I still remember walking through the doors of this fabulous Art Deco building to enroll for the first time in 1989. This was my dream high school, and I did a little dance the day I received my letter of acceptance. But what I didn’t fully understand about Sumner was its history and how that history is interwoven with the history of race relations in Kansas City.
Many Kansans believe that schools were racially segregated right up until Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. However, in Kansas City, Kansas, this was not true until 1904, when a Caucasian boy was allegedly killed by an African American boy in a baseball park. The next morning, 700 Caucasian students refused to allow the 80 African American students to enter Kansas City, Kansas High School even though the accused murderer was not a student. This incident led to the passage of a state law that mandated segregated schools in 1905.
Sumner High School was born at the corner of Eighth and Oakland.
The student population outgrew the original 1905 building, and in 1939, the Public Works Administration built the original sections of the present-day building. It was never as grand or flashy as Wyandotte High School, which catered to the Caucasian population, but it has an elegance that has graced the corner of Eighth and Oakland for more than 70 years.
In 1978, the courts ordered the integration of Sumner High School. That fall, Sumner Academy of Arts and Science opened its doors as a public college prep magnet. Sumner High School already had a reputation for providing an excellent education. Sumner Academy would provide that education to a more diverse student body.
My husband and I are part of the class of 1994, and we’re both incredibly grateful for the education we received there. However, it is only now, nearly two decades later, that I am beginning to really appreciate the role that Sumner Academy played in the history of an entire city.
Read more about Sumner Academy, its architecture, and its history through the National Historic Register application.