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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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KCKS Public School System, 1819-1961
by Nellie McGuinn
Copyright USD 500, Feb 1966

Return to Previous Section 1904


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 (Annotation:  date should be 1879) 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."

W. W. Rose was elected architect in January, 1905.  A twelve-room building for Central was discussed by the board.  Lowell and Prescott each should have four additional rooms.  A "Blast" system of heating was to be installed at Lowell.  The board considered having all doors on schools changed to opening outward, but later decided that the rule should apply only to new buildings.  Green artificial slate boards would go into the Lowell and Prescott additions.

Stowe, colored school in the northeast section, had to have a four-room addition.  S. J. Davidson was awarded the contract on June 9, 1905.  The best heating plant in the city was at Abbott and the board was afraid to entrust it to the janitor.  A supervisor for all apparatus in the city would be needed soon.

Through the years the high school remained of particular interest to board members.  In January, 1905, M. E. Pearson, Superintendent, explained to the board a bill known as the Barnes County High School Bill.  [authored by J. S. Barnes]   [Welborn/Washington  pdf]  [Annotation:  "Barnes High School Law." Under this measure all high schools are supported by a general county levy and tuition therein is free to pupils of school age residing anywhere in the county.]

Graduation in the spring brought the usual "high jinks" among the students.  The seniors carried off Claude Peterson, junior class president, and prevented his receiving the mantle on class day.  Miss Mable Young, vice-president, filled in for him.  Twenty juniors had tried to abduct Willard Breidenthal, senior class president, before the class day program.  He eluded them and presided at the exercises.

Fraternities and their activities concerned the board.  The superintendent was instructed in September to prepare an address on the subject and to distribute it to the high school.  A contract was signed in October, 1905, for lighting the school with electricity.  The price for the auditorium was set at $10 a night, except for the Children's Home entertainments, which were rent free.

As Lincoln School was to be abandoned, a committee from the YWCA discussed with the board the idea of buying it.  The organization wanted a home of its own and offered to buy Lincoln at Sixth and State for $5000 cash.  Warned the critics, "The location is undesirable.  The association will make a mistake it it buys it."

As the YWCA in 1905 as only two years old and living in rented quarters at $45 a month, it had little money.  With 500 members it soon would be self-supporting.  To buy the school building, offered at a bargain price, at least $7000 would be needed to cover all expenses.  The women appealed to the business of the city.

Mr. Brokaw of the Commercial National Bank asked the board on June 5 if it would accept $5000, $500 payable at once, the balance in thirty days.  Provided no better offer was made, the board agreed, then reconsidered the offer on June 8.  On June 9, 1905, however, the YWCA became the owner of old Lincoln School on an historic site of the city. 
When on September 5, Mr. Broken offered $5 to pay for the Lincoln School insurance policy, the board donated it to the organization. [Annotation: The YWCA still stands on this site, serving Kansas City, Kansas in January of 2004.]

Riverview School furnished excitement one April day.  In an early morning thunder shower the flagstaff on the cupola was struck by lightening.  The bolt demolished the cupola and cracked a wall of the building.  The few persons inside the building were stunned and shocked.  One child in the school yard was knocked unconscious, and others suffered from lessor shock and injuries.  After mothers ran from all directions to the school, the children went home with them for the day.

Board member F. M. Campbell was still in trouble.  Judge Moore overruled the motion dismissing his case and Campbell had been found guilty of receiving a bribe.  The sentence was one to seven years in prison.  After making $1500 bond, Campbell appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a resolution of March 6, 1905, the board said there would be no discrimination as to sex in the appointment of the principal of a building.  W. W. Rose resigned in April and John Tate was appointed architect.  In answer to requests, the board ruled that a kindergarten should be conducted in the First Ward (old Kansas City, Kansas) during the summer months.  Girls in the Teacher Training Class were told that they must make 85% in their studies.  The Excelsior Club finally got the Armourdale branch library in May, 1905.

Six people, including the custodian, made up the library staff in June, 1905.  The Medical Society asked for a room in which to meet.  The board took out a membership in the Western Drawing Association in the name of Superintendent Pearson.  City Counselor Edwin S. McAnany was elected counselor of the board at a salary of $100 a year.

The Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, W. H. Biscomb, gathered scrap iron from the buildings and wrote to the county superintendent about selling the old bells.  The board ruled that pupils must stay out of school houses outside school hours, and that they were not to climb walls or towers to display a flag or banner.  A carriage would be provided for doctors to visit the schools and make an inspection for contagious and infectious diseases.  The bonds from August 15, 1886, were cancelled on December 4, 1905.

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
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