The Founding of 
   Sumner High    
Sumner High School - 1905
Sumner High School Faculty: J. J. Lewis (lower left), G. Buster (lower right), John Hodge (upper left) and J.P. King (upper right)
Research Question:    Was the founding of Sumner High school a result of racism or racial cooperation?

     Fair skies and forty-nine degrees created the type of spring weather that drew young people outdoors.  For Roy Martin and other white members of the Kansas City, Kansas High School baseball team, or perhaps it was the  track team,  the balmy weather meant practice would be held outdoors at Kerr Park that afternoon.  For Louis Gregory and his companions, all black, the mild weather led to a trip to the creek just beyond Kerr Park to shoot frogs.  He carried a .22 caliber pistol, or perhaps a rifle, as he and his companions cut across Kerr Park around 4:00 P.M.1

     Within a few minutes, Roy Martin lay dead, and Louis Gregory was jailed as his murderer.  Few  dispute that Louis Gregory fired the shot that killed Roy Martin, although one source suggests a hobo may have been the one who actually fired the shot.  Like everything else about this incident,  there is no agreement as to the events at the park or at the jail later.

     According to local historian Orrin Murray, who spoke with Gregory's family, Louis and his friends were set upon by the white youths as they crossed the park.  Louis, who was crippled, fired in self defense as Roy Martin attacked him.  However, the Kansas City Star ran a different story.  "The negro boys made insulting remarks to the white boys and the latter advanced toward them.  Gregory drew a pistol and fired into the crowd of white boys, hitting Martin."   One witness  at the trial claims Gregory continued to fire at others as he ran away, while other witnesses at the trial make no mention of this.

     The next day the eighty or so black students of Kansas City, Kansas High School found their entrance into the school blocked by approximately 700 white students. The school was closed, and the white students were sent home.  That evening a group of black citizens armed with Winchester rifles and revolvers surrounded the jail where Louis Gregory was held.  The Star reported the incident as a race riot and noted that six "Negroes" were arrested for resisting arrest and inciting a riot.  Murray says that the action was taken to prevent a white lynch mob from breaking into the jail and killing Gregory.

    At the trial, Gregory pleaded self-defense, but was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. That did not settle the debate as to his guilt or innocence, and almost a century later we are left with the question as to whther or not Gregory acted in self-defense or was cuilty of first degree murder.

All of our accounts of the incident  come from newspapers or from modern day oral historians.  Because of the  contradictions contained in each of these accounts, it will be difficult to conclude what really happened on that day in April that changed forever the way blacks and whites attended school.  However, there has never bena thorough examination of the conflicting stories that

     1.  The details of the incident have been pieced together from three sources all of which disagree on some points: Orrin Murray, quoted in Susan D. Greenbaum,  The Afro-American Community in Kansas City, Kansas (City of Kansas City, Kansas, 1982), 64-68;  Kansas City Star, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18 April 1904; 6, 15, 17 June 1904;  Kansas City Voice, 8 June-14 June, 1978; Wyandotte Herald.  29 June 1881; 12 April,  23 June, 1 September, 1904; 15 February, 8 June, 14 September, 12 October 1905.

                                                Checklist of Activities