Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

North Gallery Highlight: Sumner High School

We are periodically sharing some of the materials that are featured in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery permanent exhibit. We hope you’ll be able to visit the library and explore the full exhibit in person! This week’s post highlights materials documenting the history of Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. The Sumner collection is part of the African American Experience Collections within the Kansas Collection.

Photograph of the exterior of the Sumner High School building, 1905–1940
The “old” Sumner High School building at 9th and Washington Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, 1905-1940. This image appeared in the 1922 Sumnerian yearbook. Call Number: RH Ser D1286 1922. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the exterior of the Sumner High School building, 1940-1978
The “new” Sumner High School building at 8th and Oakland Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, 1940-1978. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Established in 1905 in response to the threat of racial violence and a decades long effort to exclude African Americans from the city’s high school, Sumner High School was created by exempting Kansas City, Kansas, from the state law prohibiting racially segregated high schools. However, the local African American community resisted further efforts to further diminish their children’s opportunities to achieve academic excellence. Their relentless push for the school’s curriculum to emphasize college preparation earned Sumner High School’s membership in the prestigious North Central Association of Secondary Schools by 1914. Under a federally mandated plan for racial integration, Sumner closed in 1978.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 national convention of the Sumner High School Alumni Association of Kansas City, Kansas, has been postponed until next year. In anticipation of the convention – and in honor of the new school year – here are a few highlights from the Sumner High School Alumni Association of Kansas City, Kansas, Collection, established in 1986. Additional donations of materials are welcomed.

Photograph of Sumner High School faculty, 1919
Sumner High School faculty, 1919. Before the late 1950s, Sumner was the only high school in Kansas comprised of an African American faculty and the only high school in Kansas that permitted African Americans to serve as teachers. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the Sumner High School orchestra, 1918
The Sumner High School orchestra, 1918. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of a Sumner High School chemistry class, 1930s
A chemistry class at Sumner High School, 1930s. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

The film clips below show various aspects of Sumner High School. The first features scenes from a football game in 1931. The second clip, from the 1940s, introduces viewers to the new building, the principal, and staff members; it also shows students arriving for school. There’s no need to turn up the volume on your computer or phone; neither clip has any sound.


See Spencer’s online exhibit “Education: The Mightiest Weapon” to learn more about the active role African Americans in Kansas played in our nation’s past struggle with laws and practices of racial segregation in public schools.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist/Curator, African American Experience Collections
Kansas Collection

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