Johanna Sundblom

Kansas City Kansas Community College

English 102

April 20, 1999

The Legacy: Sumner High School

    The fact that Sumner High School is a legacy of the Roy Martin killing was, to me, the most interesting information presented. State legislation made Sumner High School the first segregated high school in Kansas as a result of this murder. (Greenbaum) When I first moved to this area, a black woman at work told me her children went to Sumner Academy. While she didn’t explain the history, she seemed frustrated with me that I had not heard of this school. As I read the history of how Sumner High School evolved, I thought society and particularly the mixed population in that area of Kansas City, Kansas High School had come full circle in the early 1900’s. Freeing blacks from slavery, only to segregate them in the name of education.

    The sources are representative of the mixed messages of black history and white history. Black history based on Susan Greenbaum’s The Afro-American Community in Kansas City, Kansas: A History considers Sumner High School and segregation the best thing to happen to Negro students in the early 1900’s. Newspapers such as the Kansas City Star and Wyandotte Herald, based on the bias of the time, indicated only upper level Negroes and whites understand that segregation is best.

    The Wyandotte Herald in a news article expresses an opinion that separate schools should be maintained. "The idea of mixing the two races in the school where the children are compelled to meet on the grounds of equality to a certain extent is repugnant to the mind of many persons". (Wyandotte Herald, Feb. 15) This fits with this time in history when the white race’s position in society is still superior to that of the Negro race. "It will be better for both races and insure a marked improvement in our schools". (Wyandotte Herald, Feb. 15) Mixing facts for the story with an opinion is not appropriate for a news article. The above statements encouraged segregation, a political stand a newspaper in today’s world would include only in an editorial piece. Based on the presumption the Wyandotte Herald was mainly a white newspaper during that time, it is unlikely that many blacks read that paper’s stand on the issue.

    The fact that prior to the shooting approximately 80 black and 700 white students were able to attend Kansas City, Kansas High School together (Kansas City Star, Apr. 13) without incident would indicate that integration can work. History shows that for many years at this particular high school there was racial harmony. (Greenbaum) "The demonstration today is the first open rupture between white and black pupils." (Kansas City Star, Apr. 13) After Roy Martin’s funeral, when school opened on Monday morning whites and blacks mingled through the halls together, but ignored each other. (Kansas City Star, Apr. 18). Police officers were available to quell any demonstrations. Their services were not needed. These facts combined lead back to the theory that integration was working. Supposedly the tensions were too high between the races to allow immature individuals to become even more agitated by attending classes together. However, they did attend together, without incident on the Monday following Roy Martin’s funeral.

    The question of segregation "has been discussed many times by the board of education and the Mercantile club". I am making the assumption The Board of Education and Mercantile club were representative of white business people. Dr. S. S. Glasscock was very patronizing when asked his position on separate schools for each race. "The more intelligent class of Negroes appreciate the fact [of separate high schools]." (Qtd. in Kansas City Star, Apr. 15).

    My interpretation of statements that bonds used by the Board of Education were to be used to erect a "manual training school", (Wyandotte Herald, June 8) indicates a lower level of education for the Negroes than whites attending a high school. It was noted in Susan Greenbaum’s article that black school classes were crowded, levels were combined, and classrooms poorly maintained. Black teachers teaching black students of things beyond the limitations imposed by society. Sumner’s faculty tried to pass on their education from the "normal institutes" to blacks attending a manual training school. (Greenbaum)

    Susan Greenbaum in The Afro-American Community in Kansas City, Kansas: A History indicates Kansas Governor W. E. Hoch opposed segregation and finally signed the "bill under protest and only on provision that the building housing the new high school be truly equal to the one used for white students." The dedication and influence of teachers at Sumner High School to provide a high caliber education resulted not only in Sumner’s acceptance into the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges, but fostered an environment to overcome the handicaps of racism. (Greenbaum)

    Sumner High School was also an early representation of what the later part of the century came to know as bussing. This time the bussing was to achieve integration. The fact that black students from several surrounding towns and counties attended Sumner High School, added to the image of being an elite institute for higher education of African Americans. That situation helped bond the black community within the Kansas City, Kansas area (Greenbaum). The dedication of the staff, the number of black students from Sumner that went on to universities, and the only state mandated, segregated black school combined to project a positive image for its students.

    Had society in the early 1900’s come full circle? To some extent, I believe so. I think we have completed more circles in the time since Sumner High School was established based on segregation and integration. As each generation brings about change, by trying ideas to fit the needs of the times, another circle will be forged. Sumner High School will continue to change, but it’s creation is it’s legacy.

Sources Cited
Greenbaum, Susan. The Afro-American Community in Kansas City, Kansas (City of Kansas City, Kansas, 1982) 64-68

Kansas City Star, 13 Apr. 1904.

- - -, 15 Apr. 1904.

- - -, 18 Apr. 1904.

Wyandotte Herald, 15 Feb. 1905.

- - -, 8 June 1905.