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The History of our Public Schools
Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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African-American Education in Kansas City, Kansas 1900-1929

This represents a copy of the manuscript as it was presented, including terminology used at the time of the writing.  All attempts have been made to reproduce the spelling, capitalization and layout of the original book as much as possible.  In some cases, "annotations" or "Internet links" have been provided to the original works by the transcriber of the manuscript.

NOTE:  When reading this works, please remember that addresses change over the year, depending on annexing, mergers, boundary changes, and other happenings.  The addresses referred to in this works may or may not be the same as in old records.  (Example:  What today is known as State Avenue, was Kansas Avenue prior to the Consolidation Act of 1886.)

Disclaimer and Copyright Notice

Following are excerpts from The History of the Kansas City, Kansas Public School System, 1819-1961 by Nellie McGuinn.  Nellie McGuinn was a public school educator in Kansas City, Kansas, who (in February of 1966) presented this history of the KCKs public school system to USD 500 in answer to a request from Superintendent Frank L. Schlagle. Her manuscript takes a good look at the settlement and growth of Kansas City and Wyandotte County, Kansas, incorporating the history of our schools.  The history written by Ms. McGuinn has been used for information on the individual school buildings throughout our web site, the information being presented in a chronological manner.  However, the manuscript (in its entirety) will be placed at this location.  We are grateful to Ms. McGuinn for her contribution to the future . . . "our written history".

Please remember that these are excerpts.  They are not, nor are they intended to be, a total picture of the African American community in the Kansas City, Kansas Public School System.    For a more complete history, it is recommended that you read all of the pages at this site.

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Before 1900

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1901:  The Mercantile Club agitated the question of a high school for the colored.  Members said that the white people were willing to pay for equal schools, and that colored who wanted white schools could move to some place where their children attend.  The Almighty, said one person, has made "distraction" between the races, and people had a right and duty to respect it.  A separate high school would keep Kansans from going across the line to avoid the situation here.

On October 17, Alfred Weston, president of the board, addressed the Mercantile Club concerning the color line in the high school.  He told how many colored parents hesitated about sending their children to a white school.  If they had a high school of their own, more colored students would attend. Robert L. Peak, Mercantile Club speaker, mentioned that constitutional amendment separated the races in Missouri.

[Annotation:  Until the 1954 case of Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education, many states operated under the ruling of the 1892 Plessy vs. Ferguson case, which ending in a Supreme Court ruling of "equal but separate".  For many school districts across the country, this meant that it was OK for them to segregate the white and colored race as long as the facilities for both were equal. -- You might want to take a few minutes and visit the site of "Welcome to African-American History!"]

1903:  People of the city objected to poor buildings and inferior teaching, but failed to support the board to make conditions better.  Before the flood had damaged three schools, several buildings needed replacement or extensive repairs.  Negro children in Armourdale's northeast section needed a school.  Douglass was badly overcrowded.

Lincoln was unfit in condition and location for further use.  Pupils could go to Douglass and Stowe, where additions could be built.

1904:  Serious trouble at the high school, which aroused strong feeling throughout the city, occurred on April 12, 1904.  Roy Martin, a seventeen-year old freshman, was working at Kerr's Park, getting the ground ready for a ball game.  Louis Gregory, a young colored man not connected with the high school, killed the boy.  Gregory's father turned him over at once to the police and asked that they protect him from violence.

Martin was the only son of Mrs. Eppa A. Martin, operator of the Home Hotel at 953 Minnesota. Irate citizens, aroused by the slaying, threatened lynching.  Armed Negroes gathered on Seventh Street near the jail, located where the Town House Hotel [7th and State Avenue] stands today.  A race war was feared.  A colored preacher, E. A. Greene, was said to have passed whiskey around, inciting the crowd of fifty horn-blowing, armed Negroes to call out insulting remarks and threaten further violence.  Leaders were arrested and fined after pleading guilty.

Hundreds attended the slain boy's funeral at the Seventh Street Methodist Church and his burial in Woodlawn Cemetery.  The high school was closed until the following Monday, when students calmed down a little.

The colored people in the north section of the city lacked facilities and asked for a school somewhere north of Haskell between Second and Ninth Streets.  The school would be called Dunbar in honor of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, a Negro writer and educator.  Armourdale patrons were promised in December that the old building would be replaced with a new one of four rooms.

1905:  Agitation for separate high schools for colored and white increased. On a February night of zero temperature, two hundred people gathered at the high school to discuss the problem.  In charge were Superintendent M. E. Pearson and George Stumpf.  W. E. Barnhart, board member for nine years, spoke for the board.  Other speakers were Kenneth Browne, Dr. E. L. Harrison, T. C. Russell, and J. H. Judy.

Negro lawyers addressed the gathering, representing the colored people at the meeting.  They opposed the idea of separate schools.  A motion was passed, however, in favor of sending a petition to the state representatives and senator, informing them that a majority of citizens favored the resolution. Some of those present told how residents were moving to Missouri to avoid conditions here.  They pledged their willingness to pay extra taxes to maintain two high schools, even though no children of their own were attending.

On the day following, pupils at the high school held their own mass meeting.  It was asserted that the principal and superintendent were unable to stop them, although both urged moderation.  The students wrote a petition, divided the city into groups, and sent out committees to obtain signatures to send to the legislature.  Thousands of names came in.  The student body provided the money to send Willard Breidenthal and Claude Peterson, students, to Topeka.

Kansas City legislators acted immediately.  They asked the legislature for a special law permitting the separation of the races in elementary and high school.  "Rush" legislation got the bill passed, and the Supreme Court later ruled that the law was constitutional.  The board, in a resolution passed on March 6, called for a bond issue of $40,000 to build a manual training high school for colored students.  The formal request was made to Mayor Rose on May 1, 1905, and a special election was called for June 6.  The bonds carried.

Architect Tate submitted plans for the new school on June 10.  Something had gone wrong in the printing of the bonds due, so his critics said, to City Clerk George Foerschler's giving the job to a relative.  The Kansas State School Fund refused to buy the bonds.  Interest was increased from 4 to 4.5%, but again the bonds were turned down.  Soon doubts arose as to the legality of the election.

While waiting for the new building, the board acted on Mr. Pearson's recommendation that colored and white be separated when school began in September, 1905.  White students would go in the morning from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and colored in the afternoon from 1:15 to 5:00 p.m.  The Reverend Edw. R. Bowen, colored minister, protested the ruling and asked for better facilities for Negro pupils.  Principal White assured him that they would receive them in accordance with their needs.

Professor J. E. Patterson, Chicago, was selected as head of the colored school, and began his duties in September, 1905.  His assistant was J. R. Porter.  Eighty students and four teachers made up the school.  When September came, the proposed bond purchasers, John Nuveen and Company, wanted another election for a bond vote, on account of the faulty printing.  This the board refused.  Attorney E. E. McAnany was ordered to send the company a letter instructing it to take the bonds in five days.  The bond trouble was causing a delay in providing equal facilities, as promised.

To test the validity of the segregation law in the Supreme Court, a Negro girl, Mamie Richardson, brought suit against President Thomas J. White and other school board members.  The girl charged that provisions of the law ere not ample, and that segregation was against the law and the United States Constitution.  Nathan Cree, lawyer, assisted in the case.

[Annotation:  The Manual Training School For Colored Children - Wyandotte Herald - Oct 12, 1905

"Topeka, Oct. 11, - The validity of the law enacted last winter segregating the races in Kansas City, Kansas High Schools is to be tested in the supreme court.  The question was bought before the supreme court  this morning in a mandamus proceeding bought by Mamie Richardson, a negro, against Thomas J. White, president and members of the Kansas City, Kansas school board.  It asked that the Richardson girl be admitted to the HIgh School for white children.  The petition says:

    'That about September 12, 1905 she went to the HIgh school at 9:00 in the morning and presented herself for admission; that she was informed that she could not be admitted into the school with the white children., who had exclusive use under the order of  the board of education, of the building  from 9:00 in the morning until 12:00 in the afternoon of each day and that colored children would be admitted to the school separately, and apart from the white children between the hours of 1 and 4 o'clock p.m. each day and that it is the intention of the superintendent under instructions from the board of education to prevent colored children from going to school with the white children..'

    The Richardson girl contends in her petition that the High school is ample for the admission, instruction, and grading of all children of Kansas City, Kansas and that she should be admitted at that school without discrimination on account of her color.   She also says that the conveniences offered by the board of education for the instruction of the negro children separate from the whites are not adequate and that the board is discriminating against negroes in favor of the white children, and that the board has not made proper provision for the education of the negro children in the same manner that is adopted for the education of white children.  She also says that the attempt to separate the colors so far as an educational institution is concerned is against the laws of Kansas and the Constitution of the United States, and that it is an attempt to abridge the privileges and amenities of a citizen of the United States.

    The new colored manual training school seems to have struck a rocky road. On account of the stupidity  and blundering of George Foerschler, Jr., city clerk, in preparing  and having printed ballots  for the school bond election, it is said the board of education has been unable to dispose of those bonds.    And now comes this suit in the supreme court attacking the law on the ground that the conveniences offered by the board  of education for the education and instruction of colored children separate from the white children are not adequate and show and are a discrimination against the colored children.

    Had the ballots been properly printed, the validity of the school bond  election would not have been questioned, the bonds probably would have been sold, and the contract for the new building  let and by the time the above case comes on for hearing in the supreme court, the board could have answered that the colored children  had equal facilities with the white children.   A competent man filling the position of city clerk would be of great benefit to this city."]

Miss Scottie P. Davis, a teacher at Sumner in 1935, wrote the story of the trouble between the colored and white.  Prior to 1905 the highest number of Negro students in the high school at any one time was fifty to sixty.  From September, 1886, when the school was organized, to 1904, there was little friction.  The nation was still close to ideals and notions fostered by an earlier period in history.  Negroes then became more sensitive, Nordics less sympathetic.

After a member of a prominent family was killed by a colored boy, not a student at the school, agitation began for separate schools.  Cool-headed conservatives of both races met at the library.  W. W. Rose, architect, and later mayor, presided.  Among the white citizens were Board member Miller, Dr. Harris, and Mr. Toothaker, an ex-legislator.  Negro leaders were Bishop Shafer (Methodist), Lawyer B. S. Smith, Reverend Mitchell (Baptist), and Principal J. J. Lewis [African American].

Mr. Toothaker said the incident was a pretext to oust the colored, that it violated schools laws, and was an infringement on rights.  He condemned the act as unconstitutional and asked restoration of rights or closing of the school to both races.  His motion that they wait for the law to establish separate schools was approved by the group.  Plans were made for the colored to return until January, 1905, and when the legislature could repeal the mixed laws.

After publication in the official state paper, the law was approved February 22, 1905.  It repealed an 1884 law for a mixed high school.  Until a bond issue could be called, separate sessions were held.

[Annotation:  In checking with the Kansas Supreme Court Law Library in Topeka, Claire King disagrees with the date of 1884 and states that no law existed that year relative to segregation/integration.  The information provided by the library provided states:  "The board of education shall have power ... to organize and maintain separate schools for the education of white and colored children, except in high school, where no discrimination shall be made on account of color." (Laws of Kansas, 1879, Chap. 81, Sec. 1)]

[Annotation:  http://kck.pathfinderscience.net/immigration/WOODARD.HTM

"In 1884 the Kansas Legislature mandated mixed schools. But in spring 1904, a fight between a white youth and a black youth at a baseball game ended in the death of the white youth, a student at Kansas City, Kan., High School.  The tragedy aggravated racial tensions and revived cries from some whites to separate students by race.  The high school temporarily banned blacks from attending, even though the black youth involved had not been a student and the incident had occurred in a city park.

In response to rising hostilities, community leaders of both races convened at the Carnegie Library.  Although they ultimately agreed that permanent separation of the city's high school students was the only way to forestall violence against black students, they also adopted a resolution condemning the school ban as unconstitutional.  They demanded black students be restored their rights or the school be closed -.to both races until the Kansas Legislature changed the law.  The black students were reinstated until the next meetings of the Legislature, in January 1905, during which the 1884 law was repealed and House Bill No. 890 was adopted, providing for student segregation in KCK only.

Gov.  E.W. Hoch reluctantly accepted the statute, declaring I have believed from boyhood that black people should have all the rights and privileges under the law enjoyed by whites," He demanded agreement from members of the white KCK community "...that a high school building costing not less than $40,000 and equally as well equipped as the present high school I building' be constructed for the black students.  Because there wasn't yet a second school, the Board of Education decreed that until a new building could be erected, whites would attend classes in the morning and blacks would attend in the afternoon.

In June 1905, after considerable discussion, the name Sumner High School was adopted in honor of Charles Sumner (1819-1874), an eminent scholar, abolitionist and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts whose 1856 anti-slavery speech, "The Crime Against Kansas," nearly cost him his life.  Sumner was beaten into unconsciousness on the Senate floor by Rep. Preston S. Brooks (1819-1857) of South Carolina.  Sumner High opened that fall at Ninth Street and Washington Boulevard."]

Mr. Pearson saw to it that a good school was built for the colored.  A colored speaker many years later summed up the feelings of the Negroes when he said:  "Sumner is a child not of our own volition, but rather the offspring of the race antipathy of a bygone period.  It was a blessing in disguise.  The bud had a bitter taste, but sweet indeed is the flower."

Stowe, colored school in the northeast section, had to have a four-room addition.

1907:  New buildings for Dunbar and the Fifth Ward were needed.  Fred Meyn received the contract for the high school addition.  When some question arose as to the legality of Meyn's bond from a trust company, E. S. McAnany, attorney for the Board, said Meyn would get another.

The contract for the four-room Eugene Field addition went to J. W. Taylor, John Fiske's eight-room and Hawthorne's four to F. A. Thompson, and the four at Armourdale to S. J. Davidson.  The board met at Tenth and Gilmore on May 13 to select the site for the Fifth Ward School and hoped to et the two lots north of Longfellow for $500.  The old building at Armourdale would be razed by Superintendent of Buildings Biscomb, who would see that the brick was cleaned.  Bidders did not want to include the old material.  L. G. Ferguson was awarded the contract for the new Dunbar School on June 3.  He was slow in starting, and the board warned him on July 22, to proceed with the work or lose the job.  Again on August 5 he was told to proceed with Dunbar.  Otherwise, the board said, it would cancel the contract, do the work, and deduct the cost.  Another warning of a cancelled contract was given the contractor on October 7, if no substantial progress was made by October 18.  Dunbar children were attending school in a building rented from a brewery.

Two lots fronting Gilmore in the Fifth Ward were chosen for the new school.  Plans and specifications were examined on July 29, and A. J. Hibbs given the contract on August 12 for a four-room brick school.  The board, in the summer of 1907, planned a two-room addition to Armstrong, but postponed indefinitely on July 8 the calling for bids.  They reconsidered the addition on July 22, when the idea of a colored school at Armstrong was laid on the table.  It was decided to lease a brick building on Colorado Avenue from a Mr. Flanagan.  On September 2, mention is made of A. J. Hibbs getting the contract for the Armstrong addition.

In March, 1907, the board purchased twelve microscopes and seventy-five song books for Sumner.  Sanitary plumbing at Eugene Field, Central, and Hawthorne was installed during the summer, and new Dunbar connected to Longfellow pipes.  The Superintendent of Buildings took charge of janitors, although the principal was held responsible for them.  Mr. Friedman was instructed to select an interpreter for the Fifth Ward, where there was a large foreign population.  A manual training center was established at Eugene Field.

Teachers who received demerits for the kind of work done were investigated and reported upon by the Committee on Teachers toward the end of the year 1907-1908.  Some teachers owing to satisfactory work done received increases of about seven dollars.  The lecture course sponsored by teachers was highly successful and plans were made for another the following year.  One week before school began teachers attended the institute.  It was at this time that Superintendent Fairchild wrote to the board in reference to tubercular disease among teachers.  Letters signed by the superintendent and the board informed teachers of rules made in September, 1908, concerning professional work.  Colored substitute teachers were told to be in constant attendance at the schools where assigned, and to give assistance to other teachers.

In the 22nd Annual Report, the Superintendent summed up improvements made during 1906, 1907, 1908.  With $200,000 in bonds in 1907, the following were built:  High school addition; 8 rooms in the 5th Ward; 4 rooms in the 3rd Ward; 8-room addition to the Armourdale School; 8-room addition to John Fiske; 4-room addition to Eugene Field; 4-room addition to Hawthorne.

Out of a $250,000 bond issue he enumerated:  High school addition, Sumner possibly; 8 rooms in the 4th Ward; 4 rooms in the 4th Ward; 2-room addition to Everett; 4-room addition to Hawthorne; 2-room addition to Morse.

1912:  Phillips in Armourdale and Garrison in Armstrong were combined into one school.  Children attended Garrison.

Hawthorne was damaged by fire.  The contents in one of the new upstairs rooms burned.  The floor gave way and everything fell into the room below.

1913:  In March the Board of Education passed a resolution concerning reports about Eugene Field:

"False and malicious reports have been circulated in the Eugene Field district that it is to be vacated as a white school and given to the colored.  Such reports are damaging in many ways, especially to property values.  No change has ever been or is now contemplated.  The board is making plans now for a six-room addition."

The board decided in June to relocate Parker School and leave it at the old location.  A store room at 25th and Wood and a room at Redman's Hall were rented to care for Chelsea pupils.  A board committee recommended that if a kindergarten for colored children was established, the best location was in the lecture room of the Methodist Church at 8th and State.  As funds were low, the proposition was laid aside.

The clerk was instructed to look up the matter of Quindaro School using oil lamps for an entertainment and to inform the president of the Mothers' Club there.  The board discussed moving the Phillips building.  A school for Greystone colored children was erected at Clinton, Greystone, and State Line.  Melville School asked to spend one hundred dollars out of its school fund to provide sanitary drinking fountains and to equip the playground for athletic sports.  The Kansas City board was asked to provide such facilities and keep them in order.

1914:  Colored patrons at Fifth and Miami asked for the donation of old texts to be used in a private school maintained there by them.  In January the Educational Committee of the Mercantile Club discussed with the board the matter of improved housing for pupils.  The board resolved the following April that elementary facilities were wholly inadequate.  Four ward buildings and additions at Whittier, Stowe, and Quindaro were needed. 

In January the Educational Committee of the Mercantile Club discussed with the board the matter of improved housing for pupils.  The board resolved the following April that elementary facilities were wholly inadequate.  Four ward buildings and additions at Whittier, Stowe, and Quindaro were needed.  A new site would have to be procured near 18th and Minnesota.  Bonds to the amount of $137,000 were needed.

[Annotation:  The Mercantile Club became the KCKs Chamber of Commerce in 1918.]

1916:  In May, 1916, the worst measles epidemic in the history of the schools was reported. 

Mrs. George Stine and her Wyandotte Boys Club fought the cigarette habit.  The Federation of Clubs, grade, Sumner, and high school met on May 2.  The Sumner Booker T. Washington Club announced a membership of 125.  The white schools had almost 800 members, all dedicated to the discontinuance of the use of tobacco.  A big clean-up was planned for May 23, when cigar and cigarette stubs would be collected and burned.

1918:  Devastating epidemic of Spanish Influenza hit the city.  Schools were closed for seven weeks.

1919:  Four white girls and five colored made up the 1919 Teachers' Training Class, and Mr. Pearson would need over sixty new teachers.  Federal commissioners named $1500 as a minimum wage.  A lobby of women teachers, Ella Woodyard, Lois Torrey, and Vada Boseley went to Topeka to promote the annuity bill.  Most bills, they said, added duties and requirements, but this one would benefit teachers.  Delegates to the NEA at Milwaukee asked for a cabinet member for education.  On December 31, Governor Allen declared a crisis and asked for an emergency bill as requested by the KSTA and the Board of Education.

The colored school near Fifth and Shawnee in Armourdale was called Phillips.

1921:  Greystone patrons accused the board in March, 1921, of lack of consideration for their interests, when old Greystone was condemned and a new site chosen for Melville and Greystone.  Children would have to walk over two miles to a new school.  The City Planning Commission and board members had promised to meet with the parents, but failed to appear.  Both Greystone and Melville wanted the school.  The latter was chosen because it seemed close to the center of the school population.  County Superintendent Charles E. Thompson in November got out an injunction on behalf of Melville patrons against a school on Turkey Creek.  The site "was better for mountain goats than for children," it was asserted.  In October the Melville site was listed as the 1000 block of the Industrial Addition, Lots 8-20, and the west half of 21.  The colored school was at 22nd and Douglass.

1923:  Late in December the site of the Baptist Seminary at Fourth and Troup was acquired for a new colored junior high school. This was one of the most sightly places in the city and the location of the Matthew Walker and, later, the Fowler homes

William Boone, G. A. Hodge, and A.J. Neely were leaders in the Emancipation Day celebration on September 22. A colored girl was chosen queen of a large parade. After the parade, the churches held dinners. At a Colored Welfare League banquet, resolutions were passed asking for relief for crowded colored schools, especially Stowe and Douglass. Armstrong and Everett, losing their white students because of the westward population trend, were suggested as schools for the colored.

From:  A History of Black Education in Kansas City, Kansas, Readin', 'Riting, 'Rithmetic by William W. Boone, March 1986 (Copy located in the KCKs Public Library, 625 Minnesota Ave, KCKs, 913-551-3280). 

"The elementary schools, with grades one through six which were attended totally by Black students, were considered to be the "feeder" schools for Northeast Junior High School.  In addition to those feeder schools, Black families from White Church, Edwardsville and Shawnee Mission, Kansas had to send their children to Northeast Junior High School.  The school became greatly over-crowded.  The fourth floor hallway was closed off and converted into a science and mathematics classroom.  Sections of the auditorium were used for classrooms.  During the 1950's, the enrollment doubled from the original enrollment."

"Since the elementary schools for Black children were scattered throughout the Kansas City, Kansas school district, the Board of Education was faced with the problem of getting those children who had completed the upper elementary grades, to the only junior high for Black children.  This junior high school was located in the extreme northeast part of the city.  A contract was awarded to a Black business man, Mr. W. R. McCallop, to transport children by bus to the Northeast Junior High School.  Mr. McCallop had a fleet of small yellow buses that transported Black children from all parts of the city.  This fleet of school buses could be seen as far south as Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  Mr. McCallop was one of the few Black persons who lived in the Shawnee Mission district.  His children had to attend Northeast Junior High School , since Shawnee Mission made no effort to educate Black children in the 1920's and 1930's.  The McCallop buses could be seen in the west bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri, the east bottoms of Kansas City, Kansas and they traveled as far west as Edwardsville, Kansas."

1924:  Sherman D. Scruggs from Stowe was elected supervisor of the colored schools.

1926:  Colored people moved into the Eugene Field district. In 1926 only two teachers remained in the school. It was decided in February, 1926, that beginning in September the school would be used for colored children. The name was changed to Kealing, in honor of Hightower Kealing, a former president of Western University, and Leah Crump named as principal.

Booker T. Washington, built on leased ground, was closed in August, 1926, and the building offered for sale. Greystone School, united with Melville, no longer needed the white school. It took the name of Booker T. Washington and accommodated the colored pupils. As the Armstrong building no longer was needed for white children, Garrison, also in Armstrong district, was closed. The named was transferred to the old Armstrong building when colored people moved in.

1929:  For the new Wyandotte High School site at 25th and Minnesota, elaborate plans were made for a municipal Education Center. Besides a high school and stadium, there were visualized a junior college and an administration building. M. J. Ferren was awarded the contract in February for grading the old golf course. Wyandotte was crowded and the location on Ninth Street gave little room for expansion. The "sense" of the board was to set aside money for a new colored high school.

The board decided in the summer to employ nurses again. It received from white residents of the neighborhood a petition against building a stadium or a high school for colored near 6th and Quindaro.

After 1930

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 23-Apr-2014

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