A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORIGINS OF SUMNER HIGH SCHOOL AND OF THE SUMNER ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF KANSAS CITY, KS, INCORPORATED
The History of Sumner High School
by Hazel Blair Anderson, Class of 1930
Sumner High School of Kansas City, Kansas had its official beginning in 1905, closing in 1978. This school, located at 9th and Washington Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas, served for seventy-three productive years.
Before Sumner High School was founded, all the schools in the state were integrated. In 1884, the Kansas Legislature authorized mixed schools in the state. The ideals upon which our nation was founded were practiced in the school system until 1904. At that time, a fight occurred at a baseball game at Kerr Park between a black boy and a white boy. This unfortunate confrontation ended in the death of the white boy who was a student. This incident was the strongest factor for launching a drive by some white citizens for separation of the races.
Some cool-headed conservatives of both races, in order to avoid further unpleasantness, met at Carnegie Library building and calmly deliberated the very critical state of affairs created by the death of the white student. Although the black boy involved was not a student, and the tragedy did not occur on school property, black students were barred from attending school at all. The committee meeting at the library adopted the following resolution which was presented by the late Mr. Toothaker, and adopted as quoted below.
"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 colored students from said high school, to bar the doors against them, and to deny them the privilege of attending said schools, 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 colored citizens of Kansas:
Be it resolved that:
(1) We condemn such act as unconstitutional.
(2) We recommend that the colored 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 recommendations contained in these resolutions were approved and plans were evolved whereby the colored students took their places in the Kansas City, Kansas High School until the next meeting of the State Legislature which convened in January 1905.
Following the resolution, the Kansas State Legislature repealed the 1884 law and enacted one known as House Bill No. 890 in September 1905. This law provided for the separation of schools in Kansas City, Kansas. There was no housing for separate schools, therefore the Board of Education decided to have the white students attend the high school in the morning and the black students in the afternoon. This was done until a new building could be built for the black students. Mr. M. E. Pearson was the Superintendent of Schools in Kansas City, Kansas at the time. He stated that if a new school were to be built for blacks it must be a good one. He saw to it that this was done.
In September 1904, the new school, then without a name, was opened. At the time of opening, no name had been decided upon. The faculty was composed of four highly qualified teachers: Mr. J. E. Patterson, Principal; Mr. G. F. Porter, Latin Teacher/Assistant Principal; Mrs. Florence Crews, English and Mr. G. B. Buster, History. History records show that there were six graduates, all girls, in 1906. However, checking with the Board of Education, only five are listed:
(1) Fannie Bradford; (2) Mamie Brown; (3) Myrtle Jackson;
(4) Grace Williams; and (5) Nellie Williams.
In June 1905, the name SUMNER HIGH SCHOOL was chosen as the name for this newly built school. The name did not come without serious deliberation and determination to find one that would exemplify high principles. Finally, when the name was agreed upon, it was in honor of Charles Sumner (1819-1874), a statesman of Massachusetts-an anti-slavery leader, and scholar of the highest rank. Names they had to pick from included such prestigious names as George Washington, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner and Abraham Lincoln. The committee agreed on one name as more appropriate because of the qualities possessed by Charles Sumner, including courage. The four men who made this timely decision in choosing the name SUMNER were M. E. Pearson, Superintendent of School; J. E. Patterson, later Principal of Sumner from 1905 to 1908; G. F. Porter Latin Teacher/Assistant Principal; and G. B. Buster, History Teacher, and later Vice Principal who retired in 1948.
Peering into the life of Charles Sumner reveals not only an outstanding scholar but also one whose goals and ideals were deeply rooted in high morals and Christian beliefs. He succeeded Daniel Webster in the Senate. As a Senator, he entered immediately into the struggle for emancipation. He almost lost his life in the struggle. Because of his views on freedom from slavery and equal rights, he was beaten into unconsciousness on the Senate floor by Representative Preston S. Brooks (1819-1857).
The faculty from the very beginning was noted for its high ranking of its staff. Even as early as 1930, forty-four percent not only had Bachelor Degrees but Masters Degrees as well. The school had membership in the North Central Association of Secondary Schools (N.C.A.S.S.). Sumner High School conformed to the high standards set by N.C.A.S.S. and was accepted as a member in 1914.
Some Sumner teachers in the 1950's held Ph.D.s, while degrees beyond the Bachelor's Degree were rare except for administrators in white schools. Sumner was known for having the highest percentage of graduate degrees of public school teachers in Kansas City, KS. and the students were well known for their academic achievements.
The curriculum kept current with that of high schools throughout the nation. Extracurricular activities, vocational and educational guidance were added. The student body participated on a wide scale with outside competition with honors. The support from Sumner High School, with the cooperation of the Superintendent of Schools and members of the Board of Education, made possible the position of admiration enjoyed by Sumner High School even today.
Change is inevitable. At the time Sumner was built, it was considered modern. As time progressed, it became inadequate. New advance programs, increased attendance, and progress, in general, demanded more modern as well as increased facilities. The halls were designed for 300, not 800 pupils. Due to no more classrooms being available, many teachers carried a class load of forty or more. This was far above the standard. In the 1930's a movement had begun for a new school. Representative William (Bill) Towers was in the legislature and was prominent in this endeavor.
The wheels of progress continued. Land was purchased at 8th and Oakland for the construction of a new school and athletic field on December 15, 1939; a move was made to the new Sumner High School. The cream and tan building stands as a beautiful, outstanding masterpiece of architecture; the architect was Joseph Radotinsky. The new Sumner was occupied January 2, 1940. There were now 24 teachers and 800 students with John A.Hodge continuing as Principal.
The original colors for Sumner High School were Black and Gold. Black was chosen because the school was founded due to a 'black' cause. Old Gold was chosen as the second as the second color because it was hoped that the school would reach "golden heights." Later, someone not knowing the significance of the colors changed them to Orange and Black. It should be noted that the Sumner marching band continued the legacy of the original colors by wearing black and gold uniforms. The original mascot for Sumner was the Jayhawkers, it was later changed to the Spartans.
In the spring of 1978, Sumner High School closed under a federally mandated plan for racial integration of schools in Kansas City, KS. Was Sumner a victim or benefactor of change and desegregation demands? The building reopened in the fall of 1978. It is known as Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences. It is a magnet school for highly motivated and academically talented students. To this extent, it continues in the same high aims as its beginning founders had in mind for the first school.
In the seventy-three years that Sumner High School continued, there were only six Principals as follows:
1905-1908 J.E. Patterson 1951-1972 S.H. Thompson
1908-1916 J.M. Marquess 1972-1973 Jerry Collier
1916-1951 J.A. Hodges 1973-1978 James Boddie
We end this attempt to present some pertinent facts about the history of Sumner High School by referring to the Sumner High School Alumni Association. This organization began in 1984 and continues today. One of its chief goals is to preserve, protect and promote the high goals of Sumner High School. More detailed historical information can be found in the:
SUMNER'S BACKSTORY--FROM THE INSIDE
Dr. Deloris Strickland Pinkard, Class of 1962, January - 2013
Sumner High School Alumni Association President, 2011-2014
For more than 100 years, the questions have continued regarding details of the April 2, 1904, racially aligned incident that ended integration in Kansas City, Kansas Public High Schools and opened the way to the racially segregated Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. It is an interesting history, indeed.
By law, up until Sumner opened in 1905, graduating its first class in 1906, all high schools in the State of Kansas were racially integrated. Following the "off school grounds/off school time" shooting of Roy Martin, a white student at the Kansas City, Kansas High School, by Louis Gregory, a black youth who was not a student at the high school the high school's integration became an emotionally charged community issue. Mob disorder at the jail where Gregory was held, and failed attempts by some students to continue in the integrated schooling situation kept the atmosphere highly charged. Gregory went to trial with a court-appointed attorney who attempted pleas of "not guilty," and later of "self-defense." He was sentenced to 30 years, which he served. At his released, he returned to the Kansas City area where he lived for 30 more years. The Gregory-Martin incident served as the catalyst for voiced objections to integrated secondary schooling from the white community in KCK.
Representatives from both communities, white and black, met together and with school Superintendent M.E. Pearson to discuss the issues that had now surfaced. The prevailing wishes of the white community were to segregate the races in separate facilities. The prevailing argument from the black community was a fear that segregated schools, would lead to financial and material hardships of supporting two high schools, as well as sending a confusing message about local race relations. In addition, in order to racially segregate the high school, action of the Kansas Legislature might be required. The white perspective prevailed and Kansas Governor Koch was petitioned to authorize the separation. He would not do so. The matter went before the legislature and a law emerged specifically to allow segregation in the high schools of Kansas City, Kansas only.
In the meantime, preparation for the start of the school year began with the only one available high school facility. The plan was for the white high school students to attend during the mornings being taught by the white faculty, while black students attended in the afternoons, being taught by newly-hired black teachers. This situation would continue while a new high school facility was being built for the black students. Superintendent Pearson stated that the new facility must be of a quality to avoid accusations of inferiority under certain scrutiny as the only black high school in the State of Kansas.
Sumner opened its doors to its first in the Fall of 1905. In the Spring of 1906, the six members of the first graduating class walked across the newly-finished auditorium stage to receive diplomas from Sumner's first principal, Mr. J.E. Patterson.
On September 30, 2008, following Sumner High School's selection for induction into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame, Alan Hoskins' press release to area local media stated, "It should have been one of the lowest points in the history of the State of Kansas. In a state where all public high schools were by state law, racially integrated, one high stood alone, separated by both race and facilities. But instead of crumbling under the weight of heavy prejudices, Sumner High School rose to heights of historic proportions. Through a commitment to excellence...over the next 73 years..." And the rest is history.
For seventy-three years, Sumner continued to prepare its students for academic and vocational success, and as contributors toward the betterment of our communities. The high-quality faculties maintained through the years and the high percentages of scholars and valued citizens produced by Sumner High School and the Sumner community continue to be exhibited among the Sumner Alumni and within this Alumni Association. The facts of the record speak for themselves.
End of Days
The tumultuous times of this nation's Civil Rights protests and Black Power ideologies were slow to reach Kansas City, Kansas. But they came. Brown VS Topeka Board of Education led to the Supreme Court striking down the educational doctrine of "separate but equal". Ironically, that segregated schooling had become the norm rather than the exception was challenged in favor of equality of education.
During the mid-1950's through the early 1960's, certain Kansas City, Kansas school attendance boundaries were moved annually with the appearance of correlation with racial housing movement from east to west, in the city. When black families moved into more western city neighborhoods, the school attendance boundaries seemed to move west, thereby maintaining racial segregation ratios at the status quo. Black citizens in the Northeast area soon found themselves faced with boundary changes which separated their children's school attendance within their households. A 7th grader from one home was forced to attend a different school from the 8th-grade sibling in the same household. In 1959, the Downs VS Kansas City, Kansas Board of Education case was filed. Though long delayed, the court decision was in favor of the plaintiffs who had expressed concerns of separate and unequal education. The school district was allowed to decide its own remedy for the situation of which they had been found guilty. Their solution was to close Northeast, the black junior high school, and to close Sumner High School and to immediately re-open it as an Academic Magnet School. In 1978 Sumner High School ceased to exist. It is ironic that a racially charged issue caused the all-black Sumner High School to open in 1905 and that racially charged issues caused it to close in 1978.
In 1984, enough impetus had developed to take steps to reclaim the Sumner legacy. THE SUMNER HIGH SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION was chartered and later incorporated. In 2013, this Alumni Association maintains a member database of more than 900 alumni. The Association continues to plan strategically for contributing to the development of our youth and community, passing to them the legacy of excellence we received from the Sumner community.
We invite all Sumner alumni, your children, grandchildren, and others of similar appreciation to join our efforts. See the MEMBERSHIP section on this website.
Kansas City Kansan, 09-30-2008
Kansas City, Kansan, 02-27-1974
K. C. KS Board of Education Minutes, 06-06-1904
Scottie P. Davis, The Story of Sumner High School, 1935, University of KS Libraries
Dennis Lawrence, The Impact of Local, State, and Federal Government:
Decisions on the Segregation and Subsequent Integration of Sumner High
School in Kansas City, Kansas, 1997
HISTORY OF THE SUMNER HIGH SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION
"In creating, the only hard thing is to begin"
Sumner High School Alumni Association started with just one class, and one step into the future. Its beginning was the "brainchild" of several visionary graduates from the Class of 1930.
During the celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Class of 1930, the vision of a permanent organization for all Sumner alumni was realized. John Lee Jolly, verbalized what many classmates were thinking: "It's going to require and cost money." He supported his words by making the first donation. Other classmates followed his lead and established "seed money" for the inauguration of the Sumner High School Alumni Association.
The Class of 1930 appointed Hazel Blair Anderson to implement the plan for the Sumner Alumni by introducing the idea to the other classes. The Alumni Association became a reality through concerted effort, cooperation and the genuine desire to rekindle "the Sumner Spirit."
In 1984, the first officers elected to serve the Alumni Association were:
President Everett Morgan
Vice-President Hazel Blair Anderson
Recording Secretary Prinzetta Clinch Hughes
Assistant Recording Secretary Dorothy Gaines Dudley
Corresponding Secretary Bettye Maddox
Treasurer Dr. Charles A. Moore, Jr.
Financial Secretary Theodore Harris
Sergeant-at-Arms Doris Washington Bell
Parliamentarian Ralph Rodgers, Esq.
Ralph Rodgers provided leadership in the development of the Association's Constitution and By-Laws during 1985-1986. The creation of these documents paved the way for the Alumni Association to secure its Charter and become incorporated.
The early administrators of the Association made known to all their support of all organized classes. The purpose of the Association was to serve as an "umbrella" for all the classes. The Association's purpose became defined as follows:
Alumni Association Major Achievements:
Sumner in the City Conventions
July 1995 Overland Park Marriott, Overland Park, KS
Theme: Sumner in the City
July 2000 Downtown Marriott, Kansas City, MO
Theme: Continuing the Legacy
July 2005 Westin Crown Center, Kansas City, MO
Theme: Still Investing in the Community
July 2010 Jack Reardon Convention Center, Kansas City, KS
Theme: Continuing to Build on Our Greatness
September 2015 DoubleTree by Hilton, Overland Park, KS
Theme: Achieving More Together
The Alumni Association provides its members the opportunity to celebrate our history, make lasting memories and continue the legacy of Sumner as we continue to build on our greatness.
In 1995 we added a new award, "The Sumner Alumni Leadership Award." This award will be given to alumni who have made significant contributions to the development of the Sumner High School Alumni Association. Recipients of the Distinguished Service Award were: Solomon H. Thompson, Zatella Turner, Elmer C. Jackson II, John B. McClendon, Dr. Bettye Mason, Judge Cordell D. Meeks, Jr., Leon Brady and Joanna Featherston.
The Association continued to experience growth under the leadership of Ralph Rodgers (1987-1990), now deceased. During Dr. Moore's illness, Vivian L. Taylor assumed leadership in the latter part of 1990 and served until 1992. It was under her administration that the Association's membership roster grew to 72 and held it's Greater Kansas City Reunion in November 1992. The Anniversary Celebration was expanded to an all-day event including a general assembly meeting, forums, luncheon and a formal dinner and dance. As an outreach activity to the classes, a contest was held for the class to show their community involvement. The Class of 1955 was the winner. The significance of the 1992 Greater Kansas City Reunion was that we had tremendous involvement from alumni of the 60s and 70s. It was during this event the Association was able to see great potential for its future goals.
Other accomplishments during the Taylor administration included the Alumni Association's outreach efforts in providing financial support to the Black Leadership Conference of the University of Kansas and a contribution to the University of Kansas Law School to establish a Law scholarship in honor of Elmer C. Jackson II.
Mr. Lenis Boswell served as president from 1993-1995. During his leadership, the Association experienced rapid growth in membership and participation of a majority of the classes. Great strides have also been made in scholarships to students. In 1995, the Convention and Scholarship Committee set a goal of providing $5,000 in scholarships and aid to eight students.
The 1994-1995 Membership Drive made it possible for planning to proceed in a positive fashion for our First National Convention. According to our records as of June 1995, the membership roster stood at 458 members; with 287 local members and 171 out of town members. This represents a vast increase in membership within the last year.
The Association also started its newsletter as an effort to communicate with its members and provide a way in which classes could publicize their activities. The newsletter has become an invaluable communication tool and has brought a greater sense of unity to the Alumni Association.
As we experience growth, the Sumner High School Alumni Association is studying ways in which it can continue to carry out its purpose, provide scholarships to deserving students and find ways to make an impact in the Kansas City, Kansas community. We can grow only with your support. Your membership makes it possible for us to communicate with you on a regular basis. You can help us by passing the information on to other alumni in your communities.
*Reprint from SUMNER HIGH SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF KANSAS CITY, KANSAS, INC., First National Convention, "Sumner in the City," July 26-30, 1995, Overland Park, Kansas, Celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Founding of Sumner High School, 1905-1978.