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With their baby, William, Mr. David and Mrs. Rebecca (Brooks) Harvey escaped from chattel slavery in Van Buren, Arkansas, by joining a unit of Union soldiers who were going to Kansas. Although the family experienced being separated by accident for two months, they successfully reunited in Lawrence, Kansas, and found employment as tenant farmers on land owned by the state’s Douglas County Sheriff. Within five years, the family saved enough money to buy fifteen acres of land in Douglas County. There they built a home and established their farm. Eventually their farm covered more than two hundred acres.
Kansas is where the family’s four children grew up. William attended business school before spending the remainder of his life working on his family’s farm. Sherman graduated from the University of Kansas in 1889; he then taught in Lawrence public schools and later earned a law degree from KU. Frederick established a medical practice in Kansas City, Kansas, after earning his medical degree from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee. And, Edward graduated from KU, worked in Washington, D.C. as a clerk for Congressman J. D. Bowersock, and retired to the family farm while serving as an active leader in Douglas County farm organizations and other civic other civic groups.
In 1866, the 3rd Annual Convention of Colored Men convened in Lawrence, Kansas, as citizens and taxpayers to advocate for their civil rights, i.e. their right to vote and to serve in the state militia and on juries. The assembled men concluded:
“We are among you. Here we must remain. We must be a constant trouble in the State until it extends to us equal and exact justice.”
Unwilling to be denied better economic and political opportunities, African Americans like the Saddler family shown below migrated from Kentucky, Tennessee, and throughout the nation to Nicodemus in Graham County, Kansas, the nation’s first African American town west of the Mississippi River.
George Williams – the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Williams, a prominent farm family in Pratt County, Kansas – filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the railroad after he was denied access to a train after presenting his ticket to the conductor. Agreeing with a lower court’s findings, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 1913 that the train conductor’s action was due to an honest misunderstanding, not racial discrimination. See Williams v. Chicago, R.I. & P. RY. Co. ET AL., 90 Kan. 478, 1913.
At the 1920 Kaw Valley Convention of the African American Baptist Churchin Bonner Springs, Kansas, the Women’s Home and Foreign Mission Society delivered a written protest against a highly visible “For Whites Only”sign displayed in “a public place of business”:
“This unsightly inscription is one of the first things that greets the eyes of every self respecting citizen which is a disgrace to the good name of Kansas and its splendid citizenship.”
Deborah Dandridge Field Archivist/Curator, African American Experience Collections Kansas Collection
Untilthe 1960s, Black physicians and nurses in the United States were denied access to most hospitals, while Black patients were either not accepted or relegated to inferior, segregated areas in hospitals. From Spencer’s African American Experience Collections, I selected images and a few printed items to highlight the Greater Kansas City Black Community’s pioneering effort to defy “Jim Crow” practices by establishing the nation’s first Black community owned and operated hospital west of the Mississippi. It was also the region’s first modern hospital to welcome all patients equally regardless of their “race.”
Organized by Black physicians and community leaders from Kansas City, Kansas (KCK), and Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO), Douglass Hospital opened its doors in December 1898 under the temporary supervision of Nurse Miss A.D. Richardson from Provident Hospital in Chicago. The building previously housed a white Protestant hospital. Fully equipped, it provided ten beds for patients on the first floor and a nurse’s quarters on the second floor. In 1901, the hospital’s first Nursing School exercise convened at First AME Church in KCK and its Nurse Commencement at the Second Baptist Church in KCMO.
Dr. Thompson, the leading founder of Douglass Hospital, was the eldest of thirteen children born to Mr. Jasper and Mrs. Dolly Thompson in West Virginia. He earned his undergraduate degree from Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and a medical degree from Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C. After an internship in surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital in D.C., he moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he developed a thriving private practice. He also served as the head of Douglass until he retired from practicing medicine in 1946.
A native of Saline County in Missouri, Mr. Isaac Franklin Bradley was a co-founder and devoted community advocate for Douglass Hospital. After earning a bachelor of law degree from the University of Kansas in 1877, he moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he established an active private law practice and served as the City’s Justice of the Peace (1889-1891) and the First Assistant County Attorney (1894-1898). Dedicated to Black collective advancement, Mr. Bradley engaged in a variety of community business enterprises, served as a charter member of the 1905 Niagara Movement (the predecessor of the NAACP), co-founded KCK’s Negro Civic League, and owned/edited the Wyandotte Echo newspaper.
(Douglass Hospital co-founder Dr. Thomas C. Unthank (1866-1932) in Kansas City, Missouri, also pioneered the development of General Hospital #2 in Kansas City, Missouri, the first Black Municipal Hospital in the United States in 1911.)
Once up and running, Douglass Hospital sparked the development of a nearby Black community owned and operated “medical” building.
More than 6,000 people, Black and white, attended this Douglass Hospital fundraising event in Kansas City, Missouri’s Convention Hall to hear Booker T. Washington’s lecture. A year earlier, the hospital’s volunteer governing board and medical staff decided to move under the administration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Fifth District led by Bishop Abraham Grant in response to the increasing costs and administrative needs required to maintain a modern hospital. After this event, Douglass paid its debts and enlarged its facility, as seen in this photo:
To meet the hospital’s increasing number of patients, the Greater Kansas Black community organized a fundraising drive that led to the purchase of the former Edgerton Estate. The two-story, fifteen-room residence enabled the hospital to increase its capacity to twenty-five patients with two more small buildings for meetings and events. Douglass Hospital convened public programs during annual Negro Health Week in April and sponsored free clinics for ear, nose, and throat exams and sessions on medical care for babies.
Douglass Hospital nurses delivered the ongoing care for patients, organized outreach activities, and managed the hospital’s ongoing need for more medical supplies.
During the 1930s the hospital experienced a steep decline in patients, staff, and funding. After graduating forty-three nurses during the last three decades, the Douglass Hospital Training School closed in 1937. However, with support from the Black and white Greater Kansas City communities and funding from the Federal government’s Hill-Burton Act for hospitals in 1945, Douglass renovated a three-story building on the former Western University campus to accommodate a fifty-bed hospital that included a bloodbank, lab, and obstetrics unit. On the building’s ground floor, visitors were welcomed in a spacious reception area.
By 1954, desegregation practices in Greater Kansas City’s white hospitals eventually forced Douglass to close its doors in 1977. Afterwards, the hospital’s last building was torn down and its records lost.
Deborah Dandridge Field Archivist/Curator, African American Experience Collections Kansas Collection
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.