Sumner High School has a celebrated history that dates back to 1905. One of the most notable high schools in the state of Kansas, Sumner has a reputation for excellence and high achievement from its students and faculty. As we look at the history of KCK Public Schools, this week, we are highlighting Sumner. The information below is summarized from A History of Black Education in Kansas City, Kansas, Readin’, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic by William W. Boone, and The Sumner Story, edited by Wilma F. Bonner.
Sumner’s existence has a complex and emotional origin. It evolved from a long-standing segregated school system that had been in place in elementary schools for over six decades. Black children were housed in substandard facilities and received poor fiscal support and inferior instructional resources in the segregated system. The black community decried these conditions on numerous occasions to the deaf ears of the School Board. Because of the opportunities and resources that would be available, blacks favored the integrated high school. However, whites found a way to establish segregated schools.
From 1886 to 1904, Kansas City, Kansas High School was the only high school in the city. At that time, Kansas state law mandated segregation in elementary schools but required local governments to establish integrated high schools. Located on the northwest corner of Ninth Street and Minnesota Avenue, the Kansas City, Kansas High School constituted what eventually would become Wyandotte High School and the institution from which Sumner High School would evolve.
Even though high schools throughout the state of Kansas were integrated, the climate all over the county was racially tense. During the early years of Kansas City, Kansas High School, less than 10 percent of the student population was nonwhite, and there were few overt racial problems. However, black students had difficult personal experiences resulting from the underlying tensions, which make their lives miserable at best.
The origins of Sumner High School are wedded to a fatal incident that occurred in a neighborhood park. On Tuesday, April 12, 1904, William Roy Martin, a Kansas City Kansas High School student and member of a prominent white family, was killed suddenly and unexpectedly. The story surrounding his death varies from its many iterations, but it was eventually accepted that during a baseball practice at Kerr Park, a confrontation arose between Roy and Louis Gregory, an 18-year-old black youth. Louis, who was not on the baseball team or even a student at the high school, was on a frog-hunting expedition with his friends at the park. He had a single-shot .22-caliber gun in his possession. Louis and his companions had crossed the field when an altercation erupted between the two groups. Within a matter of minutes, Roy Martin was dead, and Louis Gregory was detained and subsequently taken to the Wyandotte County Jail.
Reactions developed into a series of racially divided meetings among white and black residents. Whites explored ways to ensure their children would not attend school with blacks regardless of the state law that was in place. On the other hand, blacks focused on strategies to ensure their children would receive a quality education, and they knew that the needed resources would come only in an integrated environment. In large measure, both groups prevailed. Legal counsel representing the Kansas City, Kansas School Board drew up a resolution dated January 25, 1905, to summarize the occurrences of the previous year and make recommendations for enacting a law to segregate schools. In January of 1905, the Kansas state legislature passed House Bill No. 890 reversing the provision for mixed high schools in the state.
During the summer of 1905, a new school building was erected at Ninth Street and Washington Boulevard, next to Douglass Elementary School. Originally called Manual Training High School, this name did not satisfy members of the black community, and a meeting of ministers, attorneys, teachers, and members of the Board of Education was held in the home of Doctor Corvine Patterson. It was in this meeting that the name of Manual Training High School was dropped, and a more appropriate name of Sumner High School was selected by the group. The name of Sumner was chosen to honor Charles Sumner (1811-1884), who was a member of the United States Senate from 1851 to 1874. Sumner was venerated for his endless efforts to achieve equality for black in all walks of life. His exceptional scholarship goals and ideas were deeply rooted in high morals and Christian beliefs. The Sumner family was known for its intellectual acuity, cultural awareness, and civic and social sense of responsibility. In September 1905, 178 students enrolled at the new school, which fostered a comprehensive curriculum that offered both classical and vocational training. The first principal was Mr. J. E. Patterson.
During the first 25 years of the new century, Sumner High School grew slowly but steadily. Within a year of opening, Sumner’s classes had grown so large that it was necessary to add a north wing at a cost of $20,000. The north wing contained four rooms and a basement for manual training. In 1923-24, the building housed the junior high school while the Northeast Junior High School was being constructed. The junior high students went to school in the afternoon. It was necessary in 1924 to convert the auditorium into classrooms. The Sumner gymnasium was constructed late in 1924, and it was ready to be occupied in September 1925. About this same time, it was necessary to use part of the Douglass School annex and remove the classes that were in the attic of the school, which were unsafe due to the construction of the building.
In 1938 the Board of Education declared the old Sumner building to be inadequate and found it necessary to build a new school. While $2.5 million was spent on replacing Wyandotte High School after it was destroyed by fire four years earlier, only $751,000 was authorized for constructing Sumner. The building was designed to house 14 general classrooms, two music rooms, one drama and speech room, one drawing and art room, six shop classes, six life science rooms, six physical science classes, an 88-student capacity library, and an auditorium for 1,500 occupants. Moving day from the old building to the new building was December 15, 1939. Moving from the old building was done by students, teachers, and members of the Board of Education shops in December 1939. On January 9, 1940, the new Sumner High School was dedicated. Dignitaries from all over the State of Kansas and from the State of Missouri attended the dedication since this school was one of the most modern high schools to be built in the Midwest.
By the time the new building was occupied, Sumner High School had grown large enough to have 26 teachers on the faculty. Throughout the years of existence of this famous high school, the names of many of the outstanding faculty members will be remembered by the community and the students in KCK, such names as G. B. Buster, G. A. Curry, George Mowbray, A. T. Edwards, James Thatcher, Eugene Banks, Beatrice Penman, Rebecca Bloodworth, Scottie P. Davis, Edna Hoffman, Vera Reynolds, Clarence Thornton, Roberta Jeltz, Grace Stevens, George Green, S. H. Thompson, Jr., Paul Mobiley, Christine Sears, Rostell Mansfield, E. A. Taylor, William W. Boone, Clarence Turpin, Rosemary Daniels, E. A. Charlton, Edward Beasley, T. H. Reynolds, Oyarma Tate, Robert N. Clark, John Henderson, Charles Terry, James Harris, Doris Moxley, William J. Smith, and above all, the most honored principal of Sumner High School, John A. Hodge.
Two outstanding men, who served as principal of Sumner High School, contributed greatly to improving the Northeast community. Mr. John A. Hodge was principal for 35 years, from 1916 to 1951. Mr. Hodge believed that there was a great potential in all black youth, and he did everything within his power to see that his students were successful in school and successful in their daily lives after graduating from high school. He was regarded as one of the most brilliant educators of his time. His achievements were many, and he was an individual who was greatly respected in the community. He was well known throughout the nation for his contributions to the field of education. Mr. Hodge retired as principal in 1951.
The second outstanding individual was the third principal of Sumner High School. Mr. Solomon H. Thompson, Jr., served the community and Sumner for a period of 21 years from 1951 to 1972. He succeeded Mr. Hodge as principal. Like the previous principal, Mr. Thompson exhibited great capabilities as the principal of Sumner High School. The school continued to be a strong outstanding institution just as it was during the past 35 years. After 21 years of his untiring dedication, Mr. “Sol” Thompson retired as principal of Sumner High School in 1972.
In 1924, the Sumner High School Division of the KCK Junior College began. Classes were held mainly in the annexed building. Mr. John A. Hodge was appointed the Assistant Dean of the junior college division. Part of the Sumner High School faculty, G. B. Buster, Scottie P. Davis, George Green, Edna Hoffman, Harry Thornton, and G. A. Curry taught in the junior college unit.
In the spring of 1978, Sumner High School ceased to exist as one of the greatest high schools for black students. It was closed by the courts as part of the mandate to integrate the public schools in KCKPS, USD #500. This court order enraged the African-American community. They made a gallant effort to keep the existence of Sumner High School, but the courts would not yield to their demands. The school was reopened in the fall of 1978 under the name of Sumner Academy Arts and Science. The building has been remodeled with additional classrooms, library, cafeteria, and gymnasium. Both black and white students, who are academically talented, now attend the Sumner Academy of Arts and Science.
For more history on Sumner High School:
Sumner High School Alumni Association Family History Stories by Sumner High School Alumni Association (available for use in the Kansas Room)
Sumner in the City: Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the Founding of Sumner High School, 1905-1978 by Sumner High School Alumni Association of Kansas City, Kansas. National Convention (available for use in the Kansas Room)
View Sumner High School Yearbooks at the Yearbook Project
Kansas Collection Librarian