Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...
National Historic Site
was established in Topeka, Kansas
Topeka |Kansa]]: Tó Pee Kuh) is the capital city of the U.S. state of Kansas and the county seat of Shawnee County. It is situated along the Kansas River in the central part of Shawnee County, located in northeast Kansas, in the Central United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was...
, on October 26, 1992, by the United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....
to commemorate the landmark
Landmark court decisions establish new precedents that establish a significant new legal principle or concept, or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law...
U.S. Supreme Court decision aimed at ending racial segregation
Racial segregation is the separation of humans into racial groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, or in the rental or purchase of a home...
in public schools. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" and, as such, violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees all citizens "equal protection of the laws."
The site consists of the Monroe Elementary School, one of the four segregated elementary schools for African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...
children in Topeka, and the adjacent grounds.
History of the site
The story of Monroe Elementary
begins long before the Brown decision. In 1859, John Ritchie
John Ritchie was an abolitionist who moved from Franklin, Indiana to Topeka, Kansas Territory, in early spring of 1855 in search of cheap land and to help Kansas enter the country as a "free" state....
, an abolitionist, bought 160 acres (65 ha) from Jacob Chase in Topeka, Kansas. After the Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...
a number of newly freed African Americans came to Topeka and built homes on this land. Due to the sizable African American population, the school board decided to establish a school for black children in the neighborhood. "Ritchie's Addition" became the site of Monroe School . After Ritchie's death in 1877, the land was purchased by the Topeka Board of Education to build a school for African American children.
The current building is actually the third Monroe school to sit on the corner of Fifteenth and Monroe streets. The first school was located in a small rented building used from 1868 until a permanent structure was erected in 1874. The current building was constructed in 1926 immediately south of the old school. It was one of many schools in Topeka designed by the prominent Topeka architect Thomas W. Williamson between 1920 and 1935. His firm, Williamson and Co., was hired by the Topeka Board of Education to design a series of progressive schools. Monroe Elementary School is a two-story brick and limestone building in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The building was made with some of the best materials and the most modern technology of the time.
In a 2004 interview for PBS station KTWU, one of the teachers from Monroe, Barbara Ross, recalled:
I feel they were good schools. They had qualified black teachers ... very qualified. Many people ... well, I'll say some people ... felt that the supplies and things that were furnished in the buildings were not comparable with those in the white schools only because they were probably older buildings. They had the same books and we've heard a lot of things about that. But they had the same books that the others had because so many of the black teachers were on the committees to select the books -- the textbooks. So we know we had the same books that they did. It's true -- everything wasn't just right because the things in the community weren't just right. We couldn't go eat any place. We couldn't go to the theater and sit any place. We couldn't live in an apartment or go to a motel; we had to stay with a black family when we came here to teach. http://brownvboard.org/video/blackwhitebrown/
Monroe was the newest of the four segregated schools serving Topeka's African American community. The other schools were Buchanan, McKinley, and Washington. Washington no longer stands and the Topeka Board of Education no longer owns the remaining schools.
Note that in the Brown
case, the legal opinion was not
that the schools for black children in Kansas were qualitatively worse in construction, books, etc. than the schools for white children. Instead, the opinions was that school segregation by itself was an unfair detriment to the education of black children. The holding that "separate" by itself was unconstitutional was what made Brown
the landmark case in school desegregation. From the decision:
Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.
Monroe School was closed in 1975 due to declining enrollment. The school district utilized the school building as a warehouse and the grounds for parking buses and performing vehicle maintenance. Eventually the school and grounds were sold to private owners. Monroe Elementary remained in private ownership for more than fifteen years. Richard Appelhans and Richard L. Plush, Jr. intended to convert the school to offices or a private school, but they instead sold it in 1982. The new owner was the Church of the Nazarene which used the property as a community outreach program center and meeting place. The next owner, Mark A. Steuve, President of S/S Builders purchased the school from the church in 1988 for use as a warehouse. In 1990, Mr. Steuve announced his intention to auction the building off.
The Brown Foundation began a crusade to save Monroe Elementary School from being sold. After a series of letter writing campaigns and meetings with local Congressional leadership and the Trust for Public Land the school was secured. The Trust for Public Land purchased the property in 1991 and it was added to the National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...
nomination for the Sumner Elementary School
The Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas was involved in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. Linda Brown attempted to enroll in the Sumner School, which was closer to her house than the all black Monroe School to which she was attending. Her enrollment was rejected by the...
, listed in 1987. On October 26, 1992, President George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 41st President of the United States . He had previously served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States , a congressman, an ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence.Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to...
signed legislation establishing Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The title was transferred to the National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...
in December 1993.