. In Independence, German, Hispanic, and African American people all brought their own culinary traditions to the community. What foods are historically significant to your hometown or your family? Get started learning more about food traditions through the Humanities Hotline: explore the history of the tortilla with public scholar Gene Chavez; learn about the cultural importance of indigenous food with Devon Mihesuah, Cora Lee Beers Price Professor in the Humanities at the University of Kansas; and hear about Jell-O’s journey to become a staple in American homes with journalist Beccy Tanner.
  3. Visit Independence. Explore their local Crossroads exhibition, displayed in windows of downtown businesses, and see the “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” Smithsonian traveling exhibition at the Independence Historical Museum and Art Center. Be sure to check hours and safety guidelines before planning a visit.

Don’t forget to share what you’ve learned by telling us about it on Facebook or Instagram.  You can tag us with your thoughts at @humanitieskansas using the hashtag #CrossroadsKS. Where will the Kansas Crossroads take you next? Explore more exhibits at

Banner photo credit: Independence Historical Museum and Art Center


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