Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Brown v. Board of Education Resources at Spencer Research Library

August 11th, 2021

For over fifty years it was legal to segregate elementary children in the United States into schools based on the color of their skin. In Kansas, unless the town had a population less than 15,000, Black and white children went to different elementary schools. 

Less than a half-hour drive west from the University of Kansas campus is the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Located in Topeka, Kansas, this important historic site is one of the origins of the Supreme Court case that marked the end of legal racial segregation in the nation’s public schools. 

The court case was five separate lawsuits brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the Supreme Court. One of the five lawsuits was filed against the Topeka Board of Education after the local NAACP assembled a group of thirteen African American parents and instructed them to attempt enrollment of their children in a segregated all-white school near their home. As anticipated, they were denied. All total the parents attempted enrollment in eight of the eighteen segregated all-white schools in the city. The Topeka School Board had established only four schools segregated for the city’s African American children. One of those parents was Oliver Brown. When the case was filed his name headed the roster of Topeka plaintiffs. On appeal to the United States Supreme Court the Topeka, Kansas, case was consolidated with cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The high court ruled on the cases under the heading of the Kansas case, Oliver L. Brown et al vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS) et al. The unanimous decision was announced on May 17, 1954, with the court finding that racially segregated schools violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision marked a turning point for the pursuit of equal opportunity in education.  

Photograph of Ms. Lois Abbott’s kindergarten class at the Washington School in Topeka, Kansas, 1955
Ms. Lois Abbott’s kindergarten class at Washington School in Topeka, Kansas, 1955. Washington School was one of Topeka’s four elementary schools for African American students. Joe Douglas Collection. Call Number: RH PH 90. Click image to enlarge.

The court case was complicated and is difficult to describe in a few paragraphs. Fortunately, there are good resources that provide a summary of the history, such as the website for the Brown Foundation, the progenitor of the National Park Site. The Brown Foundation was the leader of the community’s success in establishing the Brown v Board National Historic Site in 1992. They created the concept and worked with Congress to establish it. The Foundation’s website contains a wealth of information and curriculum materials that can be ordered for classroom teachers. The website for the National Park Service’s Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site contains excellent information on the story of Brown v Board of Education and civil rights. In addition, resources such as the KU Libraries’ publication Recovering Untold Stories: An Enduring Legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision, a project of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, give a greater understanding of the court case and the individuals involved. 

For those wanting to conduct in-depth research on the court case and the circumstances behind it, Spencer Research Library has many primary resources available.

Although the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site was closed to visitors during COVID-19, I wanted to see if there were any volunteer opportunities. When I contacted the volunteer coordinator, Dexter Armstrong, in October 2020, he was open to suggestions for off-site volunteering projects. I offered to assemble a list of local primary resources to not only aid their staff, but also any visitors, teachers, or site researchers that may need it. He agreed that a list of local primary resources would be a valuable tool. 

Listed below are the Brown v. Board of Education resources and closely related material at Spencer Research Library. 

Online Exhibits

Education: The Mightiest Weapon
Curated by Deborah Dandridge, Field Archivist and Curator, African American Experience Collections

Archival Resources

Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research Records
Date Range of Materials: 1970-2017
Call Number: RH MS 876

The records in this collection are those of the Topeka, Kansas-based Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research, established in 1988 as a tribute to the 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case and its plaintiffs and participants. These records include general information on the foundation and related subjects and events.

Paul Wilson Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1962-1995
Call Number: RH MS 746

Paul Wilson was a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Kansas, who, prior to his University service, participated in the Brown v. Board of Education case on behalf of the State of Kansas. This collection contains research and notes on Wilson’s book, A Time to Lose: Representing Kansas in Brown v. Board of Education.

See also:

  • Paul Wilson’s oral interview with the Endacott Society, an organization for retired KU faculty, staff, and spouses (Call Number: UA RG 67/754)
  • Paul Wilson talks about Brown v. Board of Education (Call Number: UA RG 44/1, cassette tape 0329)

Charles S. Scott Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1918-1989
Call Number: RH MS 1145

The Charles S. Scott Papers are those of a prominent native Topeka, Kansas, lawyer who focused on civil rights and was one of the plaintiff’s lawyers in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case.

Records of the Topeka Back Home Reunion
Date Range of Materials: 1975-2010
Call Number: RH MS 1291

The Topeka Back Home Reunion originated in 1973 thanks to the efforts of Charles Scott, Carl Williams, and Eugene Johnson. The purpose of the Reunion was to bring together those who attended the four elementary schools in Topeka, Kansas, designated for Black students (Buchanan, McKinley, Monroe, and Washington) before the 1954 Brown v. Board U.S. Supreme Court decision and, later, African Americans who attended Topeka schools after 1954. The Reunion took place triennially, supplemented by regular meetings and newsletters. The final reunion took place in 2010. 

State Street Elementary School Photograph
Date Range of Materials: circa 1944
Call Number: RH PH P16

This collection contains one photograph of a fifth-grade classroom at the State Street Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. The print shows teacher Louise Becker helping her class with a penmanship lesson; student Ruth Lassiter-Snell stands in front of the teacher.

Topeka Public Schools Class Photographs
Date Range of Materials: 1892
Call Number: RH PH 151

This collection contains class portraits from the public schools in Topeka, Kansas, in 1892.

Jesse Milan Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1931-2012
Call Number: RH MS 623

Jesse Milan, a longtime resident of northeast Kansas, was the first African American teacher to serve in the integrated Lawrence Unified School District #497. An active community leader, he was involved in the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education commemoration and other Brown v. Board of Education projects. He later became an Assistant Professor of Education at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Cheryl Brown Henderson Campaign Papers
Date Range of Materials: 1968-1979; 1989-1998
Call Number: RH MS 1190

This collection contains the papers of Henderson’s political campaigns. Cheryl Brown was born in 1950 to Oliver L. and Leola (Williams) Brown. Following her family’s involvement in the landmark Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education, Brown attended public schools in Topeka, Kansas, and Springfield, Missouri. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Baker University (Baldwin, Kansas) and a Master of Science degree in Counseling from Emporia State University. Cheryl Brown married Larry Henderson in 1972. She worked as a classroom teacher and, from 1979 to 1994, as a consultant to the Kansas State Board of Education. In 1988 she co-founded the Brown Foundation for Educational Equality, Excellence, and Research and served as its Executive Director. In 2010 Henderson served as the Superintendent of the Brown v. Board National Historic Site.

Nathaniel Sawyer Family Papers
Date Range of Materials: circa 1880-2012 (bulk 1950s-1990s)
Call Number: RH MS 1460

Nathaniel Sawyer was an active opponent to the expansion of segregation in Kansas schools, helping to defeat a 1918 legislative bill that would have allowed communities with as few as 2,000 people to segregate their public schools. Sawyer’s family members were prominent in Topeka. They were involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had some involvement with the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site occupies the Monroe Elementary School building, formally one of Topeka’s schools for African American students. Linda Brown attended Monroe Elementary, which was 24 blocks from her home. Photo by Lynn Ward. Click image to enlarge.

To view these materials in person, contact Spencer Research Library. Besides the collections listed, pertinent materials can be found in other collections at Spencer, such as the single photograph (above) of Ms. Abbott’s kindergarten class in the Joe Douglas Collection. Be sure to speak with our knowledgeable reference staff during your visit. They can help you find information relevant to your topic.

I suggest also visiting the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka to experience in-depth, thought-provoking exhibits. Visitors to the site leave with an understanding of how Topeka’s schools led to the Supreme Court declaring that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”   

To see the complete local primary resource, which also includes resources at the Kansas Historical Society and the Eisenhower Library, contact the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Special thanks go to Dexter Armstrong, Park Ranger at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, for his support and encouragement for the list of local primary resources.

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist

“Dear Mr. Scott”

April 13th, 2021

This week we’re honoring the one-hundredth birthday of Charles Sheldon Scott, a native of Topeka, Kansas, and a prominent lawyer who focused on civil rights. The most famous case he argued was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. Scott, then only thirty-three years old, was one of the attorneys arguing for the plaintiffs. In this landmark case, argued before the United States Supreme Court, the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The case became a foundation of the civil rights movement and set the precedent that the doctrine of “separate-but-equal” in education, and other such services, was discriminatory and not equal at all.

A drawing on the back of Jerlita’s letter to Charles S. Scott shows two girls jumping rope.
A drawing on the back of Jerlita’s letter to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.

In May 1984, thirty years after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Charles Scott visited McCarter Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. He spoke to the second- and third-grade classes about the case. These letters illustrate the importance of passing on the significance of that decision to future generations. What follows are a few of the thank you letters he received from the students. Private information has been redacted.

Charles S. Scott in an undated photograph
Charles S. Scott in an undated photograph. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1145, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

Charles Scott was born in Topeka, Kansas, on April 15, 1921. His father was attorney Elisha Scott, who argued several prominent civil rights cases throughout his career. Charles attended Topeka public schools and graduated from Topeka High School. During World War II, he served with the 2nd Cavalry Division and the Red Ball Express Transportation Unit of the United States Army. After his war service, he returned to Kansas and earned his Bachelor of Law degree in 1948, and then later his Juris Doctorate in 1970, both from Washburn University in Topeka. Charles joined his brother, John, in their father’s law firm Scott, Scott, Scott, and Jackson. During his law career, Charles Scott worked for the integration of schools in Johnson County, Kansas, and equal access to theaters, restaurants, and pools in Topeka. Throughout his law career Scott volunteered his legal services to the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, and in this work he traveled to Mississippi to assist the civil rights workers. He provided legal services to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He served as a staff attorney and hearing examiner for the Kansas Civil Rights Commission. In addition to his law practice, Charles was a part-time instructor for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and served as chair of the Topeka Branch’s Legal Redress Committee. Charles was married to Louise Crawford, and together they had two children. Charles died on March 3, 1989.

A letter from Justin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from student Justin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Erin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from second-grader Erin to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Jennifer W. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from third-grader Jennifer W. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Melissa, Blake, and Jennifer to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from students Melissa, Blake, and Jennifer to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Rachel to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from third-grader Rachel to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A letter from Roberta to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A letter from second-grader Roberta to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.
A drawing on the back of a letter from Jennifer D. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984
A drawing on the back of a letter from student Jennifer D. to Charles S. Scott, May 3, 1984. Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 8, Folder 38. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Dr. C. Kermit Phelps Edition

February 25th, 2021

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Information about KU’s past can be found in Spencer collections beyond University Archives. This week’s photo, for example, comes from our Kansas Collection.

This week’s post highlights the career of former KU student and faculty member C. Kermit Phelps (1908-2002). He earned his bachelor’s degree (1934), master’s degree (1949, Psychology), and doctorate (1952, Psychology) at the University of Kansas. In earning this last degree, Dr. Phelps became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the university. Phelps later returned to KU as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry; he is considered the school’s first Black faculty member. Dr. Phelps taught in KU’s Department of Psychology from 1955 to 1970.

Photograph of Dr. C. Kermit Phelps administering the Phelps-Scheerer organic battery, 1967
Dr. C. Kermit Phelps administering the Phelps-Scheerer organic battery, a test he originated to determine the extent of a patient’s brain damage, 1967. Dr. C. Kermit Phelps Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P687, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.

You can learn more about Dr. Phelps’s life, work, and achievements at KU and beyond by exploring his collection of papers within Spencer’s Kansas Collection; reading his master’s thesis and Ph.D. dissertation; and listening to an oral history interview with Dr. Phelps conducted by KU’s Endacott Society.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

The Black Family: Historical Representations in the Kansas Region

February 23rd, 2021

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) founded the annual February celebration of Black History in 1926 and identified “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” as the theme for 2021.

From Spencer’s African American Experience Collections, I selected the following visual items to highlight the Black Family in the Kansas Region as representations of Black Love, Pride and Strength during the era of Jim Crow.

Photograph of the John Wilson family in front of a house, 1907
John Wilson family of La Cygne, Linn County, Kansas, 1907. O’Dell-Wilson Family Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 63, Box 1, Folder 6. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the Robert Elliott family homestead, circa 1890s
A sod house on the Robert Elliott family homestead near Montezuma in Gray County, Kansas, circa 1890s. Walker Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 587, Box 1, Folder 44. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of Wedding party of Squire and Edna (Walker) Buster, circa 1920s
Wedding party of Squire and Edna (Walker) Buster at Emma Walker’s homestead in Stevens County, Kansas, circa 1920s. Walker Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 587, Box 1, Folder 36. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the family of Clay and Mettie O'Dell in Topeka, Kansas, circa 1910
The family of Clay and Mettie O’Dell in Topeka, Kansas, circa 1910. O’Dell-Wilson Family Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 63, Box 1, Folder 7. Click image to enlarge.
Image of the marriage certificate of Lorenzo Drake and Rosa A. Smith, Kansas City, Kansas, 1918
Marriage certificate of Lorenzo Drake and Rosa A. Smith, Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Lorenzo Drake Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS Q72, Folder 1, Item 1. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of three generations of the John David Barker family in Topeka, Kansas, 1936
Three generations of the John David Barker family in Topeka, Kansas, 1936. John David Barker Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 775, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.
Image of two poems by John D. Barker in Selected Poems compiled by the Barker family, 1960
Two poems by John D. Barker in Selected Poems compiled by the Barker family, 1960. Call Number: RH C9072. Click image to enlarge.
Members of the Falls, Moore, Frye, Williams, and Brown families in Lawrence, Kansas, circa 1940s. Alberta Pitcher Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 736, Box 1, Folder 3. Click image to enlarge.

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

North Gallery Highlight: Sumner High School

August 26th, 2020

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