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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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African-American Education in Kansas City Kansas before 1900

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.

Disclaimer and Copyright Notice

The African-American Community has a long history in Kansas City, Kansas. 

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.

All attempts have been made to reproduce the spelling, capitalization and layout of the original book as much as possible.  In some cases, "annotations" 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.)

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"The Charter and Ordinances of the City of Wyandotte," signed by Governor S. Medary on January 29, 1859, outlined the procedure for establishing a public school system.  Stated briefly below are some of the items in this early document.  (Annotation:  The Common Schools - Kansas School System)

  1. The Council would divide the city into school districts and procure a site for a school.  The Council was empowered to levy one mill on each dollar until a sufficient sum was obtained to buy or erect; and to levy two mills on the dollar to defray school expenses.
  2. The schools would be free and accessible for ages five to twenty-one, but no black or mulatto would be permitted to attend.  School taxes assessed in the property of black or mulatto must be used for the education of black or mulatto.
  3. Voters of each ward would select two "judicious and competent persons, having alderman qualifications," as trustees of the common schools.  These persons would be called the "Board of Trustees of the Common Schools in Wyandotte," and would hold office one year.  The City Council would fill and confirm vacancies.
  4. The trustees must visit every school once a month and report to the Council on finances and other matters.
  5. Money would be deposited with the city treasurer and spent for no other purpose than the schools.
  6. A member absent from meetings six successive weeks, unless sick or away from the city, would have to leave the board.
  7. The Council would appoint five examiners of "competent learning and abilities."  These would be called the Board of Examiners of Common Schools in Wyandotte, and serve two years.  They would examine teachers, schools, discipline, and the course of instruction.
  8. The City Council would set up rules for the school.

If any schools were ever organized under the 1859 rules, the records have disappeared. 

Under Governor S. J. Crawford, revised rules were published in 1867.  The county had begun the division into school districts almost as soon as it was organized.  It continued to do so as the population spread, until it was completely sub-divided.  Wyandotte was district Number 1.

The Cincinnati frame [LIncoln School], grown to a school of several rooms, was the scene for the meeting that in 1867 voted $12,000 in bonds for a new schoolhouse. Wyandotte had become a city of the second class on February 23, 1867. Under Governor Crawford the Supplemental Act to govern the schools was issued. Some provisions were:

The First Ward was the section of the city lying south of Kansas (State Avenue). The Second Ward lay north of Kansas Avenue. Three councilmen controlled the affairs of the city.

On March 25, 1867, John McAlpine, trustee of the Wyandotte City Town Company, deeded lots 25-27, Block 115, to the Board of Education for the sum of one dollar. The lots were the site of the frame building on Sixth and State. Some Wyandotte County histories refer to this school as the first public school. It was in no sense a public school until deeded to the board and turned over to the colored people after the erection of Central Public School. Central was the first school erected by the City of Wyandotte, District 1.

The City Council, in 1872, planned to organize a police department with a starting force of four men.  Minnesota Avenue, sixteen years after it was cut through as a main artery in Wyandotte, as to be curbed, gutted and McAdamized.  The project of street cars to carry passengers to new homes all over the city might soon become a reality.  Over in South Wyandotte, the Kansas Pacific Railway was selling lots in Armstrong to the workers at the shops under the hill to the south.  The sale of intoxicating liquors was to be forbidden there.  Residents of the new town would soon vote on two brick schools, a two-story for white and a one-story building for colored. 

During the Underground Railroad and Civil War days, colored people had escaped to Kansas from the slave state of Missouri.  The four-room school on Sixth and Kansas (State Avenue) had housed the children of these people up to about 1878, the year of the Exodus.  Thousands of Negroes, owing to a combination of events, left their homes in the South.  They loaded their scant household belongings and livestock on to the numerous barges going up and down the Mississippi and set out to seek new homes in the North.  From 1878 to 1881, at least 20,000 of these emigrants landed on the levee at Wyandotte.  Many of them remained, building shelters along the river bank or erecting homes in Quindaro and the northeast section of Wyandotte.  Before long they were asking for school privileges for their children.  By 1880, one thousand of the 2627 school-age children colored and white, were attending the two schools, and costing the 6500 people of Wyandotte about $7000 a year.

The city and school district had the same boundaries.  It covered about 300 acres and had a population of 5000 people, when it was consolidated.  The first school, an eight-room brick, was erected in 1871 as District School Number 3 [Wood/Cooper School in the West Bottoms].  In 1879 the school was enlarged to care for the increasing number of children.  By 1883 seven teachers taught 500 children under H. S. Gibson, principal and seventh and eighth grade teacher.  Forty-five colored children attended school in another building.  Members of the Board of Education in 1883 were:  E. L. James, president; George Nelson, John Furgason, Dr. A. H. Vail, E. S. Matoon, J. H. Spake; Samuel McConnell, treasurer.

1883:  The six wards of Wyandotte included a school population of 923 colored and 2453 white children.  Less than 1/2 attached school.

1884:  Mr. J. J. Lewis, in 1921 the oldest teacher in point of service in the city, came to Wyandotte in 1884 at the age of twenty-three.  He had been a furnace maker in New Orleans, but turned to teaching because he was unable to find other work.  His first year was spent at the colored school under the supervision of Porter Sherman.  Mr. Lewis is probably the only Kansas City teacher ever to have a school named for him.  When a school was built in 1910 or 1911 for the colored children of Hadley's Addition in southwest Argentine, it was named the Lewis School.  In 1927 it was abandoned and the children sent to Lincoln School in Argentine.  For twenty-five years, J. J. Lewis was principal of Douglass School.

1886:  By a special act of the Kansas Legislature in 1886 [Annotation:  Consolidation Act of 1886], the three cities of Wyandotte, Armourdale and old Kansas City, Kansas were consolidated under the name of Kansas City, Kansas.  A mayor, council members, and school board were elected on April 6, 1886.  On May 7, the board met and formed a permanent organization, the first in the new city and the beginning of the present Kansas City school system.  Of the three cities, Wyandotte was the oldest and largest, with a population of almost 13,000.

With more room at Riverview, Armstrong pupils could be accommodated there.  The ninety-eight colored children would fill two rooms at Armstrong. 

The board instructed the superintendent to correspond with some "single colored ladies" to fill vacancies by September 27, the date set for the school opening.  Wood School was being repaired but the colored people in old Kansas City, Kansas complained of poor school facilities and begged for improved housing quarters.

Wood School need a coal shed, and Mr. Day would see that it was built.  The Colored School Committee, in answer to the colored people's request, rented a church building in old Kansas City, Kansas at $12.50 a month. 

1887:  A room for colored in the old Second Ward (south of Nebraska and east of Fifth) was needed. The board instructed a committee to lease land for the building of a schoolhouse, 16x24 feet, in Splitlog Bottoms. As a suitable location was hard to find, Dr. Brown offered to procure a colored church for $8 a month, the board to repair and take the money out of the rent.  It is not clear from the records if Splitlog Bottoms was in the Second Ward, but judging from the name, it probably was. The Baptist Church for colored in the Wood district having been abandoned and the furniture moved to storage, a new colored school was needed there.


The colored children in old Kansas City, Kansas, attended school in a rented building.  Lewis G. Ferguson, in December, 1888, offered to sell lots 219-221 of Shute's Addition for $6000.  Mr. Squires, president of the board, thought the price a fair one.  On December 20, 1888, the board bought this site on North Second Street between and Riverview Avenues for Bruce School.

Dr. Brown investigated a location for Douglass School at Ninth and Everett.  The board debated about what to do with old District Number 9 School, known as Armstrong.  In May and June they wavered about selling, some being in favor of disposing of it altogether.  Others wanted it for use by the colored.  Nothing was decided.


Almost every district needed something in the way of improvement.  Some of the requests follow:

Douglass, Bruce, and London Heights were the main building projects aside from additions to old buildings.  Julia A. Miller and her husband, George W. Miller, sold to the board Lots 41 to 48, inclusive, Block 86, Old Wyandotte, located on the north side of Washington Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets.  A six-room brick school for 360 colored children of the Third and Fourth Wards was planned.  Two architects, George Colby and W. F. Hackney, each submitted plans.  The board adopted Hackney's Plan Number 4.

The usual objections as to location disturbed board members.  A committee from the board met in May, 1889, with colored patrons and decided that a site on Ninth near Oakland or Jersey would be more suitable.  The following month at a mass meeting, patrons made demands that the board retain the Washington Avenue site, which it did.  After requesting that the school be called Harrison, the people then wanted the named changed to Douglass.

Rooms were rented in the Johnson Building at Ninth and New Jersey for three and a half months to accommodate the pupils until Douglass was ready.  The board awarded the contract to E. H. Farrell and appointed J. J. Lewis principal.

Contract for a two-room Bruce School for colored at Second and Armstrong was awarded to L. G. Ferguson at a cost of $1634.  Greystone "prayed" for a new building in the spring of 1889.  The Committee on New Schools discovered an available lot for $1200.  George Colby had drawn plans for a four room building, and a Mr. Moseley offered to handle $2500 in warrants at ten percent if the board would build.

Thirteen white and four colored schools, besides the high school provided education facilities for the city in 1889-1890.  The schools were: 

Everett Riverview
Long Reynolds
Stewart Armourdale [Armstrong]
London Heights Morse
Central Greystone
Barnett Wood
McAlpine Bruce
Lincoln Douglass

When the city extended its limits to Eighteenth Street, the Oakland School at Sixteenth and Muncie came under the ownership of the board.  A family rented it for a home.  In June, 1890, with some difficulty the board ejected the family and put the building in order.  On December 15, 1 Mr. Serviss from District Number 9, appeared before the board to request the use of the old building temporarily.  The new school erected at Twenty-first and Muncie, just outside the city limits, had been destroyed by fire.  The board granted the use of one room at old Oakland until the building could be replaced.  Both white and colored children went to Oakland.

1890:  Colored people in the Greystone District made a plea for a school for 25 children living near the present building.  Kansas City, Missouri, schools which the colored had attended were able to accommodate them no longer.

1891:  On February 13, 1891, the board sent a resolution to the Senate protesting against a House measure to shorten the terms for which six board members had been elected.  The board would be reduced from twelve to six.  Such a bill would apply only to Kansas City, Kansas, but it was introduced without the knowledge of the Kansas City board.  Political and personal reasons, the board felt, were behind the movement.  The bill also required a vote of the people to issue bonds.  The colored people at the same time were trying to get legislation passed so they could attend white schools.

Greystone SchoolThe Greystone building for the colored children was named Garrison for William Lloyd Garrison of abolition fame.

1892:  Two colored boys fought in the high school and assaulted teachers who interfered.  Cypress Yards colored people near the Missouri Pacific tracks east of Riverview School wanted a school.  District Number 9 had operated a school previously for them, but now the Kansas City board was in charge.  The board refused to continue the school.  More agitation for a division of the races in high schools.

Property in Armourdale and Greystone was sold for taxes, a matter for the city attorney to investigate.  The colored children enjoyed a holiday on September 22, Emancipation Day. 

Worried colored citizens from Cypress Yards appeared again and again to plead for a school, for half days even, and the board had to refuse. 

Colored people from Cypress Yards and the Third and Fourth Wards pleaded for facilities.

"Lady patrons" of Barnett School and J. W. Tarwater, a colored man, testified before the board that two boys attending the school were colored.  The "Rhodes boys" were immediately excluded.  More complaints were made to the board later of colored children going to Barnett.

1895:  Walker and Douglass asked for Additional rooms.  Lincoln took the extra children from Douglass.  Forty-seven children at Long had no place to sit.  Children under seven might have to be sent home for another year.  Non-residents and out-of-district pupils crowded the principal's room at Central.  Walker's colored annex had 106 to 160 children.  A room at Walker went on half-day sessions, until on September 23, 1 Mr. Searles offered a whole building for $23 a month for the school's use.

After Garrison (near Greystone School) closed, the colored children had no school.  In September, the board decided to send seven Garrison pupils to Kansas City, Missouri.  That city could not take them.  That city could not take them.  The board sent the children to Rosedale.  An extra room was fitted up at Wood.  Every school in the city needed more desks.

1896:  The depression continued into the new year, 1896, and more banks failed.  In the January drabness, school personnel enjoyed a lift in spirits.  One of their number, a Miss Hahn of Riverview School, received an inheritance of $150,000.  By spring, smallpox was on the increase, especially among the colored people.  The city authorized the erection of a pest house in Grandview.  When builders started work, residents of the neighborhood drove workmen away and scattered materials.

[Annotation:  Main Entry: pest·house
Pronunciation: -"haus
Function: noun
Date: 1611
a shelter or hospital for those infected with a pestilential or contagious disease]

1897:  Phillips, colored school in Armourdale, was the only school with too few pupils.

1898:  Walker patrons became impatient for a school building and in April, 1898, were promised a school within the year.  On September 5, Greystone colored people begged the board to re-establish the school for their children.  They were told to present a petition with the name, age and residence of each child.  A week later the people were told that there were too few children and not enough money for a school.  The board arranged to pay Kansas City, Missouri, $12 per year for the Greystone children.

1899:  A new building for the colored children at Walker School brought problems. Architect W. W. Rose made plans in April for a four-room brick school for the district, to be located on Virginia Avenue between First and Second Streets. White citizens of the district presented, less than a month later, a petition against the building of a school there. On May 8, Walker School patrons informed the board that they were pleased with the board's choice and thanked the members for their excellent judgment.

The increasing school population more than filled available rooms.  In January, 1899, plans were made for a two-room addition to Greystone and the contract awarded to J. W. Ferguson the following June.

The colored at Greystone appeared again pleading for a school.  When Reynolds patrons wanted an addition, they were told by the board that Lowell, London Heights, and others were in the same fix.  There was no money to build.  McAlpine patrons told the board of their 400 children in need of a new eight-room building.  The Mercantile Club thought Huron Place would look better without Central School.  By December the new Greystone addition was in need of repairs.

The principals of London Heights, Wood, and Walker reported to the board in answer to complaints by patrons about punishments given the children.

Reverend Dornsifer was refused permission to hold church services in Greystone School because state law forbade. 

1900:  Cypress Yards colored people asked that their church building be rented for a school.

By September, 1900, District 2 and the Greystone colored were again in the minutes.  District 2 protested the payment of $200 and the Greystone children were sent again to Missouri schools.

Next:  After 1900

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Contact the History Webmaster - Patricia Adams

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

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