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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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The Story of Sumner High School
Prepared under the direction of Scottie P. Davis, 1935

Origin:  Prior to the year of 1905, Kansas City, Kansas, had only one high school for the accommodation of both white and African American students. This school, known as the Kansas City, Kansas High School, was located on the northwest corner of Ninth Street and Minnesota Avenue and constituted the first and second units of Wyandotte High School destroyed by fire in 1933. Probably the highest number of African American students enrolled at any time in this bi-racial high school was between fifty and sixty. From September 1886, the date of the organization of this high school in Kansas City, Kansas, to the year 1904, there was apparently very little friction between the white and African American students.

However, more than a quarter of a century ago, our nation was much closer to the ideals and notions that had been fostered by an earlier period in our history than it is at present. If African Americans were more sensitive, probably Nordics were less sympathetic. A dispute between a white boy and a African American boy at a baseball game at Kerr’s Park in April, 1904, terminated fatally in the case of the white student, a member of one of the most prominent families of Kansas City, Kansas. Despite the fact that the African American boy was not a schoolboy, the incident was used as a pretext to launch an agitation for the separation of the races in the high school.

To the end that no further unpleasantness might arise to cause reflections on the good name of Kansas City, Kansas, the cool-headed conservatives of both races assembled in a mass meeting at the Carnegie Library Building and calmly and deliberately considered the critical state of affairs precipitated by the death of the white high school student. The meeting was presided over by W.W. Rose, an architect by profession and a Democrat in politics, who some time later was elected mayor of Kansas City, Kansas.

1895-1909 - W. W. Rose, Architect - There are three schools from this period of Rose's career that display elements of the Second Renaissance Revival:  Kansas City, Kansas High School (1897-99 et seq.), Bancroft Elementary School (1900), and Quindaro Elementary School (1906).   Bryant Elementary School, designed by Rose in 1904, features an Italian Renaissance Revival vocabulary, while John Fiske Elementary (1907/07) and Sumner High School (1905-06/1809-09) exhibit Jacobethan elements in their primary and secondary elevations.

Architectural Analysis - Public School Buildings (New/Additions) by Rose and Peterson - 1890-1927

Prominent among the white citizens who attended this meeting and took an active part in its' deliberations were Mr. Miller, a member of the Board of Education, Dr. Harris, a physician, and Mr. Toothaker, a Democrat and a ex-member of the legislature. Among the African American citizens present were the late Bishop Shafer of the A.M.E. Church, Mr. B.S. Smith, a well-known lawyer, the late Rev. Mitchell, then pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kansas City, Kansas, and Mr. J.J. Lewis, who then was a principal of one of the elementary schools in Kansas City, Kansas. To the credit of the white citizenry of Kansas City, Kansas, it must be said that all the speakers who took part in the deliberations breathed the true spirit of brotherhood.

On this occasion the following resolutions presented by the late Mr. Toothaker were adopted: “Whereas, an unfortunate incident, having no bearing on the school system of Kansas City, Kansas, aroused the ire of a number of white patrons and white friends of the Kansas City, Kansas High School and caused them to use such incident as a pretext to eject abruptly all African American students from said high school, to bar the doors against them, and to deny them the privilege of attending said school, and whereas, said act is a gross violation of the school laws of the state of Kansas, and an infringement of the constitutional rights of the African American citizens of Kansas:

Be it resolved that

(1) We condemn such act as unconstitutional.

(2) We recommend that the African American students be restored their rights or that in the name of justice the school be closed to both races until such laws are enacted by the state legislature, repealing the law providing for mixed high schools in Kansas City, Kansas, and enacting a law for separate high schools in Kansas City, Kansas.

The suggestions embodied in these resolutions were approved and plans were evolved whereby the African American students resumed their places in the Kansas City, Kansas High School until the next meeting of the State Legislature which convened in January, 1905.

At this session of the legislature a bill known as the “Segregation Bill” and bearing the title, House Bill, No. 890, an act relating to the government of schools in Kansas City, Kansas, and to amend Section 6290 of the General Statutes of 1901 was introduced. The bill read as follows:

“Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas:

Section I. That Section 6290 of the General Statures of 1901 entitled “An act for the regulation and support of common school,” be and the same is hereby amended so that the same shall read and be as follows: The board of Education shall have the power to elect their own officers, make all necessary rules for the government of the schools of such cities under its charge and under the control of the board, subject to the provisions of this act and the law of this state, to organize the maintain separate schools for the education of white and African American children, including the high schools of Kansas City, Kansas; no discrimination on account of color shall be made in high schools except as provided therein; to exercise the sole control over the public schools and school property of such city; and shall have the power to establish a high school or high schools in connection with manual training and instruction or otherwise, and to maintain the same as a part of the public school system of said city.

Section II. That of the original Section 6290 of the General Statutes of 1901, of which section thereof is amendatory, and all acts and parts of acts in conflict with the provisions of this act, be and the same are hereby repealed.

Section III. This act shall take effect and be enforced from and after its publication in the official state paper.”

The bill was approved February 22, 1905, and published in the official state paper on February 28, 1905. By the passage of the “Segregation Bill,” the law of 1884 providing for mixed high schools in Kansas City, Kansas, was repealed and a law enacted for the establishment of separate high schools in Kansas City, Kansas. Thus it was the enactment of the legislation provided for in House Bill No. 890, in September. 1905, Sumner High School was born.

[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: 

Legislation in 1879 states, in part, "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)

In 1905, legislation was passed that states, in part, "The board of education shall have power to ... organize and maintain separate schools for the education of white and colored children, including the high schools in Kansas City , Kan. ; no discrimination on account of color shall be made in high schools, except as provided herein. (Laws of Kansas , 1905, Chap. 414, Sec. 1.)

Claire King
Kansas Supreme Court Law Library
301 SW 10th St .
Topeka , KS 66612 -1598

Since there was no housing and other facilities for separate high schools the Board of Education decided to let the white students use the Kansas City, Kansas High School during the morning, and the African American students in the afternoon until a bond issue could be called for and the new building provided for under the new legislation could be erected. Mr. M.E. Pearson, Superintendent of Schools in Kansas City, Kansas, at that time was firm in his determination that if a new school was built for the African Americans it must be a “good school” and he saw to it that a good school was built. The site selected was at Ninth Street and Washington Boulevard. In September, 1905, the new school – then without a name – opened with a faculty of four teachers. Mr. J.E. Patterson was the principal, assisted by Mr. G.F. Porter, teacher of Latin, Mrs. Florence Crews, instructor in English, and Mr. G.B. Buster, teacher of history. The first year, 1906, there were six graduates, all girls.

In May, 1935, Sumner High School, the only high school for African Americans in the state of Kansas, will celebrate its thirtieth annual commencement. The place which the school holds in the hearts of the citizens of both groups may be inferred from two very recent utterances voiced in connection with it by a prominent member of each group.

An African American educator formerly connected with the schools, speaking of the origin of Sumner High School, recently said:

“Sumner is a child not of our own volition but rather an offspring of the race antipathy of a bygone period. It was a veritable blessing in disguise – a flower of which we may proudly say, ‘The budd had a bitter taste, but sweet indeed is the flower’.”

A distinguished white school man of Kansas expressing his opinion of Sumner High School has this to say:

“I am willing to risk my professional reputation that Sumner high School is a better school that fifty percent of the schools of this state.”

If this estimate is merited one, such a position of honor has not been achieved without great labor.

In June, 1905, while the new high school, called into being by the enactment of House Bill No. 890, was in process of construction at Ninth Street and Washington Boulevard, four men, Superintendent M.E. Pearson, Mr. J.E. Patterson, principal-elect of the new school, Mr. G.F. Porter, and Mr. G.W. Buster, two of its first teachers, sat around a table in the Board of Education rooms in the Library Building, pondering over a name for the new high school.

Among the names suggested were those of men distinguished in our country’s history, men who had performed some great service by the nation, such as “Lincoln,” “Douglass,” “Washington,” and “Sumner.”

Because there was a Lincoln High School in our sister city, Kansas City, Missouri, the name “Lincoln” was eliminated. There was already in the Kansas City, Kansas, system a grade school by the name “Douglass”; consequently it was decided to eliminate that name. The name “Washington” was not selected because, aside from the fact that Booker T. Washington was still living at the time, he advocated a type of training that the new high school was not to stress above the academic.

The name ‘Sumner” was finally chosen as being the most appropriate for the three significant reasons (1) Charles Sumner was a scholar of the highest rank; (2) he was broadminded; (3) he was courageous. Unless the majority of men who have come to the front in America life, Sumner came of honored and cultures ancestors. His parents belonged to that class of people known as the “New England aristocracy.” Charles Sumner’s father was himself a graduate of Harvard and a prominent and able lawyer. The Sumner family was noted for the high moral and intellectual plane on which it existed. Charles inherited all these principles, and they became almost a part of his being.

Sumner prepared for college at the Boston Latin School and was graduated at Harvard in 1830. He was admitted to the bar in 1834. He was offered a professorship at Harvard, but declined. Sumner was appointed reporter of the of the United State Circuit court and while filing this position compiled three volumes, known as “Sumner’s Reports,” containing Judge Story’s decisions. He was a lecturer in the Cambridge Law School while Judge Story was absent in Washington. Between 1837 and 1840 with letter of introduction from Judge Story and others he traveled in Europe.

It is not difficult to adduce proof that Charles Sumner was broadminded. Basing his political view on Christian and moral principles, he believed in equal rights and opportunities for all men, regardless of race. Succeeding Daniel Webster as United States Senator from Massachusetts, he began almost on his entrance into the senate the great struggle for emancipation. Sumner never laid down the armor of debate in this cause until he saw freedom extended to every man, black or white in the union. He was satisfied only when the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, for which he fought so valiantly, were incorporated in our national constitution.

Sumner’s zeal as an anti-slavery leader led to an assault upon his person. In 1856 he delivered a fiery speech entitled “The Crime Against Kansas” in which he severely criticized one of the senators from South Carolina. In retaliation, a Southern Congressman, Preston Brooks, attacked him, injuring him so seriously that for three years he was unable to appear in public life. Late in 1859 he resumed his place in the Senate. Few men have been more courageous than Charles Sumner. He did not know fear, always standing up for the principles he considered right even in the face of physical danger and ostracism.

Because of the qualities of scholarship, broadmindedness, and courage which he possessed, the name “Sumner” was chosen for the new high school in the hope that every boy and girl who passed through its portals would learn to emulate these virtues of the great character whose name the school was to bear.

Since its organization in 1905, Sumner High School has been conspicuous for the character of its faculty. Great care and judgment were exercised in the selection of the first faculty and since 1914, when the school became a member of the North Central Association of the Secondary Schools, the training of the teachers employed has always conformed to the standard set by that organization.

Three administrators have guided the destiny of the institution during the thirty years of its existence. From 1905 to 1908, Mr. J.E. Patterson served as its principal. From 1808 to 1916, Mr. John Miller Marquess served in this capacity; since 1916 Mr. John A, Hodge has been the administrator.

The late Mr. Patterson, the first principal, received his B.A. degree from University of Chicago and his Master’s degree from the University of Kansas.

Mr. John Miller Marquess, the second principal, is a graduate of Fiske University, Nashville, Tennessee, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College, Dartmouth, New Hampshire. In 1916 Mr. Marquess resigned the principalship of Sumner to accept the presidency of Langston University at Langston, Oklahoma. In the same year Mr. Hodge succeeded to the principalship.

Mr. Hodge, the present principal, came to Sumner in 1910 as a teacher under principalship of Mr. J.A. Marquess. Mr. Hodge has his M.A. degree from the University of Kansas, and the University of Colorado. He is a member of an honorary scientific society, Sigma Xi. “School Science and Mathematics.” May, 1910, carries an article contributed by him on the latest researches, at that time, one on the electric arc.

Under the nineteen-year administration of Mr. J.A. Hodge, the present principal, Sumner has experienced expansion along all lines. The school system of Kansas City, Kansas, has shifted from the 8-4-4 plan to the 6-3-3 plan. Sumner thereby becoming a senior high school. The school enrollment has increased commensurately with the high school population throughout the country. The enrollment of Sumner High School increased from eighty in 1905 to seven hundred ninety-five in 1935. The first graduating class in 1906 numbered six girls. The present senior class to be graduated in May, 1935, numbers one hundred forty-seven.

To serve this school community, the faculty has increased from four teachers in 1905, Messrs, J.E. Patterson, G.B. Buster, G.F. Porter, and Mrs. Florence Crews, to the number of eighteen in 1930. At one time, prior to the recent curtailment in schools, general throughout the country, the faculty of Sumner numbered twenty-three. During the present administration, the physical equipment has been increased by the addition of a new gymnasium, costing $50,000, constructed to house under one roof the cafeteria, the shower and locker rooms, and the food classes, the main floor of the gymnasium being used as an assembly room for the entire student body.

The formal curriculum has been greatly enriched while the additions of extra-curricular activities has kept pace with what is being undertaken in high schools general vocational and educational guidance.

Student Council, debate clubs, and dramatics are some of the character building organizations included in the extra-curricular activities in Sumner High School through which students develop personality, individuality, and a social attitude. These extra-curricular activities justify themselves solely on the basis of their accomplishment.

The Student Council organization helps to beautify the school, secures cooperation from the students of the school and members of the community, and assists in financing the school paper from the sale of candy and other articles at entertainments and through an annual Ballyhoo Program. The Student council develops diplomacy, tact, and ability to meet other students on a place of friendliness. The other officers are elected by the whole school. The members are elected by students of the homerooms.

The dramatic and debate clubs form mediums of expression. The senior and junior classes present one play a year. Any student is eligible to participate in the tryouts for a part in these plays. The music classes present an operetta every three to for years. Through this method students who are interested in music and who have ability will have had, by the time they leave Sumner, ample voice training to qualify them for leading roles. A music festival is given annually. Members of the music classes and physical education classes participate in these. Debate clubs are organized for every year. The real purpose of these clubs is to give the student a chance to express his opinion on topics of great interest and to learn how to express himself.

Vocational guidance is discussed every Monday in each room at special periods. During these discussions the teacher or principal speaker usually speaks along a topic that is of general interest concerning some vocation.

Through these organizations, students secure training for leadership. They learn the meaning of cooperation and the essentials of good fellowship. The most important factors in the success of extra-curricular activities are the ability, skill, personality, motivating power, and character of the faculty sponsor.

At all times the superintendent and members of the Board of Education have cooperated sympathetically with the development of Sumner High School. The judgment, the vision, and genuinely kindly interest of Mr. M.E, Pearson, formerly superintendent of Schools, are largely responsible for the position which the school occupies today. The exemplification of the attitude of the Board and its interest in Sumner High School is plainly manifest in its recorded action of 1932.

In 1932 the Board of Education of Kansas City, Kansas, purchased at a total cost of $100,000, ground for a new Sumner High School and developed a stadium for the new school, which is certainly second to none now enjoyed by African Americans in urban high schools anywhere in the United States.

When a building program entered up by the Board of Education several years ago reaches a certain state of development, Sumner is to have a modern building located on the new site recently purchased.

While curricular changes have been going on apace, the faculty has increased from four in 1905 to eighteen in 1930, at the present time there being eight female and ten male members, excluding the principal. Of this number, forty-four percent have their masters degree from leading colleges throughout the country, and two additional teachers will have their degrees conferred in 1935, one at the University of Chicago, and one at the University of Colorado.

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

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