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

Thurgood Marshall Materials at Spencer Research Library

October 13th, 2017

Photograph of Thurgood Marshall and unidentified man, undated

Photograph of Thurgood Marshall (left) and an unidentified man, undated.
As shown by the apron he’s wearing, Marshall was a member of
Prince Hall Masons. J. B. Anderson Papers and Photographs.
Call Number: RH MS 1230. Click image to enlarge.

In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.

             – Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice, 1967-1991

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American justice appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Before his tenure on the Supreme Court, Marshall was a renowned attorney and founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and he championed civil rights through his work. One of these cases, State of Connecticut v. Spell, is the topic of the new movie Marshall. The film’s national release date – October 13th – closely coincides with the 50th anniversary of Marshall’s swearing in as a Supreme Court Justice (October 2, 1967).

Inspired by the release of Marshall, and in honor of the life and legacy of this remarkable man, Spencer Research Library invites you to explore our collections related to one of Thurgood Marshall’s most famous court cases: Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended racial segregation in schools.

Image of a letter from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, July 30, 1952

Letter from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, July 30, 1952.
Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145.
Click image to enlarge.

Image of a telegraph from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, April 6, 1955

Telegraph from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, April 6, 1955.
Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145. Click image to enlarge.

Charles S. Scott papers: Charles S. Scott was a prominent lawyer in Topeka, Kansas, and served as the attorney for one of the plaintiffs in the original Brown v. Board of Education Kansas case. Included in this collection are documents and correspondence from his work on Brown v. Board of Education, as well as materials related to his legal career and personal life.

J. B. Anderson papers and photographs – J. B. Anderson was a Topeka, Kansas, resident and active community member. He was also a popular photographer who documented the local African American community and their experiences in Topeka. In the photographs of this collection are a few photos of Thurgood Marshall at a Chicago-area Masonic event.

Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research records – The Brown Foundation was established by community members in 1988 as a tribute to those involved in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case. The Brown Foundation continues to provide support educational opportunities throughout the world. After years of work, the Brown Foundation also successfully secured designation as a National Historic Landmark for Monroe School – a key site in the history of the Brown v. Board of Education case. The site was later established as a unit of the National Park Service.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Charles Scott and the Struggle for Civil Rights

February 21st, 2014

Charles Scott, a prominent attorney in Topeka, Kansas, was born in 1921. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and later graduated from Washburn Law School. He joined the law firm established by his father, Elisha Scott, Sr., a well-known trial lawyer in the region. During his early years in practice Charles Scott and his father were successful in securing racial integration of elementary schools in South Park, Johnson County, Kansas. With his brother John H. Scott, he represented plaintiffs in several cases that sought to establish the right of access to swimming pools, theaters, and restaurants in Topeka for African Americans.

In 1954 Charles Scott was one of several attorneys who filed and presented the initial case for the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka. He also appeared as counselor for the plaintiffs before the United States Supreme Court, whose ruling ended segregation in public schools.

The Scott Collection includes personal and professional papers that reflect Mr. Scott’s lifelong pursuit of civil rights issues.

Telegram from Thurgood Marshall to Charles Scott

Telegram to Charles Scott from Thurgood Marshall, April 6, 1955. Charles Scott Papers.
Call Number: RH MS 1145, Box 2, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.

Among Scott’s papers is the above telegram from Thurgood Marshall. Marshall, then serving as Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, contacted Scott to receive confirmation of a timetable for desegregation of Topeka schools following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling ending school segregation.

This April, the University of Kansas will host a series of events to mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.  These will include a KU Libraries exhibition opening (Lasting Impact: Brown vs the Board of Education) on the evening of April 11th and a daylong seminar on April 12th. Both events will consider the legacy of the case and its implications.  For additional information, please see the following news release.

Sheryl Williams
Curator of Collections and Kansas Collection Curator