© 2024 Kansas Public Radio

91.5 FM | KANU | Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
96.1 FM | K241AR | Lawrence (KPR2)
89.7 FM | KANH | Emporia
99.5 FM | K258BT | Manhattan
97.9 FM | K250AY | Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM | KANV | Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM | K210CR | Atchison
90.3 FM | KANQ | Chanute

See the Coverage Map for more details

FCC On-line Public Inspection Files Sites:

Questions about KPR's Public Inspection Files?
Contact General Manager Feloniz Lovato-Winston at fwinston@ku.edu
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering Black Sunday: April 14, 1935

A black and white photo of a massive dust storm threatening to envelope the small southwest Kansas town of Rolla on April 14, 1935.
National Archives
Kansas Historical Society
A massive dust storm threatening to envelope the small southwest Kansas town of Rolla on April 14, 1935.

Kansas has had more than its share of natural disasters. The history of the state is filled with floods, droughts, blizzards, wildfires and deadly tornadoes. But on Sunday, April 14, 1935, another calamity came to Kansas. Commentator Katie Keckeisen tells us about an event 88 years ago that came to be called Black Sunday.


"It was as though the sky was divided into two opposite worlds. On the south, there was blue sky, golden sunlight and tranquility; on the north, there was a menacing curtain of boiling black dust that appeared to reach a thousand feet or more in the air."

This reminiscence, written by Pauline Winkler Grey of Mead, KS, poetically captures the terrifying beauty of “Black Sunday” or the “Black Blizzard”, one of the worst dust storms in American history.

By April 1935, decades of over-planting, combined with three years of severe drought, had turned a large swath of the Midwest - including Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico – into an arid and desert-like area that came to be known as the Dust Bowl.

Without crops to hold down the soil, dust storms were common occurrences. Families in western Kansas had grown used to taping their windows shut and stuffing wet rags and newspapers into any crack in their homes in an effort to keep the dust at bay. While the drought conditions caused some families to pull up stakes and make for California, most stayed put and, as one historian put it, “survived best they could, cursed the dust, and prayed for rain.”

After several days of dust storms, Sunday, April 14, 1935, dawned clear, with a beautiful blue sky. Around noontime, people noticed a smokey gray-blue haze hanging low to the North. Radio warnings throughout western Kansas noted a rapid drop in barometric pressure, which usually indicated a dust storm was on the way. But, as one witness remembered later, “we were somewhat accustomed to such reports […] so we were not much alarmed.”

But in the mid-afternoon, that small line of haze on the horizon had grown into a swirling, black wall of dust, blotting out the previously blue sky. Pauline Grey recalled that “it had the appearance of a mammoth waterfall in reverse. The apex of the cloud was plumed and curling, seething and tumbling, and whipping trash, papers, sticks, and cardboard cartons before it. Even the birds were helpless in the turbulent onslaught.”

Darkness immediately engulfed any town in the 800-mile path of the storm. Almost every account of that day describes conditions so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. In Dodge City, thirteen-year-old Harley Holladay was trying to bring in his family’s laundry before the storm hit. “The cloud hit me outside with a load of clothes,” he later remembered, “I couldn’t see anything at all. It was black as night. I got down on my hands and knees and tried to crawl toward the house. I finally felt the porch, and reached up and opened the screen door and crawled inside.”

The storm raged for hours. Several who encountered the storm believed that it was the end of the world. The sun finally reappeared late in the day, but it had a violet-greenish hue that witnesses said looked like a bruise. The storm left behind tons of dirt and dust that engulfed homes, cars, and livestock. Twenty deaths were reported in Kansas, alone, from dust pneumonia and dust suffocation.

The massive clean-up required and the tales of suffering from those affected by the storms led Congress to pass the Soil Conservation Act, which established the Soil Conservation Service. While these programs helped for a time, the current, ongoing drought in southwest Kansas has led to more recent, massive dust storms. Only time will tell if another “black blizzard” is in our future.


Commentator Katie Keckeisen is a collections archivist for the Kansas Historical Society. She lives in Topeka.

Learn more about the rich history of Kansas online at KSHS.org.

Find more images from the Dust Bowl here.