A little talked about Kansas case in 1949 was an important forerunner to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit which would make school segregation illegal nationwide.
In 1887, the community of South Park, (near Merriam) Kansas, was founded. A year later, District 90 was organized to educate the town’s children, and a one room school—known as the Walker School—was built. In 1912, a second school was built, and the era of segregated schooling began in the community: White children attended the new school, and Black children continued to attend the Walker School.
By the late 1940s, the Walker School, now a two room school, was dilapidated and shabby. An outhouse served as the restroom facilities, and heating in the building was unreliable. When a bond issue was passed to build a new, modern school building for White children only, Black parents were outraged. Despite their protests, however, the school board refused to admit Black children to the new South Park School when it opened in 1947. In response, the parents, teachers and a group of concerned citizens filed a lawsuit, Webb v. School District No. 90, against the school district.
As the lawsuit made its way through the courts, South Park’s black families boycotted the Walker School, choosing instead to hire two teachers—Corinthian Nutter and Hazel McCray Weddington—to teach the children in private homes.
Following is an excerpt of Ms. Nutter's comments regarding desegregation at South Park School.
"I am the willowy daughter of a former slave. I ran away from home at age 15 to pursue an education in the North. When the time came, I sacrificed my hard-won teaching position to boycott the dilapidated all-black schoolhouse where I once taught in South Park. The one-room Walker Elementary School, with an outhouse on the playground had been separate from the town's white school for more than 60 years and equal for none of its students. Black parents lost their patience when the town's school board refused to let their children attend the new, modern school on the hill --- a school built in part with black tax dollars. During the boycott, I did not want the children to suffer in the wake of being pulled from school, so I agreed to teach 39 children in my home, parents' living rooms and in the basement of Mt. Olive Baptist Church. I was a teacher in the classroom, that's all. And, education was for the children, not for a color. I was paid a stipend each month from the NAACP, but I would have done it for nothing. The lawsuit was an opportunity to stand up for equal rights in education. I just told them the truth. The school was dilapidated. We had no modern conveniences, had to go outside to go to the toilet - schools shouldn't be for color. They should be for the children."
In 1949, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a state law prohibiting segregation in small towns, ruling in favor of admitting Black children to South Park Elementary. The case is considered an important forerunner to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit which would make school segregation illegal nationwide.
Today, the Walker School still stands at 9420 W. 50th Terrace in Merriam, and serves as the home of the Philadelphia Baptist Church.
Kansas Black History Facts were prepared for The Community Voice by Donna Rae Pearson.
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