Roots and Branches

The Paola where I grew up was a place that was well ahead of its time in the USA socially. I think most of the northwest Kansas City metro area can still be considered to be what is termed progressive in this regard. People here generally treat you accordingly to what you do and those who don’t want to associate with you simply don’t. Secure and hearty people. We live on the land of the original peoples and most generations still respect that fact.

I’m a proud fifth generation Kansan.

My great great maternal grandfather Solomon Jackson moved there from Kentucky. He was well respected by everyone in the town. Although there were ethnic neighborhoods, his children, including my great maternal grandfather Edward George Jackson actually attended the integrated Paola public school system over a century ago.

ABOVE PHOTO: Christopher pictured with some of his Burnett cousins from the McKinley Burnett line of the family who visited the jazz museum in Kansas City back in 2015.

This was well before the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court case, known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that struck down a Kansas statute permitting racial segregation in some of the state’s elementary schools. A distant cousin on my paternal side of our family named McKinley Burnett was instrumental in helping win the case.


My maternal grandfather George Jackson was regularly featured during his Paola high school years in their ORIOLE yearbook as one of the star football players in the early 1920s. My maternal side of our family was fractured during my mother Violet’s childhood so I didn’t know much about these three elder generations until very recently.

Kansas history is documented as us having been admitted to the Union as a “Free State” during the period of USA slavery and our Civil War. The abolitionist John Brown has a significant historical connection to a small Miami County city that’s located just seven miles from Paola.

This factor obviously seems to have positively contributed to Paola’s documented cultural and societal attitudes for well over a century. That’s all very cool indeed but no place with human beings is perfect. Paola still had some instances of typical American racism back then.

Families fragment and disconnect over generations for myriad reasons. I’m finding this to be true regardless of any prevailing social, ethnic, and economic paradigms.

The primary blessings that I have taken away from my parents bringing all of us siblings home to Kansas after my father’s active duty Air Force career is my ultimately learning of these aspects of our rich family historical legacy.

Roots and branches are connected and don’t necessarily have to be immediately aware of each other’s existence. I continue to learn a great deal from my ancestors while living in my own time and despite having never met most of them due to being displaced by generations.

American racism has been and is going to be with us. The pendulum of it is always. I’m fortunate to have had elders who modeled the type of character that positively transcends these type of limitations inherent to humanity.

I have since literally traveled extensively in our nation and throughout most of the countries of mainly Western Europe and the greater Mediterranean.

Some places I lived and worked are actually more stifling than the USA and most of the people often look alike. Paola was special.

The family environments that I grew up in as a kid provided a way up for every generation and every ethnicity. The key seems to have been centered upon each one finding then pursuing our own unique life path.

Musings In Cb: “Roots and Branches”

PHOTO by Corinna Gray Photography (2023)

Christopher and Terri (Anderson) Burnett established their branch of The Burnett Family in March of 1979 in Copenhagen, Denmark. They are professional musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs based in the Kansas City Metropolitan area.