What started as a reunion for the 1958 graduating class of the old Vernon School in the Quindaro area of Kansas City, KS, has turned into an all-school reunion that the planners expect will attract nearly 100 former students back to the historic school. The reunion will be held Sept. 20-22.
The Vernon School, located at 27th and Sewell, was a 1st-8th-grade school built-in 1935 to serve the area’s African-American children. The school survived desegregation in 1955, but eventually closed in 1971 after Urban Renewal wiped out most of the homes that fed children to the school.
Friday night activities are planned exclusively for the class of 1958. Ronald Epps, one of the reunion planners and a member of the 1958 graduating class, says there are about 15 of what were about 30 members of his class still alive. Many of them, like Epps, are traveling a long distance to come back and reconnect with friends.
Epps, who lives in South Carolina, says there are a number of people coming from Texas, California, and Maryland. With the reunion opened up to all students who attended Vernon School, Epps says, they’re also expecting a wide age range of participants. Based on the years the school was open, participants can be as old as their 90s and as young as their mid-50s.
Saturday’s activities for all former Vernon School students will be held at the school from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. There will be introductions, and the history of the school and community will be shared by local historians including Luther Smith, who operates the Quindaro Underground Railroad Museum, which is located inside the old Vernon School Building. There will be socialization and other activities before the group heads up the road to the Quindaro Scenic Overlook around 1 p.m.
On Sunday, reunion members will attend services at Allen Chapel AME Church, 3421 E. 29th St, Kansas City, KS. The group chose an AME Church because Bishop Vernon, who the school was named after, was a bishop in the AME Church.
All activities are free, and everyone is encouraged to attend the Sept. 21 and 22 activities.
A HAVEN FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDENTS
The Vernon School was a haven of education for African-American students prior to school integration and is on the Register of Historic Kansas Places. The school was built in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration. The building replaced the Colored School of Quindaro which had been constructed to serve feed slaves. That building had become overcrowded and dilapidated.
The new school was named after Bishop William Tecumseh Vernon, who was president of Western University from 1896-1906. Western University was supported financially by the AME Church, but in 1933, during the great depression, the church withdrew its support from Western University and the State of Kanas provided funding.
Vernon returned to the Quindaro area when he was appointed head of the university's Industrial Department by the governor.
While he was back in the area from 1933 -36, Vernon was said to have used his political clout to help get the funding to build the new Vernon School.
The school served students from the 1st through 8th grades. Ronald Epps, one of the planners of the reunion, says he remembers most of the time he attended Vernon, there were just four classrooms with two grade levels per class. Eventually, an addition was built onto the school and there were finally enough classrooms to have one grade per classroom.
After the Brown vs. Topeka ruling in 1954, the schools in the Washington School District were forced to desegregate. So in 1955, approximately a third of Vernon students were sent to the Quindaro School.
As it happened in most parts of the country, desegregation occurred on the backs of Black children, who were forced to go to the formerly all-White Quindaro, but none of the White students were forced to come to the Vernon School.
The Washington School District and the Quindaro Township were eventually annexed into Kansas City and the Kansas City Public School systems. The Vernon School eventually closed in 1971, primarily the victim of desegregation and Urban Renewal, which eventually wiped out most of the housing area that provided students to the school.