Editor's Note: In recognition of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15) and the observance of MLK Day, we want to remind you of the Civil Rights history of Topeka. During the next three weeks we will tell you more about places to see that relate to history made in the Civil Rights era (here), Bleeding Kansas era sites and John Ritchie, an abolitionist and city founder.
The fight for civil rights and liberties was still being fought across the nation 100 years after the actions of John Brown and the conclusion of the Civil War. Topeka was one of many communities that played an important role. Oliver Brown and others brought forth Brown v. Board of Education, which led to a landmark Supreme Court decision declaring separate is inherently unequal and desegregated schools across our country.
Topeka’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement can be found in many buildings throughout the city. Each building tells its own story of how our city helped shape the nation. Visit these historic buildings in Topeka to see where Civil Rights history was made.
330 S.W. Western Ave.
Sumner School was one of 18 white schools in Topeka and was located only a few blocks away from Oliver Brown’s home. With encouragement from the NAACP, Brown took his daughter, Linda, to enroll at Sumner Elementary instead of the all-black Monroe School, which was more than 20 blocks away. Brown was denied the opportunity to go to Sumner Elementary and was told to she must go to her previous school, Monroe. This was the spark that civil rights activists needed to ignite the debate – and litigation – that led to desegregating America’s public schools and institutions.
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site/Monroe School
1515 S.E. Monroe St.
One of only four schools in Topeka for African Americans, the former Monroe School, was registered as a National Historic Site on October 26, 1992 to commemorate the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The building is the third school to stand on the site and was built in 1927. Monroe was shut down in 1975 from low enrollment number and was used as a warehouse until the school district sold it to private owners. In 1991, The Trust for Public Land purchased the building and after it was registered as a National Historic Site the title was given over to the National Park Service, which has operated the site since 1993, providing free tours and even a Junior Ranger program for children.
Old Federal Building/ U.S. Post Office
424 S. Kansas Ave.
With an estimated cost of $1 million, construction began in 1932 on the building and it was officially designated August 30, 1934. If the walls of this building could talk, it could tell you stories about gun-fights between the FBI and bank robbers, Alcatraz prisoners and one of the most important court cases in American History. In 1951, two local lawyers, along with lawyers from the NAACP, argued the case of Brown v. Board of Education in the third floor courtroom. Though the court sided with the Board of Education, it allowed the case to move to the Supreme Court, where it ruled unanimously for Brown. That decision overruled a previous court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, and eventually desegregated our nation’s public schools and institutions.