Last month June and I had Japanese house-guests, and as they had visited us before (three years ago), we wanted to find some different places to take them. So we made a day trip to Topeka.
One main reason for going to Topeka was to see the tulips. That city is well known for its “Tulip Time” every year in April. Because of the cool spring, many of the tulips were not in full bloom, but we still enjoyed the beauty of those that were blooming, as well as the daffodils, at the 2.5-acre Botanical Garden in Old Prairie Town at the Ward-Meade Historic Site.
Then we visited the state Capitol building, which is so impressive that June and I wondered why we had not gone there before since it is so close to Kansas City. We enjoyed the old-fashioned (employee-operated) “cage elevator,” and when we stepped off on the second floor we were face to face with the huge John S. Curry mural depicting the wild-eyed abolitionist John Brown.
Later, although we did not have time to go through it, we drove by the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, which is in the old Monroe School, where Linda Brown and other African-American children had to attend because they could not go to white schools. That segregation was challenged by Oliver Brown, Linda’s father, and 12 other plaintiffs.
I did go inside briefly, and picked up a leaflet titled “From Brown to Brown: Topeka’s Civil Rights Story.”
In 1856, John Brown (1800-59) commanded forces in battles at Black Jack and at Osawatomie against the Border Ruffians, the pro-slavery activists from Missouri who crossed the state border into Kansas Territory to force the acceptance of slavery there. And the leaflet explains that “Brown’s involvement in Bleeding Kansas set the spark that ignited the Civil War that freed millions of enslaved human beings.”
Then on May 17, 1954, in ruling on the case known as “Brown v. Board of Education” the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, racial segregation of public schools was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Even though that historic Supreme Court decision was made the month I finished my junior year in high school, I don’t have any memories of it from that time. Separate but equal schools was not an issue where I grew up in north Missouri, for there were no African-American school-age children in the county.
But it made quite a difference in Liberty, where June and I were students at William Jewell College from 1957 to 1959. June was an elementary education major, and she did her practice teaching in the recently-integrated Garrison School, which was founded as a school for African-Americans in 1877.
Garrison School, however, had only provided education for its students through the 10th grade, and the “separate but equal” laws barred them from attending Liberty’s white high school. During the 1953-54 school year, Garrison students rode buses into Kansas City to attend the all-black Lincoln High School. Then, as a result of the Supreme Court decision in May 1954, that fall the Liberty School District began to integrate its African American students.