Brown v. Board of Education - Oral History - Part 1
- Jack Alexander
- Vera Jones Allen
- Charles Batson
- Eliza Briggs
- Onan Burnett
- Broadus Butler, Sr.
- Judge Robert Carter
- Geraldine Crumpler
- Deborah Dandridge
- Jeanette Dandridge
- Maurita Davis
- Joseph “Joe” Douglas
- Claude Emerson
- Annie Gibson
- Barbara Gibson
- George Goebel
- Jack Greenberg
- L. L. Hall
- Chris Hansen
- Cheryl Brown Henderson
- Zelma Henderson
- Barbara Henry
- Rev. E. B. Hicks
- Charles Hill
- Oliver Hill
- Christina Jackson
- Eugene Johnson
- Lois Johnson
- Katherine A. King
- John Land III
- Rev. Maurice Lang, III
- Henry Lawson
- Clara Ligon
- Dr. Ernest Manheim
- Clementine Martin
- Connie Menninger
- William Mitchell, Jr.
- Leola (Williams) Brown Montgomery
- Judge Constance Baker Motley
- Ida Norman
- Ethel L. Parks
- James Parks
- Dr. Julia Etta Parks
- Ferdinand Pearson
- Thayer Brown Phillips
- Jean Price
- Fred Rausch, Jr.
- Connie Rawlins
- Joseph Richburg, Sr.
- Richard and Frances Ridley
- Willie Spencer Robinson
- Merrill and Barbara Ross
- Constance Sawyer
- Vivian Scales
- Berdyne Scott
- Deborah Scott
- Dorothy (Robinson) Scott
- C. E. “Sonny” Scroggins
- Judge Collins Seitz
- Irving Sheffel
- Dr. Hugh Speer
- Stanley Stalter
- Carrie Stokes
- Charles Sudduth
- Alberta Temple
- Frederick Temple
- Joe Thompson
- Linda Brown Thompson
- Alvin and Lucinda Todd
- Ruby Brown Walker
- Lacy Ward
- Vadeth Whiteside
- Carl Williams, Jr.
- J. Samuel Williams Jr.
- Frank Wilson
- Harriet Wilson
- Paul E. Wilson
Mr. Jack Alexander was born on December 7, 1930, in Iola, Kansas, to Agnes Stewart Alexander and James Alexander. Throughout the time he was growing up, the family resided on the east side of Topeka, around Washington School, in an area called Mudtown because of its un-surfaced streets. Mr. Alexander attended Washington Grade School (his father worked for the administration and an uncle worked as a custodian there), East Topeka Junior High, and Topeka High School. He was attending Topeka High when the Brown case was filed. At that time, only the grade schools were segregated, although there were separate sports teams at the at the high school level.
Because of his father’s job, and the fact that he helped out when he was older, Jack Alexander had the distinct advantage of seeing a different side of a key participant in the African American schools and community than others did. He had a close relationship with Mr. Harrison Caldwell (who was sort of the superintendent of the African American schools and principal at Washington), often accompanying him on trips out of town on school business while in high school.
After high school, he attended Washburn University before he entered the U.S. Navy in March of 1952; he remained in the Navy until 1956. In 1972, Mr. Alexander became the first and only African American to be elected as the Topeka city water commissioner. He served in that capacity until 1985. That year he went to work at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment; when he left the agency, he was the chief of permits compliance and enforcement.
Vera (Jones) Allen was born in Charles City, Virginia, in 1913. She graduated from Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She continued postgraduate study at the University of North Carolina. Her career included serving as a primary grade teacher, a visiting teacher supervisor and a principal. She retired in 1980 from the position of director of instruction.
Vera met her husband, Edward Allen, while in college. Once they married, the new couple moved to Farmville, Virginia. That move associated her with the school integration care of Davis v. Prince Edward County (one of the companion cases under Brown v. Board of Education). Vera Allen taught school in Prince Edward County in a two room segregated school for African American children.
As her career progressed she became one of the first women hired by the school district as director of instruction. Vera Allen found herself involved in efforts to integrate county schools when in 1951 her daughter Edwilda Allen joined a student strike protesting conditions at segregated Moton High School. In 1995 Vera Allen again found herself associated with the historic school case. As head of the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women, she organized efforts to preserve the old high school building. The organization’s efforts were successful and the old school building once an overcrowded reminder of segregation is now a Historic Landmark. The R.R. Moton High School building will eventually be used as a museum and conference center. Mrs. Allen still resides in Farmville. Her daughter Edwilda is now a band teacher at Farmville’s integrated high school.
Mr. XXXXX was born in Topeka, Kansas. He graduated from Monroe School on June 3, and did not receive any other formal education. While attending Monroe School, he played on the softball and soccer teams. In the 1920s, he worked for Himer’s Grocery Store and the City Hotel in Holton, Kansas. From the 1920s to the 1970s Mr. XXXXX worked for Santa Fe Railroad in the Store Department. He also served in the Army during World War II (1941-1945). During the interview, Mr. XXXXX talks about his various memories of Topeka from the 1910s on.
Mr. Charles Batson was born in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, on April 24, 1917, to Bertha Dysort and Irvin Batson. His father’s family escaped slavery in Texas by coming to Missouri, where they established the family farm. His mother died in 1924, and his father passed away seven years later in 1931. He attended grade school and junior high school there, but only went to high school for two years at Kansas Vocational Tech in Topeka.
After Mr. Batson finished high school, he worked at Postal Wade Glass Company in Kansas City, Missouri, for a time. He spent some time in the service during World War II, and after his discharge, he moved to Topeka to stay. Mr. Batson first worked at Forbes Field when he returned to the area; after that he was transferred to the Oklahoma Air Command (the old supply depot across the street from Forbes) where he worked until 1960. After that, he was transferred to the VA Hospital and stayed there until retiring in 1973.
Mr. Batson married Edith Crouder of Sedalia, Missouri. The couple has a daughter who lives in Louisiana. Edith Batson passed away in March of 1982. Mr. Batson was a member of the executive committee of the local chapter of the NAACP at the time the Brown case was filed; he passed away on January 1, 1993.
Eliza Briggs was born in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Her family lived on a farm raising cotton, corn and pigs. Unlike some African Americans in the county, the land belonged to their family. Mrs. Briggs’ mother had inherited the land from her parents. As a child Eliza and her siblings were only able to attend school six months out of the school year. They attended Liberty Hill Elementary School and later St. Paul. During the remaining months the children helped around the farm. At one time there were six children in the family. Three of her siblings died at an early age.
Eliza recalls the poor conditions at Liberty Hill Elementary, where classrooms did not have desks. She and her classmates sat on benches and school assignments were completed while holding paper and books on their laps. For African American high school students, education ended at tenth grade. Four years after graduating from St. Paul, Eliza married Harry Briggs. The two had grown up in the same neighborhood. The Briggs family grew over the years to five children. They were typical parents concerned about education and opportunities for children.
Rev. J. A. DeLaine was a man Mr. & Mrs. Briggs knew and respected. It was his urging that encouraged the Briggs family and others to join the case against the county school board. They were all concerned about the hardship created by not having bus transportation for their children. Even after the strategy moved from buses to dismantling segregated schools, the Briggs family agreed to stay involved. Although there were more than 30 plaintiffs in the NAACP case, the name of Harry Briggs headed the list of petitioners. All who signed on as petitioners faced various forms of backlash. The Briggs family was no longer able to find anyone to gin their cotton. Mr. Briggs was fired from his job at a local gas station. The timing of his job loss was particularly painful since it took place on Christmas Eve.
After the Briggs case met with success as part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown decision, the family moved to Florida. From there they moved to New York, living in the city for 16 years before returning to Summerton in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Harry Briggs died in 1986 and was survived by his wife and children. Mrs. Eliza Briggs died in 1998.
Mr. Onan Burnett was born on August 24, 1921, in Oskaloosa, Kansas, to Edna (born in Perry, Kansas) and Jesse Burnett (born in Oskaloosa). The couple had three other children: Oleta, Eldon, and Evelyn. The Brunettes can trace their roots back to slavery in Tennessee. The family moved to Topeka when Onan was nearly two years old; his father got a job at the Diagnostic Center (the former vocational and technical school). The couple has a son, Kevin. Mr. Burnett's parent are both buried in Topeka.
Mr. Burnett attended the partially integrated, rural Rice Elementary School in Shawnee County. He attended seventh grade at Monroe School, even though his family lived two blocks from Van Buren School, and ninth grade at Crane Junior High. He attended Highland Park High School so that he could play football and basketball. His sister, Oleta Burnett, was a student teacher at Monroe School at the time the Brown case.
Mr. Burnett went into the Air Force in 1941, and was among the first group of African Americans to attend the Army Air Force Maintenance School in Amarillo, Texas. His group had the highest GPA of any class that went through the school. His bitterest memories of that time centered around the fact that at Fort Knox the German and Italian prisoners of war were allowed to go to the movies, but the African American service men could not. After leaving the service in 1946, Mr. Burnett did his undergraduate study at Washburn University and graduate study at both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Kansas.
Mr. Burnett and his wife, Norma Jean, were married on July 15, 1956. Norma Jean was born in Emporia, Kansas, in 1928. Mr. Burnett passed away on January 1, 2000.
Mr. Broadus Butler, Sr., was born in Greenville County, South Carolina. He grew up on a farm, and he himself was a farmer. He attended the school that was just outside the town of Simpsonville; at that time the school was for first through eleventh grade (students graduated after the eleventh grade). He went to college at South Carolina State after the end of World War II.
The school outside of Simpsonville was a segregated school. Mr. Butler had to walk 4½ miles to and from school; this walk took him right by the white school located in the town. The roads in the area were not paved and the white school bus would often splash water on the children walking after it had rained. Like most African American schools at the time, the students at Simpsonville School had desks and textbooks that were "hand-me-downs" from the white school. The school term was only five, maybe six, months long. It started in late October, after harvest, and ended in the spring, around planting time. In addition to this, the students would go back to school during the summer, during July and for part of August, in what was called the lay-by time; this was during the hottest part of the summer.
At South Carolina State Mr. Butler's concentration was in vocational agriculture. He wanted to teach vocational agriculture and to be a school principal eventually. Back then, after graduation a member of the State Board of Education interviewed the graduates and assigned them to their first position. His first position consisted of teaching at the school in St. Paul, as well as the principal there, and he was also the supervisor of three other schools in the area. Understandably, Mr. Butler did not like having that much responsibility involved with his first job. It was there that six years later he met his future wife.
Mr. Butler was a non-active member of the NAACP at this time, but was encouraged by the NAACP leaders not to attend the meetings because he would be fired. As a result of the Briggs decision, School Districts 4 and 22 were combined into one district, and a few select African American students were chosen to attend the white schools. It was shortly after this that Clarenton Hall, a private white academy, was built and the all white Summerton High School was abandoned. In 1971 Mr. Butler became the first African American superintendent in South Carolina. However, after seven years he asked to be moved back to principal of the high school so that he could get it “straightened out.” He retired in 1984, but was elected to the county school board in 1992.
U.S. District Judge Robert Carter was born in Florida in 1917. He received his bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in 1937 and law degrees from Howard and Columbia universities in 1940 and 1942 respectively. Although, Mr. Carter started college with the intent of pursuing political science, he was recruited and offered a scholarship to Howard University Law School. While at Howard he was mentored by famed attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and befriended by classmate Thurgood Marshall. After receiving his law degrees he served in the Air Force during World War II.
He was hired by Thurgood Marshall to assist the legal team of the NAACP. During his early years with the organization he visited with Esther Brown, the Kansas woman who initiated the Webb school desegregation case in 1949. She was an active member of the NAACP. He praised her for the work she did in keeping her local chapter going. Robert Carter was assigned to assist the Topeka NAACP attorneys with the development of their case against the local school board regarding ending the practice of segregating elementary school children. He worked along side Topekans Charles Bledsoe, Charles Scott, John Scott, McKinley Burnett and Lucinda Todd.
During the Brown case, Carter traveled to Topeka on several occasions. His role was to assist with development and agreement of the Topeka case. As a result he appeared in Federal District Court under presiding judge and former Kansas Governor Walter Huxman.
Mr. Carter’s career as an attorney has placed him firmly in the history books as part of the legal team in Brown v. Board of Education. He was appointed to the bench for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1972. He is the father of two sons. One is a justice on the New York Supreme Court for the Bronx, and the other is in finance. Judge Carter passed away January 3, 2012, at the age of 94.
Geraldine Crumpler was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1941, the second of six children. Her parents were from North Carolina but moved to Wilmington when her father got a job with Wurtz Steel. She attended grades one through six in a one room schoolhouse. For grades seven through twelve, she went to school in Claymont. Mrs. Crumpler’s family did not talk about the desegregation cases, and the problems in Little Rock, Arkansas, were the only desegregation issue she remembered. She did not know that her father was one of the petitioners in the case so that she could attend school at Claymont. Mrs. Crumpler had to take a city bus to attend school at Claymont.
She had not had much contact with whites prior to this. But she did not give it much thought; as she puts it, “You didn’t see the color, you just went to school.” At first, during the seventh grade, there was some name calling, but by the end of the year it had stopped; white students were partnered with black students, so they got to know each other better.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, on November 9, 1946, Deborah L. Dandridge attended Washington Elementary School, one of the city’s schools designated for African Americans before the 1954 Supreme Court decision. The school continued to maintain a predominantly African American faculty and student population until its closing in the 1960s. She was a student at Washington School from kindergarten (1951) through the sixth grade (1957).
Her mother, Mildred Brown Dandridge, who was also born and raised in Topeka, owned and operated Dawn’s Beauty Shop from 1937 until the late 1940s. When her mother died in January of 1951, her father, Milburn Dandridge, hired friends and relatives to take care of her during the day while he worked at the Santa Fe Shops as a boilermaker. With her father’s marriage to Jeanette Temple, she enjoyed the advantages of having two parents; she graduated from Topeka Junior High School and Topeka High School.
After having earned a B.A. degree in history from Washburn University, she pursued graduate studies at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the fall of 1968, she began attending graduate school in Georgia at Atlanta University where she received an M.A. in history in 1970. After serving as a full-time instructor in history at Washburn University, she entered the Ph.D. program in history at the University of Kansas, passed the comprehensive exams, and became a Ph.D. candidate. She later began a career in archives and has served as the field archivist for documenting the African American experience in the Kansas Collection in the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas since 1986.
Deborah is a member of the Episcopal Church and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She still resides in Topeka.
Jeanette Ruth Dandridge is the second child of Mr. John and Mrs. Pearl Temple and the sister of James, Alberta, and Frederick. Born on February 27, 1912, she is a native Topekan who attended Monroe School, graduated from Topeka High School, and earned a B.A. degree from Washburn University in 1933. After acquiring several years of teaching experience at Kansas Technical Institute, an African American vocational school located outside the city limits of Topeka, she joined the faculty of Monroe School and taught fourth-grade classes.
More interested in teaching on a college level, Mrs. Dandridge earned an M.A. degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1942. From the 1940s until the summer of 1953, she served on the faculties of African American colleges, including Langston University in Oklahoma, Barber Scotia College in North Carolina and Morgan State College in Maryland. During this period, she also toured the South as a concert performer in literary interpretation.
On December 28, 1952, she married Milburn Dandridge, a widower and Topeka native who had been raising his six-year-old child, Deborah Dandridge, by himself. From 1959 until her retirement in 1976, she served as an instructor in the Speech Department at Washburn University. Jeanette was a member of the Episcopal Church and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Mrs. Dandridge passed away on April 22, 2001, in Topeka.
Maurita (Burnett) Davis was born October 8, 1923, at home at 1522 Quincy Street, Topeka, Kansas. Her mother, Nina Jones Burnett, was born and raised in the little town of Perry, Kansas. McKinley Burnett, her father, hailed from Oskaloosa, a neighboring community to Perry. Her maternal grandparents also had Kansas roots in Bonner Springs. Her paternal grandparents were from the state of Tennessee. Maurita was one of five children. Once the Burnett children reached school age they had only to travel next door to the segregated Monroe Elementary School. As a consequence they attended grades one thruough eight at Monroe. Junior high schools in Topeka were integrated for ninth grade. Topeka High School was the only facility at that level, and except for extracurricular activities, was fully integrated.
Maurita’s father, McKinley Burnett, garnered his interest in civil rights during military service in World War II. He insisted on being treated fairly and was quick to protest the treatment of his fellow African American soldiers. His commitment was further fueled by segregation at home in Topeka. In 1948 Burnett was selected to head the Topeka Branch of the NAACP. From that vantage point he started down a road leading to the end of legal racial segregation. In 1948 Maurita watched her father’s crusade on behalf of the Topeka NAACP.
For a period of two years he attempted to persuade the Topeka Board of Education to integrate their elementary schools. Undaunted by the board’s refusal, he decided to organize a legal challenge under the auspices of the NAACP. He worked tirelessly to find plaintiffs. Fortunately, chapter secretary Lucinda Todd as well as legal counsel Charles Scott, John Scott, and Charles Bledsoe, aided him. The resulting case became known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
Maurita’s late husband, James Parker Davis, served in the Kansas Legislature from 1959 to 1973. He represented Kansas City, Kansas, in Wyandotte County. Mrs. Davis still resides in Kansas City.
Mr. Joseph “Joe” Douglas was born on June 9, 1928, in Topeka, Kansas, to Imogene and Joseph Douglas. Mr. Douglas attended Monroe Elementary School from 1933 to 1939. He was a member of the only class from the African American elementary schools that attended junior high for only the eighth and ninth grades because of a rule change that went into effect that put all the grade schools, African American and white, on the same system of K-6.
Topeka Junior High was not the first time Mr. Douglas was exposed to an integrated situation. He lived in an integrated neighborhood, where African American, white, and Hispanic kids played together and ate at one another’s house. However, it was the first time he encountered an integrated education system. He strongly felt the lack of eye contact between him, and the other African American students, and the white teachers. It was during this time that Mr. Douglas started to feel left out of the educational system because it did not relate to him anymore. This feeling, along with the feeling of simply being treated unfairly by the teachers in relation to grading, continued at Topeka High School. Eventually this, along with a few other incidents, led him to leave high school in 1946, his senior year, and join the military.
Mr. Douglas did not pay a great deal of attention to the Brown case, but he was aware of who was involved with it (like the Scotts). There was a feeling that the case would not be successful, so therefore he did not follow it; he was unaware that similar cases had been filed in other states. At the time that the case was filed, he had been with the Fire Department for four years. He worked for the Topeka Fire Department for just over 39 years; he served as the first African American city fire chief from 1983 to 1989. He also served on the school board for eight years.
Claude Arthur Emerson was born July 11, 1942. His only living sibling — a brother named George, Jr. — was born in 1945, also in Topeka. The family was deeply rooted in the city since his mother Marguerite (Harrison) Emerson was born in Topeka in 1919. His father George, Sr., was born in Columbia, Missouri. The Emerson family found themselves involved in a class action suit to bring about integration in Topeka’s elementary schools. Mrs. Emerson was among the parents recruited by NAACP secretary Lucinda Todd. This group would comprise the roster of plaintiffs once their case was filed. The Emersons were friends with Oliver Brown for whom their case would eventually be named. The family lived next door to Brown’s brother.
During the NAACP’s work to organize a legal challenge, Claude and George Emerson attended segregated Buchanan Elementary School. Had it not been for segregation, the boys would have attended Lowman Hill, an elementary school closer to their home. In spite of the public stance taken by Mrs. Emerson on behalf of her children, Claude’s world did not change. The family lived in an integrated neighborhood. Children of all races spent their free time playing together. However, because of school segregation policies they could not attend the same school. By the time the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision in the Brown case, Claude was in junior high school. Secondary schools were already integrated.
Florence Nicholson, Claude’s wife, was born in Sabetha, Kansas, in 1953. The couple, who were married in Topeka in 1974, has seven children. Claude Emerson along with his wife and children still resides in Topeka.
Annie Gibson was born in 1910 or 1911 in the small farming community of Summerton, South Carolina. The town sits in the midst of Clarendon County, which became famous during the case of Briggs v. Elliot. This case was filed in an attempt to integrate public schools in Clarendon County. Like most families of Annie Gibson’s time, farming provided both food and money for her family. Unlike many other farm families, her father was a teacher. Her mother ran a local diner.
Annie and her three sisters all attended the segregated schools of Summerton. The community operated two elementary schools for African American children, St. Paul and Spring Hill. Scotts Branch was their segregated high school. At the time Annie Gibson attended school, high school ended with tenth grade. Although she wanted to become a teacher, she never pursued a college education.
Annie married a local man in 1935. They began living on the farm her husband had lived on since he was born. His family had been tenant farmers. Unfortunately, once Annie agreed to participate in the movement to integrate the county’s public schools, her family was evicted from the land. Mrs. Gibson never wavered and remained committed to the goal of better education for their children. This public stand resulted in the family having to rent a smaller farm that faltered because white business owners refused to extend credit to Mr. Gibson. Annie herself was fired from her job as a maid at a local motel. The pressure applied throughout the community made it impossible for the Gibson’s to find work.
Annie Gibson supported Rev. J. A. DeLaine in his mission to improve the plight of African American people. Her determination to participate in the case of Briggs v. Elliot was firmly in place. She wanted her children to have classrooms with desks and up-to-date educational resources. She wanted a bus for other African American children who walked great distances to school. Staying the course along with numerous fellow plaintiffs ultimately paid off. Their case became part of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end segregated schools. Mrs. Gibson still resides in Clarendon County, South Carolina.
Barbara (Caldwell) Gibson was born in Topeka, Kansas, on December 21, 1995. Her parents are Margerite Mallory and Hiram O’Neal (Neal) Caldwell. Mrs. Caldwell was born in Topeka, while her husband Hiram was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Her family attended church at St. Johns’ AME. She met her late husband, William Gibson, in Washington, D.C.; they were married on November 28, 1958, in Washington. Mr. Gibson was born in Toledo, Ohio.
Mrs. Gibson attended Monroe Elementary School and Crane Junior High; she also went to Topeka High School. During school, she wrote for the school paper. After a semester at Washburn University, she transferred to Howard University where she majored in math and German.
One of Mrs. Gibson’s favorite hobbies is tennis, although she just watches it now instead of actually playing. She also enjoys reading and bowling. Her first job after leaving Howard University was helping with the 1950 Census. Later she worked in statistics for the Department of the Army. She was really excited when she was asked to work at the David Taylor Model Basin in the new Applied Mathematics Laboratory.
Mr. George Goebel grew up in western Kansas. From 1934 to 1936 he attended Kansas State Teacher’s College of Emporia (now Emporia State University), but due to difficulties caused by the Depression, he returned to where he grew up to teach. He taught in both Jetmore and Hanston, Kansas. After serving in the military during World War II, Mr. Goebel finished his teaching degree at Kansas State Teacher’s College and moved to Topeka, with his wife, to teach the fifth grade.
In 1951 he took the job as principal at Quinton Heights and taught both the fifth and the sixth grade for part of the day. Mr. Goebel recalls seeing African American students going past his school on their way to Monroe. Mr. Goebel recalls that the first African American teacher hired to teach at Quinton Heights was very uncomfortable there. He tried to draw her out, include her in things, and spoke with her during evaluations about what he could do to make it easier for her, but she was just not comfortable with the situation. Other African American teachers seemed to have an easier time of fitting in at Quinton.
The antagonistic attitudes of some of the students seemed to be influenced by their parents, but mostly things went relatively smoothly, after a period of adjustment, given that everyone lived in the same general area. He is very proud of all of his students; he recalls two who went on to become prominent dentists in the area, and the successes of Sharon Woodson and Wanda Scott.
Jack Greenberg was born into a family that placed high value on education. He spent his childhood in a Bronx, New York, neighborhood of Irish and Jewish families. Jack attended PS 56 Elementary School and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High. His parents inculcated him with an abiding concern for others. At an early age Jack was involved in efforts to help those less fortunate. Bertha Rosenberg, his mother, came to America from Romania. His father was born in Poland. Both Jack and his brother Daniel were influenced by their parents’ belief that education and caring about the work you choose were fundamental elements of a successful life.
Jack went on to study Chinese culture at Columbia University, became a civil rights lawyer in 1949, and pursued his interest in international human rights in the 1960s. He was one of the founders of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and attempted to set up a similar organization for Native Americans. He also created the first private national poverty law program (National Office for the Rights of the Indigent). His brother Daniel became the first journalist to specialize in the politics of science. Jack served in the military during World War II. The Navy sent him to Cornell University as part of officer training. While at Cornell, he developed an interest in the law. He spent his tour of duty as a naval officer.
Jack Greenberg began his career with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 at the age of 24. During his tenure there, he litigated numerous school cases, voting rights cases, and won the legal right for Martin Luther King, Jr., to lead a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. He was part of the legal team in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
From 1961 through 1984 Jack served as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund director-counsel; he succeeded Thurgood Marshall. From 1989 to 1993 he served as dean of Columbia College and is currently a professor with Columbia Law School.
Mr. L. L. Hall was born in Ahoskie, North Carolina; when he was six years old, his family finally settled in Portsmouth, Virginia. His father worked in the Norfolk navy yard during World War II.
Mr. Hall finished his elementary education in Portsmouth and attended Longwood Industrial School (now St. Paul College) before going to New York University for a year. He started his career in physical education, but decided he did not want to coach. In 1946 he received a bachelor's degree in education from Virginia State University in Petersburg. During his career in Farmville, he was a coach, a teacher, and a principal. One of Mr. Hall’s responsibilities as principal was the mapping of the school bus routes for the county. He was a principal from 1943 to July 1, 1959, when the schools were closed down.
In Farmville, the county school board controlled the schools except for the private white academy. Although the schools were segregated, there was only the one school board and one superintendent. The African American schools had to supply their own equipment and textbooks, although they usually got "hand-me-downs” from the white schools whenever the latter would get new equipment and books.
Chris Hansen was born on October 18, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. His father was a financial analyst and his mother was a homemaker. The family included Chris and his two sisters. In 1969 he received a bachelor’s degree from Carlton College and pursued a childhood dream of becoming an attorney. By 1972 he received his law degree from the University of Chicago. Chris began his career working as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of New York City.
He was responsible for criminal defense cases. In 1973, after one year with Legal Aid, he joined the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union. His primary assignment was mental health litigation. In 1984 he was assigned to the reopened case of Brown v. Board of Education that was focusing on whether or not Topeka Public Schools had, in fact, ever complied with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
When Chris Hansen joined the local legal team working on this case, he replaced fellow ACLU attorney Richard Larsen. The substitution was made because Larsen’s caseload limited the time he could devote to the Topeka litigation. After two years of preparation the case was heard in Federal District Court in October of 1986. Four years later in October of 1992, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the petitioners, stating that Topeka Public Schools did in fact have facilities that were racially identifiable and as a result the school board must develop a plan for remediation. The school district complied by constructing magnet schools and has since been granted unitary status. During the court proceeding, Chris lived in Topeka for one month. He is still with the ACLU and resides in New York.
Cheryl Brown was born December 20, 1950, in Topeka, Kansas. The family included two other girls: Linda, born in 1942, and Terry, born in 1947. Her mother Leola was born in Marvel, Arkansas, and moved to Topeka when she was two years old. Her father Oliver was a Topeka native. In 1950 the Brown family found themselves involved in a class action suit to bring about integration in Topeka’s elementary schools. Mr. Brown was among the parents recruited by NAACP attorney Charles Scott. This group would comprise the roster of plaintiffs once their case was filed.
In 1953 Oliver Brown became the pastor of St. Mark’s AME Church, and the family moved to another integrated neighborhood, this one in North Topeka. One year later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the NAACP case named for Oliver Brown. In the fall of 1955 Cheryl began school in the newly integrated elementary system of Topeka; she attended Grant Elementary. In 1959 Rev. Oliver Brown was assigned to Benton Ave AME Church in Springfield, Missouri, where Cheryl attended Boyd Elementary School. Her father died in June of 1961, and Mrs. Brown moved the family back to Topeka.
In 1961 Cheryl attended sixth grade at Sumner Elementary School. She graduated from Roosevelt Junior High in 1965, attended Topeka High School her sophomore year, and graduated from Highland Park in 1968. Cheryl received a B.A. degree in education from Baker University in 1972 and an M.S. in counseling from Emporia Kansas State College (now Emporia State University) in 1976. She married Larry Henderson on August 5, 1972.
After serving as a classroom teacher and a guidance counselor, she joined the administrative staff of the Kansas State Department of Education. In 1988 she, along with a co-worker, established the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research. In 1990 she successfully worked with Congress and the Department of Interior to establish the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. She serves on various national, state, and local boards and is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Cheryl still resides in Topeka, along with her husband, son, her mother, and sisters.
Zelma Henderson is listed among the thirteen parent plaintiffs in the Brown decision. As a case petitioner she is noted as Mrs. Andrew Henderson. Zelma was born in Colby, Kansas, a small town 60 miles from the Colorado border. Her date of birth was February 29, 1920. Her parents were also born in small Kansas towns. Her father Thomas Hurst started life in Ozawkie, and her mother, Bansy Belle Hurst, in Oskaloosa; both communities are located just north of Topeka. Her parents married and moved to Kansas City where the first three of their five children were born. Her father left his job at a Kansas City packinghouse to move his family to Oakley, Kansas, near Colby. His plan was to homestead and farm. Two more children were born including Zelma.
The Hurst children attended integrated rural schools through high school. For most of that time they were the only African American family in the county. When Zelma Hurst graduated from Oakley High School in 1940, she moved to Topeka to find work and attend the Kansas Vocational School at Topeka, a segregated training school for African Americans. Not many years after arriving in Topeka she married Andrew Henderson and completed cosmetology training. She quickly became an entrepreneur opening a beauty salon in her home. Her aspirations were fueled by the discrimination present in the Topeka job market. Zelma had been an "A” student with excellent typing skills, but when she applied for clerical work she was always, turned down and offered domestic work instead.
Now as Mrs. Andrew Henderson, she continued to be active in her church, St. John AME, and other civic endeavors. Two years after their 1943 marriage, the Hendersons started a family with the birth of daughter Vicky, followed later by son Donald. Having grown up in a small community where schools were integrated Mrs. Henderson was not keen on the idea of her children being forced to attend a certain school based solely on race. She and her husband, who worked at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., provided a good life for their family. It did not take her long to agree to become a plaintiff in the NAACP case to challenge segregated schools. She was asked to join the effort by the Charles and John Scott. In addition, the NAACP President, McKinley Burnett, had been a long time family friend. Mrs. Henderson shared the growing concern about the African American schools not always receiving up to date textbooks; she also did not want her children being separated from other children.
Zelma Henderson died May 20, 2008. Her husband, Andrew, and daughter, Vicky, preceded her in death. Her son, Donald, still lives in Topeka.
Barbara Henry was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1947. Her mother came to Delaware from Florida to attend college, and her father also came from there in search of his brother and work after an incident on his job in Florida. Her family lived in the Hickman Road housing development that was built to house the African American workers at Worth Steel.
Ms. Henry attended State Line Grade School. She has very fond memories of Mrs. Dyson and the overall atmosphere there. It was in sixth grade that she first went to Claymont High. Ms. Henry did not feel that the transition from a one-room school to Claymont was difficult because of the sense of love and security that was provided by Mrs. Dyson and her parents. She felt that the African American boys had a harder time with the teachers, and others at school, than the girls did. There were no African American teachers while she was at Claymont.
Ms. Henry recalls being discouraged from taking college-preparatory classes and directed towards business courses so she could work in secretarial positions. She went to Delaware State College (now University), which was an African American college, but she really wanted to go to the University of Delaware. What Ms. Henry really wanted was to be a teacher, but at the time she did not realize that UD was integrated.
Reverend Elder Barney (E. B.) Hicks was born to Daniel Henry and Carrie Smith Hicks on July 11, 1907, in Wichita, Kansas, the youngest of five children. After his mother’s death, when he was three, he moved to Topeka. Moving with him was his sister, one brother, his aunt, and his maternal grandmother. He was primarily raised by his aunt and uncle. They lived in an integrated neighborhood.
Rev. Hicks attended McKinley Grade School, Quincy Junior High, and Topeka High. He recalls wondering why he had to walk past other schools that were four or five blocks away to get to McKinley, which was twelve blocks from his house. After two years at Topeka High, Rev. Hicks dropped out to help support the family after his uncle came down with rheumatism. However, he was able to continue his education later, through night school, and ended up receiving four degrees.
Rev. Hicks severed as a first lieutenant in the Army Chaplain Corps during World War II. He served at several different posts throughout the United States during the war. His involvement in the Brown case was through the alliance of African American pastors from the Interdenominational Ministries; his actual involvement came about because somehow his name came to be in a newspaper ad against the Board of Education.
Rev. Hicks married his first wife, Effie Mae, in 1927. She passed away in 1960. He remarried on October 10, 1961, in Graham County, Kansas. His second wife was Roena Sayers. Rev. Hicks had four children: three sons and a daughter. Rev. Hicks passed away in August of 1992.
Mr. Charles Hill was born in July of 1937 in Wilmington, Delaware. Before working as the community and school nurse in Claymont, his mother was the private duty nurse for the Du Pont family. His father worked in the wholesale food business. When Mr. Hill started at Claymont School, it contained grades K-12, with two classes for each grade. The school had tremendous community support and involvement. It served as a focal point in the community; Claymont was unincorporated, so there was no town hall or other place to gather.
He was unaware that some African American students tried to enroll at Claymont in 1951; he does not recall there being anything in the paper about it. When school started in the fall of 1952, the students were told that African American students would be attending school at Hickman Road. Mr. Hill felt that the students just accepted this; the incidents of name calling, and the like, seemed to be under circumstances that mostly any kid would do so on any day. During the elementary grades they would go to the State Line School and students there would go to Claymont on occasion, so they had been around each other before. Mr. Hill felt that it was Mr. Stall’s reputation and the "Red Hummer” (his paddle) that kept things from getting out of hand with those students who would have been more active and vocal in their dislike of attending school with the African American students. It was later that they learned that Mr. Stall, the school superintendent, had allowed this despite the State Board of Education ordering him not to.
Mr. Hill had not thought much about Claymont’s role in the Brown case until years later when an article appeared in Life Magazine, when he and a student he helped through nursing school talked about it some (he started a scholarship at Claymont in his mother’s name) and when Claymont was closed between1990 and 1991. Over the years, he slowly began to realize that something more significant had happened there than anyone thought at that time.
Oliver Hill was born May 1, 1907, in Richmond, Virginia. During his childhood the family lived in Roanoke, where Oliver attended elementary school. By the time he reached age twelve, formal education for African Americans had been extended beyond seventh grade. He was among the first group to attend the newly established eighth and ninth grade classes. His mother, and by then stepfather, moved the family to Washington, D.C. It was there that Oliver Hill completed high school.
According to Hill, the turning point in his life came by way of an uncle who died and left him an annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution. It was the receipt of this document that resulted in his interest in the law, and he decided to become a lawyer. While he was working on an undergraduate degree at Howard University, the school itself was undergoing a major change. University President Dr. Mordicai Johnson was determined to make Howard’s fledgling law school into a first class program. He began by hiring the scholarly and ambitious Charles Hamilton Houston, a recent Harvard Law School graduate. Houston was to be both the dean of the Law School and one of its prominent professors. When Oliver Hill applied to Howard’s Law School, it was fast becoming, for African Americans, the best in the nation. He and Thurgood Marshall were classmates. After graduation he passed the Virginia Bar exam. However, several years passed before he began practicing law in Virginia.
After serving in the Army during World War II, he returned to Richmond and immediately became involved in cases to equalize teachers’ salaries. In addition, the firm Hill was now employed by had taken on a school integration case in Montgomery County. It was during this time that he received a call from sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns explaining that students in Farmville, Virginia, were staging a strike for better schools; they needed his help. Oliver Hill was persuaded to assist the striking students. His actions ultimately led to the case of Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board. Oliver Hill still resides in Richmond, Virginia.
Christina Jackson was born on August 15, 1926, in Topeka, Kansas. Her parents were Georgia and Jess Edwards. She only attended school through the eleventh grade, having dropped out to get married, but received various kinds of training through her positions as a volunteer coordinator and a receptionist for the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles. Over the years she has been involved in numerous community activities and programs. She and her husband, Enoch, have eight children.
Mrs. Jackson attended Washington Grade School, East Topeka Junior High, and Topeka High School. The thing that stands out the most in her mind about Washington was the music; every morning, at a certain time, principal Ridley would lead the whole school in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The school also had a Health Room where some students were served breakfast. Ms. Jackson also recalls the fact that the teachers there were very strict; students did not get away with talking back to the teachers. Even her children, who attended Monroe School and were then transferred to State Street School, recalled being surprised by students being allowed to talk back to the teachers. She also remembers the stressing of African American history at Washington, and the other African American schools, by Mr. Ridley.
The Brown case impacted Mrs. Jackson’s children. They started out attending Monroe School, but after the case, they were transferred to State Street School. She recalls that the faculty at the school really tried to integrate the students; they were generally accepted, and the students were told how to behave towards one another. Not having to bundle up her kids and walk them down to the bus in the freezing cold was the best thing that resulted from the case as far as she was concerned; the white schools were not. Children felt that they were treated better at State Street than they were later on at Holliday Junior High. This was not necessarily better to her, but it was closer to where she lived. She partly attributed this to the fact that the kids at State Street knew her children from the neighborhood. It was at Holliday that Mrs. Jackson’s children ran into problems with instances of name-calling and such.
Mr. Eugene Johnson was born on October 15, 1920, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He moved to Topeka with his aunt and great-aunt when he was just three years old. At that time his mother, Theota Lee Johnson, was attending the normal school in Topeka. Mr. Johnson married Charline Hoard on September 22, 1952, in Lawrence, Kansas.
Mr. Johnson attended Monroe Grade School, Crane Junior High, and Topeka High School. In 1925 he started attending Monroe. At that time it was the old two-story building. It was in 1926 that the Monroe School that people are more familiar with was built. To help prepare the students for the integrated setting at Crane Junior High, special teachers were brought in once a month to help with penmanship, music, and drawing.
The hardest thing to adjust to at Crane for Mr. Johnson was the fact that students had a homeroom, but other than that, students went from classroom to classroom. The athletic teams were integrated, unlike at the high school level. Topeka High was a lot larger than the students coming from Monroe had imagined. There were no African American teachers at Topeka High at this time. While the school choir was integrated, the sports teams were not, except for track. However, the intramural teams were integrated, so that is how many of the African American students got to play football against some of the white students.
The Booker T. Washington Club there was a type of "social club” for the male African American students at Topeka High. There were separate dances (prom, etc.) for the white and African American students. Mr. Johnson remained active in the Boy Scouts during high school; the scouts gave out baskets during the Depression. The Gay Knights was a group of African American guys who hung out together. The group was made up of Mr. Johnson, Charles Scott, and some guys from Tennessee Town, as well as a few guys from other parts of Topeka. This was the "in” group; they had parties and even had a sister club, the Stella Puellas. The Bachelor Boys were a group of older guys who formed around the same time as the Gay Knights. Other clubs included the Owl Club and the Pleasure Mirrors.
In 1938, he dropped out of high school after his junior year to go through the Civilian Conservation Corps before enlisting in the Army. When he returned to Topeka, after leaving the Army in 1945, he passed the equivalency test for high school and started working at his aunt’s restaurant, Jean’s Sandwich Shop. In 1947 he started working as a reliever at the Motive Power Building at Santa Fe. He joined the Army Reserves and re-enlisted in September of 1950, but was discharged in August of 1951.
The "Back Home Reunion” was co-founded by Eugene Johnson, along with Charles Scott and Carl Williams. It’s an attempt to reunite former classmates from the four African American grade schools. They started out meeting every two years, but moved it back to every three years to make it easier to organize and for people to come.
Lois Johnson was born in Hockessin, Delaware, in 1940, the third of eight children. She was born in the house next door to the one where she currently lives. At the age of six she started attending school at Hockessin School 107; the school was about two blocks away from her home. She has very fond memories of the school and its teachers. The children usually went home for lunch, and there was a nice playground, even though there was not a lot of equipment for the children to play on. Ms. Johnson was aware of the Bulah v. Gebhart case, but did not pay much attention to it at first. However, she did know Shirley Barbara from school and church.
Ms. Johnson started attending Howard High School in 1954 or 1955, after it had been integrated. Her mother prepared her for this by telling her about the case and what had happened to some of the children who went there. She was reluctant to go; she did not grasp what integration was since she played with white, African American, and Latino children. However, the white children she played with at home did treat her differently at school. The principal, who was also one of Ms. Johnson’s teachers, read a note in class from the mother of one of the white children saying she did not want her child going to school with African American children. This really hurt her because she played with this woman’s child and did not realize that she felt this way.
Katherine A. King was born in Topeka, Kansas, the oldest of a family that included one brother and four sisters. Her mother, Bessie Hicks King, was born in Tonganoxie, Kansas, one of twenty-six children. She died on March 10, 1966, and is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery along with her husband who died on November 3, 1957. Her father, Richard Leonard King, was born in the farming community of Neely, Kansas; the town is now defunct.
Katherine began her formal education at Clay School. This was an all white school, except for her family. In sixth grade she was transferred to Buchanan Elementary, a segregated school for African American children. She graduated from Topeka High School and received her B.A. degree from Washburn University, a master’s from the University of Kansas, and engaged in postgraduate study at Emporia State and Colorado State Universities.
Ms. King began her teaching career in a one-room school in Hugoton, Kansas, where she was responsible for all elementary grades. She distinguished herself while teaching in Topeka by serving as a building representative, on teacher salary committees, textbook committees, and in extra curricular leadership with the Girl Scouts and Audubon Society. When she retired, she had been a teacher for 44 years. Katherine King still resides in Topeka.
Mr. John Land III was born in Manning, South Carolina, in 1942. He has been practicing law in Manning since March of 1968, and since 1976 he has been serving in the state Senate continuously. His district is 65% African American and 35% white.
During the time that Mr. Land was going to school, the schools were fully segregated. He attended Manning High School while African American students went to Manning Training School. He was away at college during the period of the Briggs case and, later on, the Brown case. However, he does remember the controversies that preceded the Briggs case, due in part to the fact that his father’s service station had a large African American clientele. Both his father and his uncle continued to extend credit to their African American clients during the period leading to and including the Briggs case, even though their white counterparts had not done so.
Rev. Maurice Lang III, a native of Topeka, was born on June 29, 1928. His mother, Ruth Sterling, was born in 1914; she passed away in 1945 and is buried in Topeka. Maurice Lang, his father, was born in Topeka. He died in 1945 and is also buried in Topeka. There were four other children in the family besides Maurice III.
Although his family lived in integrated neighborhoods, he attended segregated schools for white children. As a child Maurice was a student at Sumner and later Grant Elementary Schools. It was not until he enrolled at Topeka High that he experienced integrated schooling. After high school he attended Bible college in Los Angeles, California. He returned to Kansas and married a local girl by the name of Opal. His new family grew to include four children.
He began his career with an unsuccessful attempt to organize an African American branch of the Four Square Gospel Church. He eventually became good friends with fellow Minister Rev. Oliver Brown and his family. In the late 1950s he served as assistant pastor of St. Mark’s AME Church, working alongside Rev. Brown. In 1959 the AME Church reassigned both men. Rev. Lang became the first white pastor of an AME congregation in Manhattan, Kansas. Rev. Brown was assigned to Benton Avenue AME Church in Springfield, Missouri.
In 1961 Rev. Brown brought his family to Topeka to visit relatives. Because church business required him to return to Missouri, he asked Rev. Lang to accompany him on the trip. After several days while in route to pick up his family in Topeka, Rev. Brown became gravely ill resulting in his death. It was his friend Maurice who was with him in his final hours at St. Francis Hospital. Maurice Lang has encountered two historic figures in his life. In the 1950s he met and talked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and became very close friends with Rev. Oliver Brown. Rev. Maurice Lang still resides in Topeka.
Mr. Henry Lawson was born on August 31, 1929, in Crawford County, South Carolina. He has lived in that area for all of his life. His father was a sharecropper of sorts. The school term was only seven months long and centered around the agricultural crops. Mr. Lawson helped his father in the field after school and, along with his mother and other siblings, during harvest time. When he started school, he attended Scotch Branch School. That was not the original name of the school, but the name given to the new school that was built after its predecessor burned down when Mr. Lawson was in the second grade. The new school was a wood building without insulation and electricity until Mr. Lawson was in the fifth grade. For first grade through sixth, there was one room per grade; for grades seven through ten (high school went up to the tenth grade) the classes were combined into two grades per room.
Mr. McCord was the county superintendent over the African American and white schools at this time. The students had desks and textbooks that were "hand-me-downs” from white schools. The school did not provide some textbooks, and the students had to provide their own pencils and paper. This meant that some had to borrow from others, since this was during the Depression. They had a dirt basketball court; there was no gym.
Mr. Lawson was aware of the Briggs case. He was invited to attend a meeting that was called by the students at Scotch Branch. They had gone to the principal over their concerns about the textbooks and other things in the school. They were told if they did not leave his office, their transcripts, and therefore their ability to graduate, would be affected. It was a result of this that the parents bought a school bus and asked the school district to help keep the bus up and running. It was sometime after the district’s refusal to help fund the school bus that the NAACP became involved and filed the suit.
Clara Ligon was born in Prospect, Virginia, and spent part of her childhood in Sorrow, Pennsylvania. Her parents separated resulting in a move back to Virginia for Clara and her mother. They settled in Prince Edward County just outside of Farmville.
Her mother sent Clara to live with her aunt in Bedford, Virginia, so she would not have to attend the rural one-room school in the county. After finishing the eighth grade she returned and joined the student body of Moton High School, the only segregated secondary school in the area.
Her high school years were uneventful because she lived 22 miles from town; it was difficult to participate in extracurricular activities. During her freshman and sophomore years she walked to school. Finally through the efforts of the African American community leaders a school bus made available and Clara’s trip to school became easier. Clara graduated in 1947 before the infamous student strike, which led to the school integration case of Davis v. Prince Edward County.
Dr. Ernest Manheim was born in Hungary to a Hungarian father and an Austrian mother on January 27, 1900. Hermine Wengraf, his mother, died in 1950 and is buried in Budapest. His father, Joseph Manheim was born in Zenta (formerly part of Hungary). Mr. Manheim died in 1925 and is also buried in Budapest. Dr. Manheim had a sister, Marguarie, who passed away in 1968. His wife, Sheelagh, was born in British Columbia, Canada, on November 14, 1943. The couple was married in Kansas City, Kansas, and has two daughters.
Dr. Manheim studied sociology in Hungary; Austria; Germany; and in London, England. He moved to the United States in 1937 to study at the University of Chicago. His interest in sociology stems from his feeling that the Austrian monarchy was natural and divine and had always existed, so that when it was dissolved, he wanted to find out more about its background, which history did not explain. Dr. Manheim's first experience with class distance between African Americans and whites was in 1937 when he invited members of a synagogue near Chicago to his house, and only the white members showed up. The African American graduate students told him that they knew that his invitation did not really include them.
Dr. Manheim moved to Kansas City in 1938 because he saw it as having a typical American community that was not too big or too small. The president of Kansas City University (KCU), now the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), let him have a free hand in choosing what direction his department would take academically with the curriculum. When he started at the university, there were no African American students enrolled. The first African American was admitted to the Law School after applying a second time. Slowly more African American students were admitted without resistance from white students or the faculty. The fact that there were African American students enrolled at KCU was kept out of the papers for three years, so that by the time the news was released, it was already an accepted fact.
Dr. Hugh Speer, then dean of student education at KCU, asked Dr. Manheim to testify on behalf of the Browns. The decision, he felt, was based on what the Supreme Court and lower courts found to be true rather than on his testimony. He also felt that the decision was inevitable because of the changing social and economic situations in the United States. Dr. Manheim continued to teach at KCU and UMKC until 1968. He still considers Kansas City his home even though he has taught elsewhere since then.
Mrs. Clementine Martin was born in Newton, Kansas, on September 7, 1910. Her parents were Eva (Bradshaw) and C. James Phelps. Her mother—who died on May 5, 1970—was born near Larned, Kansas; she is buried in Topeka. Her father was born in Columbus, Kansas. He passed away on February 22, 1937, and is buried in Springfield, Missouri. Clementine Martin was the oldest of three children. Her maternal grandmother’s family homesteaded in Jetmore, Kansas; one of her grandfathers was a justice of the peace in Emporia, Kansas.
Mrs. Martin’s father worked for the Santa Fe and Frisco railroads as a cook. As a result, she attended grade school in Chilicothe, Illinois, as well as in St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri. She attended high school at Sumner High School in St. Louis, and briefly in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before the family moved back to Springfield, Missouri, where she attended Lincoln High School. It was not until she went into the St. Louis school system that Mrs. Martin attended a segregated school. In Springfield the family lived in an integrated neighborhood, but the children attended segregated schools there as well. Public facilities and businesses were also segregated.
Mrs. Martin went to Washburn University for a year before leaving college to marry Eugene Martin; she met her husband at a party on the campus of the University of Kansas. Mr. Martin was born on October 11, 1911, in Topeka. His father, T. P. Martin, was a doctor who shared an office with another doctor on the corner of Fourth Street and Kansas Ave. Mr. Martin was one of a handfull of nonwhite (mostly African American) policemen that worked for the City of Topeka. The couple was married in Topeka on August 25, 1939. Mr. Martin passed away in November 1949. The couple’s daughter, Eva Louise Blythe of Kansas City, Kansas, was born in January 1950.
Mrs. Martin remembers how things opened up for African Americans after World War II, but it really was not until the mid to early 1950s (after her husband’s death) that things began to open up on a larger scale. Mrs. Martin was unable to join any civil rights organizations early on since her husband worked for the city. The Martins were not directly involved in the Brown case because their daughter had not started attending school at the time the case was filed. Mrs. Martin is a long time member of the Kansas Association of Colored Women. She also belongs to the American Legion Auxiliary.
Connie Menninger was born on November 10, 1931, in Newton, Massachusetts, to Marian (Prince) and Henry Libbey. Mrs. Libbey passed away on May 14, 1974, in Delray Beach, Florida. Mr. Libbey died on June 16, 1984, also in Delray Beach; both are buried there. Mrs. Menninger had one brother, John Libbey. She married Dr. William Walter Menninger on June 15, 1953, in Palo Alto, California. The couple met while students at Stanford University; they were both working for the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily. The couple had six children.
The couple moved to New York so that Mr. Menninger could attend Cornell University Medical School. While in New York, Mrs. Menninger worked as a TV program analyst for NBC until she became pregnant with the couple’s first child. While at NBC, she covered what the network broadcast on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown decision. She did not return to the workforce until 1976 when her youngest child was in the third grade; she worked as an administrator for St. Francis Hospital’s Robert Wood Johnson grant program. Mrs. Menninger left that position after four years.
The Menningers’ children attended Randolph Elementary School which was predominantly white, as well as Boswell Junior High and Topeka High School, which were more diversified. In 1983 Mrs. Menninger entered the University of Kansas Master’s of Museum Studies graduate program; she received her degree in 1985. She started working for the Kansas State Historical Society in the summer of 1983 as an intern. After her internship, she worked as a grant employee for the Historical Society acquiring, arranging, and describing permanently valuable records of the Santa Fe Railway. When funding for the position ended, she continued for almost 15 years as a volunteer, primarily working with the manuscript collections and handling reference requests concerning the Santa Fe Railway collection. She also worked as the archivist at Menninger at the same time.
Mrs. Menninger was elected to the Topeka Board of Education in 1969. She was aware that there were no women or other minorities on the board at that time; the last woman to serve on the board was twelve years prior to that. She ran because she wanted to be more involved with what the schools were doing; she felt that would benefit her six children. She made a point of visiting every school in Topeka; no board member had done that for years. Mrs. Menninger also served on the Kansas Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She died in Topeka on April 13, 2008.
William Mitchell, Jr., was born in Perry, Oklahoma, on June 21, 1913. The family moved to Topeka, Kansas, in 1915. His mother, Vivian (Anderson) Mitchell, was born in Waco, Texas. Mrs. Mitchell died in 1968, and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Topeka. W. A. Mitchell, William’s father, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri. He died on June 2, 1953; he is also buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Topeka. William Mitchell has five brothers and sisters. His grandfather was a Methodist minister in St. Joseph, Missouri, but he was originally from Oklahoma.
Mr. Mitchell attended Washington and Sumner Elementary Schools; he attended Sumner before it became an all white grade school and he was transferred to Buchanan Elementary School. He attended Crane Junior High and dropped out of high school in the tenth grade; he began selling newspapers on Kansas Avenue. Later he shined shoes in a place that was a shining parlor and a dry cleaner. While working there he learned how to operate a clothing press. At the same time, he waited tables at the Jayhawk and Kansas Hotel on a part-time basis and at the Women’s Club when he could.
Mr. Mitchell enlisted in the Army; in 1933 he went to Civilian Conservation Corps Camp at Camp Funston on the Fort Riley military reservation. He married Lucille Mitchell on March 19, 1937, at Antioch Baptist Church in Topeka. Mrs. Mitchell was born in Wewoka, Oklahoma. She died on October 6, 1983, and is buried at Topeka Cemetery.
Mr. Mitchell belongs to the American Legion, the Elks, and is a Mason, as well as being a member of the Antioch Baptist Church. In past years his favorite hobby was playing pool. He still lives in Topeka.
Leola Williams was born May 7, 1921, in Marvel, Arkansas. Her parents, Carrie and Edward Williams, were sharecroppers. They had moved to Arkansas from the Delta region of Mississippi. In 1923 the family, which included Leola and her older brother Robert, relocated to Topeka, Kansas. Mr. Williams moved the family on the advice of his brother who was living in the city and working for the Santa Fe Railway. Mr. Williams was hired by Santa Fe and the family began a new life.
Leola and her brother attended Monroe Elementary, a segregated school for African American children, and Lincoln Junior High for 9th grade. She graduated from Topeka High School in 1939, where she was inducted into the National Honor Society and was elected All School Queen by the African American Students. Although junior and senior high schools were integrated extra curricular activities were segregated. On August 16, 1939, she married her high school sweetheart, Oliver Leon Brown. Leola was eighteen and Oliver, born August 2, 1918, was twenty-one. Three years later the couple started a family; on February 20, 1942, their first daughter Linda, was born. In 1947 they had a second daughter, Terry, and in 1950 a third daughter, Cheryl.
In the summer of 1950 Oliver Brown agreed to participate in a Topeka NAACP plan to integrate public elementary schools. He joined with twelve other parents who would become plaintiffs in a class action suit against the Topeka Board of Education. Charles Scott, one of the local NAACP attorneys, was a friend of the Brown family and convinced Oliver to participate. In February when the case was filed, it was ironically named for Oliver Brown, principally because he was the only male among the parent plaintiffs. Leola had just given birth in December, to their third child and could not participate. As a result the Topeka NAACP school integration case was called Oliver L. Brown, et al., v. Board of Education.
In 1953 Oliver Brown became the pastor of St. Mark’s AME Church. In 1959 the family moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Brown was the pastor at the Benton Avenue AME Church. Leola remained a homemaker until Oliver’s death from a heart attack in 1961, after which Leola moved her family back to Topeka. She worked part-time for nine years at J.C. Penney Co. and thirteen years at Merchants National Bank. She remarried in 1973. Her second husband, Thirkield Montgomery, died in 1993. She retired at age sixty-three and still resides in Topeka along with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Judge Constance Motley was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, near Yale University; everyone she knew worked at Yale. She decided to become a lawyer because she knew of only two African American women lawyers, yet there were other female professionals. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Gaines case in 1938 (Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada) also influenced her. It made her realize that if you were a lawyer you could do something about discrimination.
Judge Motley was a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team; she worked on one of the four other school segregation cases that were being tried around the same time that the Brown case was being tried in Topeka. She started working as a law clerk for the Legal Defense Fund in October 1945 while a senior at Columbia Law School. She continued working there after she passed the bar. While there she got to argue cases at the Court of Appeals level as well as in front of the U. S. Supreme Court. She felt that this is experience she would not have gotten working at a law firm.
Judge Motley recalls seeing very few women lawyers during her time at the Legal Defense Fund. She tried cases in eleven Southern states and Washington, D.C., but remembers only three women. One was the solicitor for the Labor Department. Outside of government agencies, the Legal Defense Fund, while headed by Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg, had the most cases go before the Supreme Court. Judge Motley argued ten cases in front of the Court between 1961 and 1964.
After the Brown case, Judge Motley was involved with school cases in Atlanta, Savannah, Brunswick, and Albany, Georgia. She had 12 cases in Florida where the conditions of the schools were much worse than the situation in Topeka. Judge Motley was also the one who tried the case of James Meredith who wanted to attend college at the University of Mississippi. She tried other college cases as well. Judge Motley left the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in February of 1965 to become the first female president of the New York Borough of Manhattan. She left there in September of 1966 to become the first African American woman federal judge. She died September 28, 2005, in New York City.
Ida Norman was born Ida Sheffield, in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 22, 1914. After finishing high school she pursued a career in nursing, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University. In the late 1930s she served as a registered nurse at Douglass Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, and from 1938 through 1940 as a nurse and health supervisor at the Kansas Vocational School in Topeka. She married Leo Norman on December 24, 1945. To this union was born a daughter, Norma Jean Norman.
After their marriage, the couple began life as a military family. Her husband was in the U.S. Navy. In the early 1950s the family returned to Topeka from Seattle, Washington. At that time Mrs. Norman became the first African American school nurse for Topeka Public Schools. She was assigned to the four segregated schools for African American children. After the Brown decision, her schedule included several of the formerly segregated schools for white children, along with the new Head Start Program. She tried to no avail to persuade the district to hire more African American School nurses.
Ida Norman also broke barriers by starting the first African American Girl Scout troop in Topeka. She saw many changes after school integration. Mr. Norman is now deceased, and Ida now lives in the care of her daughter, Norma, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethel Louise Ransom was born on April 18, 1920, in Topeka, Kansas. She is the daughter of Jenny B. Collins and James Louis Ransom. Her father was a medical doctor; his father was a minister. Doctor Ransom provided medical care to most of the African American community in Topeka. As a result her family achieved prominence within the city. After her parents divorced, Ethel Louise lived with her grandmother in Salina, Kansas, until her second year of high school. Her years in Salina were marred by racism. In high school she was not allowed to participate in gym class because of racial discrimination. Still in her teens, she moved to Pasadena, California, to live with her mother and finish high school.
Ethel Louise returned to Topeka, after graduating from high school, to live with her father and to attend Washburn University. At age 21 she married James Woodson, whom she met in college, and traveled with him during his military service in the U.S. Army. After World War II, the couple settled in Topeka. Her husband completed law school at Washburn University and they started a family. Their two children, Sharon Louise and James Ransom, would have very different educational experiences. Sharon attended segregated elementary schools until 1954. She completed elementary school at the newly integrated Quinton Heights School, where her brother would later attend kindergarten through sixth grade.
While her husband began his private law practice, Ethel Louise completed her degree and began teaching remedial reading in the Topeka Public School system. After the Brown decision of 1954, her husband was elected to the School Board. He died November 3, 1982. Later Ethel Louise remarried and relocated to Kansas City, Missouri. Her second husband, Arthur Parks, died February 17, 1997. She still resides in Kansas City. Her daughter, Sharon, lives in Los Angeles, California, and her son also lives in California.
James Parks was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1914. He is the eldest child of Rosa Anna (Draine) Parks and James A. Parks, Sr. His mother was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, and his father hailed from Windsor, Missouri. In later years the family grew to include twin boys, Sherman and Sheriden.
James and his brothers attended Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, which was located across the street from their home. Ironically this same school would later close its doors to African American children and become a segregated school for whites only. His education included graduation from Roosevelt Junior High and Topeka High Schools. He married Julia Etta in 1941 and in 1942 James became specialist first class in the U.S. Army.
After returning from World War II he became one of the coaches of Topeka High School’s segregated African American basketball team the “Ramblers.” Although both junior and senior high schools were racially integrated, extra curricular activities were segregated. By 1948 James Parks had completed his undergraduate degree from Washburn University. From there he joined the staff of a wholesale drug business, a job he would keep until retirement. Both James and his wife were active in the Topeka community. He served as a church trustee at St. John AME. for some 40 years. He was also an active member of the Omega Si Phi fraternity. In 1961 and 1962 he was one of four commissioners on the Topeka Planning Commission. Later in life he volunteered for Meals on Wheels and the Topeka Housing Authority.
James Parks passed away on October 12, 1997. The couple’s only child, James III, died in 1999. Dr. Julia Etta Parks still resides in Topeka.
Dr. Julia Etta Parks was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on April 5, 1923. Her parents were Idella Johnson of Kansas City, Missouri, and Hays Long of Hannibal, Missouri. She had one sister who died during childhood. The family moved to Topeka when Julia Etta’s father became a maitre d' at the Jayhawk Hotel. She attended Monroe Elementary, a segregated school for African American children. She went on to Crane Junior High and Topeka High during her secondary years; both schools had integrated student bodies. After graduating from high school she married James A. Parks in 1941 in Tecumseh, Kansas. She had a son, James Pace Parks III, of Illinois, who died in 1999.
The young couple joined the historic St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church. They met in this church and were members there for more then five decades. Another central part of the African American community was the Kansas Vocational School at Topeka (KVS), a segregated trade school. Dr. Parks and her husband attended KVS, which at the time was considered one of the hubs of African American life in Topeka along with Fourth Street, which was the black business district. This district was a major social and business outlet for African Americans. It included drug stores, barbershops, and a dance hall and tavern, which hosted entertainers such as Count Basie and Jay McShann.
Julia Etta started college when her son entered junior high school. She received her bachelor’s and master’s from Washburn University and her doctorate from the University of Kansas. Her major was education, specializing in reading instruction for elementary and secondary students. She taught at Lowman Hill Elementary School and Washburn University. The Parks’ son also attended segregated Monroe Elementary School, and went on to Boswell Junior High and Topeka Senior High. He also graduated from Washburn University. Her husband is now deceased. Dr. Julia Etta Parks still resides in Topeka.
Ferdinand Pearson was born in South Carolina; he was the youngest of four children. Pearson’s family had been slaves. Mrs. Pearson, his mother, died when he was just six years old; his father remarried and had seven more children with his second wife. Mr. Pearson’s father was a farmer who owned his land in Clarendon County; he grew corn, peas, cotton, and rice. As a young man, Mr. Pearson spent several years in Baltimore, Maryland. He was drafted into the Army during World War II; he served in the European theater. He was in the Army for three and a half years.
Many times a year, Ferdinand was kept out of school to help on the farm. The school year came out to be about four months long due to the children missing so much school to help on their family’s farm. Mr. Pearson’s first school was a one-room schoolhouse with two teachers. After that school was closed, he attended Bob Johnson School. That school featured a potbellied stove and two rooms; there were no desks, only benches. Mr. Pearson had to walk between five and eight miles to get to school.
Pearson’s siblings from his father’s second marriage were involved the civil rights lawsuit centered around transportation to and from school for African American children which later became known as the Briggs case. They had a sixteen-mile round-trip walk to school. Mr. Pearson’s father bought an old truck to take many of the kids to school. He later helped the community buy a bus to transport the children to school, but it was difficult to keep it in working condition. After the county repeatedly refused to help with the upkeep of the bus, the parents turned to the NAACP.
After the lawsuit was first dismissed on a technicality, many of the petitioners lost their jobs. Mr. Pearson’s father was denied credit to buy the supplies he needed to keep the farm going, so Ferdinand sent him part of the money he made while in the Army. Ferdinand Pearson still resides in the area.
Thayer Brown Phillips was born in Topeka, Kansas, on December 21, 1921, to parents Madia (Brown) and Jesse R. Phillips. He has a sister, Talayah Miller, and a brother, George, who passed away in 1967. Madia Phillips was also born in Topeka, but Jesse Phillips was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Jesse was recruited by Santa Fe to work as a strikebreaker during the 1936 railway strike. The family moved around the country because of Jesse’s job with Santa Fe. Both parents are buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Topeka.
Thayer Phillips attended elementary in Alameda, California, and then the family moved back to Topeka, so he attended Crane Junior High for a year. At that time, junior high for African Americans was only a year. So after a year off, Mr. Phillips went to Topeka High School; he graduated in 1941 at midyear. On February 27, 1941, he enlisted in the Army. Thayer was stationed at Fort Riley; he helped with the building of the fort and was a member of the famed 9th U.S. Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers. He left the service in November 1945. About a year after he left the service, he started attending classes at Washburn University on the G.I. Bill while working at the V.A. Hospital. Eventually he would earn a master’s degree in social work from the University of Kansas.
Thayer Phillips married Barbara Jean Sheffield in Kansas City, Kansas. She was born in Hot Springs, Oklahoma. The couple’s son, Jesse R. Phillips, was born on March 8, 1951. Mr. Phillips still resides in Topeka.
Jean Price was born in Wichita, Kansas, on June 16, 1929, to parents Mamie (Richardson) and Glover Scott. She had two sisters and one brother. Her mother was born in Ottawa, Kansas; in 1946 she died as a result of breast cancer when Jean was sixteen years old, and is buried in Wichita. Glover Scott was born in Louisiana. He passed away in 1942, after being hit by a car while riding his bike, when Jean was just twelve years old; he is also buried in Wichita.
In Wichita, Mrs. Price attended segregated schools in grades first thru eighth, but went to integrated North High School. However, when she moved in with her aunt and uncle in Kansas City, Kansas, after her mother’s death, she went to segregated Sumner High School. After a year, she moved to Los Angles, California, to live with another aunt and uncle. The schools there were integrated. She graduated from North High School in Wichita and went on to attend Wichita University (now Wichita State University).
It was when she was in the seventh grade that Mrs. Price started working outside the home; she washed dishes for a neighbor every evening. After graduating from Wichita University with a teaching degree, she took a teaching job in Wichita. She attended classes at the University of Kansas and received a master’s degree in education from Emporia State University. Jean taught for 38 years.
Jean married Gratz Price on April 30, 1955; he was also born in Wichita, Kansas. Gratz’s father was a dentist who had moved his practice from Wichita to Topeka. The couple was introduced to each other by one of Jean’s former teachers. Mr. Price worked for the Santa Fe Railway. The couple adopted a five-year-old girl, Pamela (Price) Long.
After they were married, Mrs. Price stayed in Wichita for a while since she could not find a teaching job in Topeka. She finally found a job in 1956 at Topeka State Hospital as the first to teach the emotionally disturbed children who were patients there. After three or four years, Mrs. Price moved onto a teaching position at Parkdale School; she was the only African American teacher there. From Parkdale she went to Lowman Hill; she taught there until her retirement. Mrs. Price still resides in Topeka.
Fred Rausch, Jr., grew up in East Topeka, Kansas. The neighborhood his family lived in was within two blocks of Mud Town. His father, who was born on a farm near Kingbury, Kansas, became a paint contractor after working as a painter for Santa Fe for several years. He met Fred’s mother while working for Santa Fe in Beaumont, Texas. Fred Rausch attended Parkdale Elementary School and Lincoln Junior High. After a year and a half, he was transferred to East Topeka Junior High.
Fred Rausch was elected to the Topeka School Board in 1957. He decided to run for the school board because as an assistant attorney general for the state, he was charged with representing the superintendent of public instruction. Mr. Rausch became interested in the Board and had several children in the school system, so he decided it would be a good idea to run for it. He served on the Board for twenty years.
He recalls the first year’s task for the School Board was to integrate the teachers. The Board’s attorney informed them that they needed to do this. He remembers that the African American teachers who were moved to predominantly white schools faced opposition from some parents, but that after a year or so, they had parents requesting their children be put into the classes of those same teachers. There was also some opposition from African American parents about their children having white teaches; they felt that the white teachers would not be able to understand the kids as well as their former teachers had. This died out in a year or so as well.
Mr. Rausch recalls that the schools were integrated by creating neighborhood schools in which no child attended a grade school that was more than six blocks from home. Students attended the junior high school that was within a one-mile radius of their home. The Board felt that this was what the Brown decision meant, that children who lived across the street from a school should be able to go to that school. However, this theory did not take into account neighborhood shifts that would result in a lesser degree of integration in some schools. His two oldest children went to three different schools in three years because of the city’s expansion to the southwest and the subsequent shifts in school boundaries. Mr. Rausch left the Topeka Board of Education two years before the Brown case was reopened in 1979.
Connie Rawlins is a native of Prince Edward County, Virginia. She is one of four children in a family of two boys and two girls. Although her siblings attended private schools outside of the county, by the time Connie was ready for school the Great Depression was in full swing and she had to attend public school. Public schools only extended to seventh grade. However, the Martha E. Forrester Council of Negro Women worked tirelessly to add one grade each year. They raised money for equipment and books. Their efforts eventually resulted in the establishment of the R.R. Moton High School. Connie graduated from the new high school as a member of the first graduating class. Moton High School would later become the center of controversy during a strike by the African American student body wanting better facilities.
She attended college at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia, where she met Mrs. Vera Allen, a woman who would be a positive influence in Connie’s life. Connie’s teaching career began in Cumberland County, Virginia, where she taught social studies for three years. It was while in Cumberland she met and married Dr. Albert G. Rawlins. The couple eventually relocated because Dr. Rawlins began working for a hospital in West Virginia. Their three children were born in West Virginia.
Because of the isolation of the area, Connie Rawlins returned to Farmville in Prince Edward County. She taught high school there until 1959 when the segregated school closed. She relocated in order for her son to finish high school in Charlottesville. They returned to Farmville in 1965. She recalls the shock of being a teacher in the midst of the student strike, even though she understood that better facilities were needed. She vividly recalls the tarpaper shacks that served as extra classrooms.
During the time that Joseph Richburg, Sr., was in school, his family lived the rural area of South Carolina called Spring Hill. It was part of School District #8. The first school in the area was held in the Spring Hill Church. There were only two teachers at that time; the parents of the students were responsible for providing the wood needed to keep the school heated. The school went up only to the fourth grade. From the fifth grade on, the children had to go to school in Summerton; Mr. Richburg went to Scotch Branch, which was seven miles from his home. He was able to take his father’s horse and buggy except when it was time to plow the fields and harvest the crops. At this time, the Richburgs had some white neighbors whose children were able to take a bus into Summerton. When it became time for him to start the eighth grade, Joseph’s father said he needed him at home to help with plowing the fields and harvesting the crops.
Mr. Richburg was married by the time the Briggs case came about. His wife was originally from St. Paul; her father had sent her to Sumpter, South Carolina, to attend Morris College. After completing her second year, she quit school, got married, and began teaching; she taught at Joseph’s former school in Spring Hill. In an effort to improve school conditions, the community bought some barracks and assembled them on the two acres of land that they had also bought. The NAACP convinced the community that they needed to sue the district for equal transportation and equal facilities. At that time, Mr. Richburg’s uncle, E. E. Richburg, was the local branch’s secretary, and his other uncle, Lawrence Richburg Rives, was the president. Joseph did not join the suit when the petition was first circulated because he knew that his wife would lose her teaching job if he did. He was later convinced to do so, and Mrs. Richburg did not have a teaching job between 1955 and 1956.
Mrs. Richburg lost her job right after the family had built a new house. Mr. Richburg was farming as well as working for the Veterans Administration. He was retraining farmers who had served in the military. Eventually his wife went up North with a group of teachers and found work, but the teachers were not paid a comparable wage. In August of 1956, Mr. Richburg went to Baltimore, Maryland, where his wife was staying. He worked as a barber for a while, and then he went into construction work for a time. From November of 1956 to 1967, he worked in a meat plant. In 1967 the Richburgs moved back to South Carolina, but their children stayed with relatives in Baltimore.
Mr. Richburg, Sr., is currently a member of South Carolina’s School Board for School District #1. He owns a barber shop and does not plan to retire anytime soon.
Richard Ridley was born in Topeka, Kansas, on February 10, 1929. His mother, Maude (Brandon) Ridley was born in 1909 in Jefferson City, Missouri. She passed away in 1984 and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Topeka. Dana Ridley, his father, was born on January 14, 1906, in Topeka. Frances Ridley was born in Osage City, Kansas, on August 1, 1930. Her parents were Regina (Grant) and King Price. Mrs. Price was born in 1909. King Price passed away on May 6, 1991; he is buried in Topeka. Richard and Frances Ridley were married on July 15, 1952, in Topeka. The couple has three sons and one daughter.
Mr. Ridley went to Monroe Elementary School while Mrs. Ridley went to school in Holdrege, Nebraska; Her family was the only African American family in the town. Richard recalls that his education from Monroe was outstanding; it did not seem inferior to him. He was valedictorian and president of the senior class at Topeka High School. He attended the University of North Carolina and the University of Colorado. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree, and was 12 hours away from an LL.B. degree when he left school. Mr. Ridley was in law school when the Brown decision came down from the U.S. Supreme Court. He knew the local attorneys involved with the case. The Ridleys reside in Topeka, and Mr. Ridley still works as a social worker.
Willie Spencer Robinson was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1937 at Memorial Hospital; he is an only child. His mother was a graduate of Howard High School in Wilmington. His father worked in a steel mill. Both parents’ families were from Virginia. Spencer went to elementary school in the one room State Line School. From the seventh to the tenth grade he attended Howard High School. He had to walk about a mile to catch a city bus to get to the high school. His father insisted that Spencer finish high school, since he only went to school through the third grade.
At the age of fourteen, Spencer got his first job at the Tea House in Wilmington washing dishes. He worked there for nearly three years. After the case, his father gave him the choice of staying at Howard or transferring to Claymont High School for the tenth grade; his mother wanted him to go to Claymont. Someone put Spencer through some training so he would be use to hearing the type of verbal abuse he might encounter at Claymont without reacting to it.
After high school, Mr. Robinson went into the Air Force as a mechanic. He met his wife while stationed in South Carolina for three years. They got married in 1959. ; he was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Spencer Robinson passed away on October 19, 1997.
Merrill Roy Ross was born on December 28, 1919, in Flatlick, Kentucky, to Tamra (Patton) and Richard F. Ross. His mother was born in Ely, Kentucky, while his father was born in Rogersville, Tennessee. Both of Merrill’s parents are buried in Topeka. He married Barbara Jackson on June 12, 1951, in Charleston, West Virginia. She was born there on August 10, 1926, to parents Gertrude (Campbell) and James Jackson.
Their life’s work and their childhood experiences centered around education. Mrs. Ross graduated in 1947 from West Virginia State College. Mr. Ross took a detour, after two years at Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University), which resulted in a history making opportunity.
In 1941 Mr. Ross joined a U.S. military experimental program offering pilot training, for the first time, to African American soldiers. On December 6, 1941, Merrill Ross made his solo cross-country flight. That flight placed him in the history books because he was now among the ranks of the famed and highly decorated Tuskegee Airmen.
After military service he returned to college. A family member living in Coffeyville, Kansas, persuaded him to transfer to Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg (now Pittsburg State University) in Pittsburg, Kansas. He went on to complete graduate work at the University of Chicago with additional study at the University of Minnesota.
Merrill Ross met his wife during a teacher-recruiting trip while visiting friends at Lockbourne Air Force Base (now Rickenbacker Air Force Base). Barbara Jackson was living at the base with her sister’s family. A mutual acquaintance knew she was seeking a teaching position. After a brief courtship and marriage, the couple settled in Topeka. School district policy in Topeka prohibited married women from teaching. Mrs. Ross raised their children, Karen and Brian, and served as a substitute teacher. By 1954 Mr. Ross had become principal of Washington Elementary School. This was one of the four segregated schools for African American children. Washington was among the schools named in the Brown case.
In 1963 Mr. Ross became assistant principal of one of the formerly segregated schools for white children. He served as principal of various elementary schools until he retired in 1985. In 1993 Highland Park South Elementary School was renamed in honor of Merrill and Barbara Ross. After returning to teaching, Mrs. Ross taught school there until 1989. It is now known as Ross Elementary School. Mr. and Mrs. Ross still reside in Topeka.
Constance Sawyer was born in Topeka, Kansas, on April 5, 1932, in Christ’s Hospital (now Stormont Vail Medical Center). Her parents were Theata (Cyrene) and Daniel Sawyer. Theata Sawyer was born in September 1910 in Topeka; she died in March 1952 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Topeka. Daniel Sawyer was born in Topeka on April 5, 1902; he passed away in January 1950 and is also buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Topeka. Constance is one of six children born to Theata and Daniel Sawyer. Constance Sawyer’s grandparents, freed during the Civil War, were homesteaders in the Topeka area, and her grandfather was active in the leadership of the NAACP’s Topeka chapter from its formation in 1913. Ms. Sawyer attended segregated Buchanan Grade School. The school was a mile from her home; she recalls having to run to keep up with the older kids on the way to school. As a result, Ms. Sawyer moved in with her great-grandmother who lived across the street from Buchanan. That year, the parents of the African American students where successful with their petition to get the children bused to school.
Her father had a key role in the formulation of the NAACP’s plan to challenge segregation in the schools. African American students had a hard time passing their classes in junior high because by the time they got there, they were informationally two years behind the white students. This was due to the fact that the African American schools received older textbooks after the white schools bought new ones.
This situation eventually led to the Graham case where Tinkham Veale and William M. Bradshaw, representing Ulysses Graham’s parent, argued that junior high school was part of high school, and by not providing similar education for African American students, these children were denied rights under the U.S. and Kansas Constitutions. The Court found that the refusal to permit twelve-year-old Ulysses Graham to enroll in a junior high school was discriminatory. As a result, some of the African American teachers were fired as result of the junior high schools being opened up to African American students in the seventh grade.
In 1942 or 1943, Ms. Sawyer’s father tried to enroll her sister Grace at Lowman Hill as part of the local NAACP branch effort to test the legality of segregation itself. This attempt failed, as did the 1947 attempt with her sister Mary. Ms. Sawyer remembers Esther Brown coming to Topeka to help raise money for the challenge; she stayed with the Todds when she was in town. She also recalls the leadership of the local branch having a hard time convincing Oliver Brown to become a plaintiff in the case. This was not uncommon since the men involved with the challenge were putting their livelihood at stake; Reverend Brown also had a heart condition.
Mrs. Vivian Scales and her sister Mrs. Shirla Fleming (deceased) secured their places in the history books as two of the thirteen plaintiffs in the NAACP’s Brown case of 1954. Mrs. Scales was a participant on behalf of her daughter Ruth Ann. Mrs. Fleming participated on behalf of her sons Silas and Duane.
Vivian was born March 11, 1922, in the small central Kansas community of Winfield. Her parents were Ella (Palmer) and James Willhoite. Mrs. Scales was one of eight children. She was entering third grade when her parents, Sarah and James Willhoite, moved their seven daughters and one son to Topeka. Both parents had come to Kansas from the South. Her mother was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and her father in Memphis, Tennessee. Ironically Winfield was a second-class city based on population and according to Kansas law could not operate segregated schools. Consequently Vivian and her siblings came to Topeka’s segregated schools from an integrated rural education.
Once in Topeka, she attended McKinley Elementary, one of the segregated schools for African American children. From there she went on to Curtis Junior High and Topeka Senior High, both integrated schools. However, the high school was only integrated for academics. Extra curricular activities were segregated. After graduation she married George Scales (born August 3, 1919, in Topeka, Kansas) on August 5, 1941, and started a family.
As a young wife and mother she joined the Topeka NAACP along with her sister Shirla. It was through the organization that they were asked to participate in a class action suit to challenge segregated public elementary schools in Topeka. She was willing because her daughter, Ruth Ann, attended segregated Washington and later Monroe Elementary Schools. Both of these schools were of some distance from their home while Parkdale Elementary School for white children was just two blocks away. In the fall of 1950, she and her sister took a stand. By following the instructions given by NAACP legal counsel, their unsuccessful attempts to enroll their children in public elementary schools designated for white children only provided evidence to file a court challenge to the Board of Education racial segregation policy. Her sister’s husband has been quoted over the years for his testimony in this case. "The only way to reach the light is to start our children together in their infancy and they will come up together.”
Mr. & Mrs. George Scales still reside in Topeka. Their daughter Ruth Ann (Scales) Everett, her children and grandchildren also reside in Topeka.
Berdyne Scott was born on July 5, 1918, in Topeka, Kansas. Her parents were Beatrice (Thompson) and Victor Anderson. Beatrice Anderson was born in Del Rio, Texas, because her father was a telegrapher working in Mexico and Del Rio was the nearest American town; he could not get a job with Santa Fe since he was African American. Mrs. Anderson died in 1989 and is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Victor Anderson was born in Topeka; he also died in 1989 and is buried in Washington, D.C. Berdyne is one of four children the Andersons had.
As a young child, Mrs. Scott lived in the area of Topeka referred to as Sand Town. She went to McKinley Elementary School, which was an hour’s walk from her home. Next, she attended Curtis Junior High; this was before the Graham case in 1941 that ended segregation at the junior high level. In 1935, Berdyne Scott graduated from Topeka High School. While in high school, she worked in the law office of her future father-in-law, Elisha Scott. After graduating, she went to Chanute Junior College (now Neosho County Community College) in Chanute, Kansas; while in Chanute, she worked in a doctor’s office. Later, she moved to Washington, D.C.; she worked in the Government Printing Office, attended Howard University, and met and married her first husband. She graduated from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, in 1951.
Berdyne Scott’s first husband was Alfonza W. Davis. He was born in Florida in 1919 and primarily grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. They met while he was a member of the 9th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) at Fort Riley. She married Mr. Davis in 1941 in Washington, D.C. After Mr. Davis died, she married John J. Scott in St. John’s AME Church in Topeka in 1947. In 1955 the couple moved to Washington, D.C.; Mrs. Scott taught in area schools including Charles Young. She took early retirement after five years. After a time, the Scotts returned to Topeka where Mrs. Scott gave workshops on the importance and meaning of the Brown case without the help of outside funding. Mrs. Scott passed away on February 6, 2000.
Deborah Scott was born in Topeka, Kansas, on August 31, 1953. Her mother, Louise (Crawford) Scott, was born in Ponca City, Oklahoma; she passed away in December of 1989. Charles Scott, Sr., Deborah’s father, was born in Topeka. He died six months before his wife on March 3, 1989. Both of her parents are buried in Topeka. She has one brother Charles Scott, Jr.
Deborah Scott went to segregated Buchanan Elementary School for kindergarten; it was a few blocks from where she lived. The next year, she attended Lowman Hill Elementary School as a result of the Brown decision. Lowman Hill was just a block from her home. She felt that the sense of unity present at Buchanan was lost at the integrated school; she felt the teachers were more interested in the performances of the students. From the first grade on, the only African American teacher that Deborah Scott had was Dr. Julia Etta Parks. (Dr. Parks was her third grade teacher.) Deborah attended Boswell Junior High and Topeka High School.
Ms. Scott does not feel that either she, or her brother, was treated any differently in school as a result of who their father was. They just knew a lot of people who treated them like family. She says that it was quite a cultural shock when her father’s death, and subsequent funeral, drew such a vast amount of attention and media coverage. Over the years Deborah worked in a variety of fields. She’s worked at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, the Kansas Neurological Institute, and Josten’s American Yearbook, not to mention serving in the Army as well. She also started work on a psychology degree at Washburn University.
Deborah Scott sees the positive and the negative effects that desegregation has had on society. It has improved the opportunities available to African Americans, yet at the same time, they have lost some of their historical and cultural heritage. She feels that complete integration has not occurred yet. Ms. Scott still lives in Topeka.
Dorothy Scott was born in Topeka, Kansas. Her mother and stepfather raised her. Her mother, Elizabeth Jackson, was born in Mississippi. The family lived in Kansas City until Dorothy was six years old. When they returned to Topeka, she attended Washington Elementary, a segregated school for African American children. She was so impressed with her teachers that she decided, while in elementary school, that she wanted to become a teacher. Dorothy’s grandfather had taught school in Mississippi before he opened a small store.
Dorothy received her bachelor’s degree from Washburn University and began teaching in the segregated elementary schools of Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Her next teaching experience was in Kansas City, Missouri. While teaching there she met her future husband, Edward Scott. They married in Topeka in 1943. The couple moved to Ohio where her husband taught at Wilburforce University. He died in 1952 after their return to Kansas City, where he served as principal of St. Joseph’s High School. Dorothy moved to Topeka and resumed her teaching career. In 1954, after the Brown decision, she was assigned to Parkdale Elementary, a previously segregated school for white children.
She holds a master’s degree from the University of Kansas, post graduate hours from the University of California at Berkeley, and has international teaching experience. Dorothy Scott was one of 36 teachers selected to train African and European teachers in Africa. She still resides in Topeka in her original family home.
C. E. “Sonny” Scroggins was born on June 11, 1951, in Checotah, Oklahoma. His grandparents in Oklahoma raised him. His godmother was part white, and had an air about her as if she was better than everyone else; this led Sonny to be the exact opposite of her. Until he entered the eighth grade in 1965, he attended segregated public schools. Nevertheless, Sonny grew up in a family setting that was ripe with activism and the push for civil rights.
His family history traces back to Red River County, Texas, where they were the slaves of the Guest family. Mr. Scroggins’ great-great-great-grandmother was Isaac Guest’s mistress; she had children by him. There are some twentieth century celebrities who are related to that side of the family including Vice President John Nance Garner and the poet Edward Guest. His family moved to Oklahoma shortly after the birth of his grandfather. Some members were sharecroppers, but others were professionals (i.e., a plumber, a blacksmith etc.).
Sonny Scroggins became active in the NAACP at a very young age—he was between ten and eleven years old. At one time, he was the chairman of the Junior NAACP (now the Youth Council). He participated in sit-ins and run-ins at the local businesses in Checotah, Oklahoma. His family held meetings and other types of gatherings in their home as well. Sonny followed his older sister to Topeka in 1965. One of the projects he worked on in Topeka was getting Monroe Elementary School on the National Register of Historic Places.
Judge Collins Seitz was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1914. His family has resided in the state for many years; both his parents and his maternal grandparents were born there. His paternal grandfather was born in Alsace, France, and came to the United States sometime between 1860 and 1870. Judge Seitz’s father worked at the Du Pont Company as a construction engineer.
Judge Seitz attended St. Ann’s Catholic School through the eighth grade. He got his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and law degree from the University of Virginia Law School. He received a Du Pont scholarship to attend law school. He decided to become a lawyer after hearing a debate between Clarence Darrow and Clarence Wilson on the Eighteenth Amendment. While at the University of Delaware, he had a job with the State Board of Education; he was the driver for the director of adult education. He taught at several different law schools over the years and really enjoyed doing it. He was also chancellor of a law school.
The school desegregation cases came to the Chancery Court of Delaware because in that state the Chancery Court has the sole jurisdiction to grant injunctions. As chancellor of the court, he traveled to Hockessin and Claymont to look at the schools before he made his decision in the Belton v. Gebhart case; he did the same thing in a case against the University of Delaware. The judge had never gone to any type of segregated school as a student, but as a lawyer he was always for the underdog. Judge Seitz was also involved in the desegregating of Sally; he wrote a letter to the school’s principal. President Johnson appointed the Judge Seitz to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 1966 after being recommended by Delaware Governor Albert Carvell. Judge Seitz died October 16, 1998, in Wilmington.
Irving Sheffel moved to Topeka in February 1949 to work for Karl Menninger at the Menninger Clinic. At the time he was working in Washington, D.C., at the Veterans Administration in the Medical Department. When he took the job at the Menninger Clinic, his background was in administration; his wife knew more about psychiatry than he did since she worked as a psychiatric social worker. Dr. Karl Menninger offered the job of chief of administration at Menninger to Mr. Sheffel, and he accepted the position.
Mr. Sheffel has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago. Then he completed a year of graduate school, but went to work for the federal government instead of finishing his master’s degree. It was at the University of Chicago that he met his wife who was working towards a bachelor’s degree in history. Mr. Sheffel was drafted into the Army on January 6, 1942. After three years he became a major and was in charge of the Finance Office. He served overseas during World War II. When he was discharged, he went to Harvard and received a master’s in public administration.
Mr. Sheffel’s wife knew more about the segregation situation in Topeka than he did. She quickly got involved with groups working to improve the conditions of the poor and fighting against discrimination. He recalls that Dr. Karl Menninger was always working to decrease the amount of discrimination present in Topeka, but does not recall the doctor being directly involved with the Brown case. Mr. Sheffel did not have a lot of time to follow the case because the Menninger Clinic was playing a key role in reforming the state hospitals in Kansas.
Dr. Hugh Speer was born on a farm near Olathe, Kansas, in 1906. His parents were Camellia (Shonir) and Henry Speer. The couple had three other children. Both of his parents taught at the college level. Mr. and Mrs. Speer are buried in the Olathe Cemetery. Catherine Edwards, Dr. Speer’s wife, was born in Dobbs, Maryland. The couple was married in 1930 in Washington, D.C.; they have two daughters.
Dr. Speer spent a year at Tarkio College after graduating from Olathe High School, mainly for a job writing the college news for papers in Kansas City; Omaha; St. Joseph, Missouri; and Des Moines. He finished his undergraduate studies at American University, College of Liberal Arts, in Washington, D.C. There he met his future wife, Catherine Edwards, who worked in the Library of Congress. He received his master’s degree from George Washington University.
During World War II Dr. Speer served in Italy as a field director with the Red Cross after being turned down by all the branches of the armed forces for minor medical reasons. After the war, he became the director of the Veteran’s Advisement Center at Kansas City University (KCU) (now the University of Missouri–Kansas City). After two years, he left to pursue his doctorate degree at the University of Chicago. Dr. Speer then returned to KCU as the chairman of the Education Department.
Dr. Speer became involved with the Brown case through contact with Esther Brown and the Kansas City Jewish Community Center. Mrs. Brown needed some help to move the Brown case along, and Dr. Speer was a good friend of Sid Lawrence, the director of the center, who contacted him about helping the NAACP and Mrs. Brown with the case. He started out by meeting with the Topeka school administrators, Kenneth McFarland and Don Garr, who tried to talk him out of getting involved. He also met with some of the community leaders and a few of the African American residents. The NAACP asked three things of him: to survey the schools to see if they were equal, to help recruit expert witnesses, and to be a witness. Dr. Speer passed away on June 21, 1996.
Stanley Stalter moved to Topeka, Kansas in September of 1949 to become the principal at Quinton Heights Elementary School. The next year he moved onto Central Park Elementary School and remained there for four years. He then moved to Randolph Elementary School. In the fall of 1955, he was hired as the principal of the new McEachron Elementary School. Prior to moving to Topeka, Mr. Stalter worked in schools in Morris County, Council Grove, and Manhattan, Kansas.
Mr. Stalter remembers that he and the other three principals of the elementary schools in Manhattan had a good working relationship with the principal of the African American elementary school. He recalls the five of them traveling together outside of Manhattan, but not having lunch with him; the principal was African American, so he had to eat elsewhere. Mr. Stalter feels that these experiences helped shape the future career decisions of the four white principals, including Dr. Frank Wilson.
Even though he was an administrator, Mr. Stalter does not recall much being said in meetings about the Brown case until it started to gain substantial momentum. It was Dr. Wilson who had to deny the admittance of Linda Brown to Sumner Elementary School. Mr. Stalter recalls speaking with him about it.
Mr. Stalter’s first real connection with the Brown case centers around the hiring of an African American teacher at Randolph Elementary School in 1955. The teacher alternated half days between Randolph and Whitson Elementary Schools with a white teacher. Mr. Stalter had the task of notifying parents that there would be an African American teacher and asking if he could put their child in the class. Some of the parents were adamantly against it, others gave him odd reasons for not allowing it, but he recalls about 50% of the parents willing to let their child be in the class. Mr. Stalter also states that the following year it was harder to keep the students out of the class because the teacher had such an impact on the students the previous year. However, the next year, the African American teacher was moved to Whitson Elementary School full-time. In 1955, Mr. Stalter recalls having only two African American students at Randolph Elementary School.
Mr. Stalter retired as principal of McEachron Elementary School in 1977. He feels that the Brown decision’s impact on education has been positive.
Carrie Stokes is known historically as part of the team of students who organized a student strike to protest segregated schools in Farmville, Virginia. Along with strike leader Barbara Johnson, the African American student body of R.R. Moton High School went on strike in the spring of 1951. Their school was overcrowded and county supervisors all but ignored the conditions. The county’s attempt to ease overcrowding involved constructing a few "tar paper” shacks to handle the overflow. These buildings were substandard facilities with heat provided by coal burning stoves.
Although Carrie’s parents were raised in Farmville, she, along with her sister and her four brothers, believed circumstances should be better. The Stokes children helped with the family farm. Raising and selling vegetables as well as hogs provided the family’s living. While their father tended the farm, Mrs. Stokes took in laundry and worked as a domestic in several homes.
In 1951, Carrie, her brother, and most of the student body of R.R. Moton High School made history by staging the strike. As a result of their effort, a school integration case was filed. The NAACP petitioned the Federal District Court in Richmond with the case of Davis v. Prince Edward County. Their case was eventually combined with similar cases and heard by the U.S. Supreme Court under the heading of Brown v. Board of Education. Carrie continued her education receiving a degree in business from New York University. She returned to Virginia and currently resides in Farmville.
Charles Sudduth was born on April 12, 1909, in Coweta, Oklahoma (near Tulsa). In 1911, his family was forced to leave town due to a race riot; they loaded a wagon, went to the train station, and moved to Topeka, Kansas. Mr. Sudduth’s parents were originally from Dade County, Alabama, but they had to leave the state due to the fact that they were an interracial couple; his father was white, and his mother was African American. His mother, Dora (Culpepper) Sudduth, was a schoolteacher in Alabama, but became a housewife when the couple moved to Oklahoma. Mr. Sudduth’s father was a cotton farmer and a Baptist minister in Oklahoma, but worked as a handyman in Topeka. His parents started a new church, the Church of God, out of their home; it was a church with very strict religious beliefs. Charles Sudduth was one of the couple's nine children.
Education was an important factor in the lives of the Sudduth children. Charles attended Dr. Charles Sheldon’s kindergarten that was just around the corner from where the family lived. Before then, Charles had always been called Beaut, but a teacher at the kindergarten convinced Mrs. Sudduth to name the boy after the school’s founder. Charles Sudduth attended Douglas Elementary School; it was a two-room schoolhouse where grades one through three were held in one room and grades four through six were in the other room. His older siblings went to integrated Topeka High School. Charles later attended Buchanan School for grades seven though eight and Topeka High School. He had not had much interaction with white people until he went to Topeka High.
Mr. Sudduth graduated from high school in 1922, but he had to quit the football team while in the eleventh grade so that he could get a job to help pay for school. His first job was in a Greek shining parlor, working until seven o’clock every evening and then all day on Saturdays. He made more in tips than he did from his salary. Next, Mr. Sudduth worked in the Santa Fe shops as an apprentice; this is when he met his future wife. However, his parents convinced him to quit and go to college. He went to live with an uncle in Ohio while he was in school, but he started working at Firestone Tire Company. Mr. Sudduth never went to college because he was making so much at Firestone and wanted to earn enough to return to Topeka and get married.
At the age of eighteen, Mr. Sudduth married Mildred Jones of Oskaloosa, Kansas. Soon after, Charles went to work at Dibble’s Grocery Store and then at Green’s Grocery Store. He was the first African American stockman at Green’s Grocery Store, but he was injured on the job, so he had to quit. Mr. Sudduth went back to working for Santa Fe in 1941 as a private office janitor. Next he became the first African American supervisor at Santa Fe. While working there, he helped Ray Clark start a union for the African American workers. Mr. Sudduth retired in 1971 from the position of supervisor of elevator operations and janitors.
Mildred Sudduth passed away in March 1958. Mr. Sudduth was married to his second wife for more than 30 years. He has two sons and one daughter from his first marriage, and two adopted daughters from his second one. The Brown decision really helped his children who were in school at that time. Mr. Sudduth’s brother-in-law, H. L. Burnett, was president of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP when the case was filed. Mr. Sudduth passed away on September 9, 1995; the rest of the Sudduths still reside in Topeka.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, on November 27, 1913, Alberta Temple is the third child of John and Pearl Temple, and the sister of James, Jeanette, and Frederick. Her parents, both of whom were born in Tennessee, supported the family from the earnings of Mr. John Temple’s employment as a mail carrier for the Topeka Post Office. Mr. Temple died in 1968, and Mrs. Temple passed away in 1970; both are buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Topeka.
Like her siblings, Alberta received her public school education at Monroe School and Topeka High School. While attending college during the 1930s, she served on the staff of the Phyllis Wheatley Bureau, a Topeka social service agency for African Americans. In 1938, she received a B.A. from Washburn University, and later joined the faculty at Kansas Technical School, where her sister, Jeanette, once taught. After earning a M.S. degree in home economics from the University of Iowa, she left Topeka to pursue a teaching career at the college level.
For more than a decade she served on the faculties of African American colleges that included Bishop and Prairie View in Texas and Kentucky State College (now University) in Frankfort, Kentucky. She returned to Topeka around 1959 to care for her parents. From the 1960s until her retirement in the early 1980s, she successfully pursued a career in nutrition at St. Francis Hospital and the Shawnee County Health Department in Topeka. Alberta still resides in Topeka.
Frederick Temple, the youngest of four children of Mr. John and Mrs. Pearl Temple, was born in Topeka in 1922. The brother of interviewees Alberta Temple and Jeanette (Temple) Dandridge, he attended Topeka Public Schools, which included Monroe Elementary School during the late 1920s and early 1930s and Topeka High School.
After serving in World War II, Frederick Temple completed his undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Wisconsin in 1947. He also earned a M.S. degree (1948) and a Ph.D. degree (1958) in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin. He began his teaching career by serving on the faculty of several historically Black colleges. In 1950, he joined the teaching faculty at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and continued to serve on the faculty until his retirement during the 1980s.
Upon his marriage to Ray Helen Richard (born on November 11, 1929, in Rougon, Louisiana) in 1951 in Baton Rouge, he became an active member of the Catholic Church. He and his wife, who retired in 1981 from a career as a teacher and counselor for the Baton Rouge public schools, have two children, Doyle and Myra. Mr. Temple is a member of the Omega Phi Psi Fraternity and continues to reside in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Joe Thompson was born on November 2, 1906, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Fannie (Sims) Thompson, his mother, was born in Winnsboro, South Carolina, and his father, William Thompson, was born in Garnett, Kansas. Joe is one of six children. On both sides of the family, his grandparents had been slaves; one of his grandfathers was the spiritual leader of the slaves on the plantation he was on, and when he was freed, he declared himself a Baptist and started a church. The Thompsons moved to Topeka, Kansas, in 1907. Mr. Thompson’s parents are buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Joe Thompson went to school at integrated Highland Park; it was an elementary school, junior high, and high school all in one. The school had always been integrated. He graduated from Washburn University in 1948, after spending time in the Army, and received a master’s degree from Chicago University in 1950. He was an ordained Episcopal minister. Over the years Mr. Thompson worked at a number of jobs in a variety of occupations: the Post Office, Santa Fe Railway, and as a florist. He was the first African American probation officer in Shawnee County, Kansas.
Mr. Thompson married Tracy Harvey of Eudora, Kansas, in Claremore, Oklahoma. Mrs. Thompson passed away in 1956; she is buried in Eudora. Joe Thompson was very active in the Topeka community. In the Boy Scouts, he was a scoutmaster, council commissioner, and the council advancement chairman. He also volunteered at the American Cancer Society and the Red Cross. His hobbies included cabinet making, photography, and carpentry. Mr. Thompson died December 23, 2003.
Linda Brown Thompson was born February 20, 1942, in Topeka, Kansas. The family grew to include two other girls, Terry born in 1947 and Cheryl born in 1950. Her mother, Leola Brown, was born in Arkansas and moved to Topeka at the age of two. Her father, Oliver Brown, was a Topeka native.
The Brown family found themselves involved in a class action suit to bring about integration in Topeka’s elementary schools. Mr. Brown was among the parents recruited by NAACP attorney Charles Scott. This group would comprise the roster of plaintiffs once their case was filed. During the NAACP work to organize a legal challenge, Linda and Terry, one of her sisters, attended segregated Monroe Elementary School. Had it not been for segregation, the girls would have attended Sumner, an elementary school closer to their home. In spite of the public stance taken by Mr. Brown on behalf of his children, Linda’s world did not change.
The family lived in an integrated neighborhood where children of all races spent their free time playing together. However, because of school segregation policies they could not attend the same school. In 1953 Oliver Brown became the pastor of St. Mark’s AME Church, and the family moved to another integrated neighborhood in North Topeka. It would be one year later that the NAACP case, ironically bearing Mr. Brown’s name, would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. By that time Linda was in junior high school. Secondary schools were integrated. In 1959 Rev. Brown was assigned to Benton Avenue AME Church in Springfield, Missouri.
Linda graduated from Springfield’s Central High School in 1961. Oliver Brown died in June of 1961, and Mrs. Brown moved the family back to Topeka. For a short time Linda attended Washburn University and took classes at Kansas State University. She married Charles Smith in 1963. Later she divorced Smith and married Leonard Buckner, who died in the late 1980s. In 1996 she married William Thompson. Linda still resides in Topeka, along with her mother, sisters, children and grandchildren.
Lucinda Todd was born in a small coal mining camp called Litchfield, Kansas in 1903. Her parents had been part of the post Civil War exodus from the South into Kansas. Mr. Slaughter, Lucinda’s grandfather moved the entire family from southern Alabama. Already married, her parents joined the move. Lucinda’s mother, Estella, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and her father, Charles R. Wilson, was born in Georgia.
Since the Wilson family lived and worked the coal mines in a small, second-class city, by population, Kansas law permitted the community’s public schools to be integrated. As a result, the twelve Wilson children were educated in a one-room elementary school attended by both African American and white children. Kansas law of that era only permitted segregated elementary schools in first class cities of fifteen thousand or more residents.
When Lucinda reached the fifth grade, the family moved to Girard, Kansas, because in Litchfield there was no junior high or high school. After her high school graduation in 1922, she attended the Kansas State Teachers College in nearby Pittsburg, Kansas (now Pittsburg State University), for several years. Prior to graduation, she took a teaching position in Joplin, Missouri, but continued her college education. In the late 1920s Lucinda moved to Topeka. She taught at Buchanan Elementary School; one of her students was Charles Scott, later a prominent attorney. She eventually earned her bachelor of arts degree from Pittsburg State Teachers College in 1935 , the same year she married Alvin Todd. However, she had to resign her teaching position, as married women could not teach during those days.
Alvin Todd was born October 10, 1906, in Oskaloosa, Kansas. His parents were from Missouri but passed away at a very early age; his mother died when he was nine years old. In 1916, he went to live with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas, where he attended New York Elementary School. They later moved to Oskaloosa where he continued his education , graduating from Oskaloosa High school in 1928. After graduation, Alvin moved to Topeka where he attended Washburn University for two years. He was always a good provider, supporting his family in the background while his wife participated as one of the key member of Topeka’s NAACP chapter during the years of the Brown v. Board case. He finally retired from his position as a personal assistant to Dr. Karl Menninger in 1975.
Mrs. Todd had been a member of the NAACP since 1935, but admitted she did not become concerned about segregation issues until the birth of her only child, Nancy. In 1948, Lucinda became secretary of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP. That same year, Lucinda also became secretary of an ad hoc group called Citizens for Civil Rights, headquartered in her home. Their primary efforts surrounded a lengthy document called a “Writ of Mandamus” prepared by Mr. Daniel Sawyer that outlined a proposal to the Topeka Board of Education to end segregated elementary schools. As part of this effort, Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Fayetta Sawyer, walked through Topeka’s black neighborhoods collecting over 1,400 signatures in a petition to the Board of Education requesting an end to segregated elementary schools. The board rejected their demands outright.
In 1949, Mr. Walter White, Executive Secretary of the national NAACP office, was making a ten city speaking tour through several midwestern cities. During his visit to Topeka, he was a guest of the Todd family. Mrs. Todd had the opportunity to discuss the segregated elementary school situation in Topeka and the efforts then underway.
As efforts by the local NAACP to desegregate Topeka’s elementary schools had in Mrs. Todd’s words, became unbearable, On August 29, 1950, Mrs. Todd wrote Walter White. In her letter, she reminded him that he had been a house guest the previous year and asked if his legal defense team could be of some assistance as the local chapter had already decided to seek redress through the courts. Letters from Topeka chapter officers, McKinley Burnett and Attorney Charles Bledsoe quickly followed. Their efforts brought both the national Executive and Legal Defense Fund (LDF) teams to Topeka to work closely with the Topeka chapter of the NAACP in developing legal strategies for a case soon to be called Reverend Oliver Brown, et al., v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Lucinda Todd’s home became the site of the strategy meetings that set the wheels in motion for the Brown case. As part of their strategy, the legal team asked citizens to volunteer as plaintiffs for the upcoming court case. Lucinda Todd was the first of twelve other Topekans to volunteer on behalf of her daughter Nancy. Mrs. Todd was the only plaintiff who was a member of the NAACP, and the only educator. The second to volunteer was her friend Mrs. Lena Carper on behalf of her daughter Cathy.
After the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1954 ending legal segregation in public schools, Mrs. Todd returned to teaching. Her first teaching job was at Pierce Addition Elementary School; the last segregated elementary school in Topeka. She retired in 1965. Mrs. Todd passed away in 1996.
Ruby Brown Walker is the only living sibling of the late Oliver L. Brown, for whom Brown v. Board of Education is named. She was born in Topeka on July 14, 1911, one of ten children in the Brown family. The family was deeply rooted in Topeka, beginning with their mother, Lutie Bass Brown, born in 1883, and their father, Francis "Frank” Brown, born in 1871. They are both buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Ruby’s parents worked hard to provide for their growing family. Her mother was a domestic worker who cooked, ironed, and cleaned in several homes. Her father worked a short time in the coal mines of Burlingame, Kansas; from there to the Topeka Transportation Company; and finally as a custodian for the Santa Fe Railway. Her parents divorced, and her father left Kansas and moved to Butte, Montana. He died at the age of 58 in California.
The Brown children attended segregated Buchanan Elementary School, one year of Boswell Junior High, and went to Topeka High School. Ruby graduated in 1930. By 1938 she had completed her vocational pursuit and became a Board certified beautician. In 1940, she opened her own shop in Topeka. After she married Carl Harris in 1943, the couple moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1945. Ruby again opened her own shop in Kansas City and spent her spare time helping her husband with his tavern.
Ruby was not living in Topeka at the time the NAACP case, bearing her brother’s name, was being organized. She divorced Mr. Harris in 1958, and by the early 1960s she had returned to Topeka to care for her ailing mother. Back in the city, she worked as a nurse’s aide for St. Francis Hospital. It was also at this time, 1961, her youngest brother Oliver died at the age of 42. In 1970 she married Claude Walker; the couple divorced in 1979. Ruby Brown Walker still resides in Topeka.
Lacy Ward was born February 9, 1961, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a youngster he was sent to his parents’ hometown of Farmville, Virginia, to attend school. He lived in that rural community with his Aunt Flossie Hudson. Ms. Hudson taught school and was known in the area for her quick response during attempts by local African American students to integrate the schools in Farmville.
In the spring of 1951, local African American teens staged a strike at their high school to protest the poor facilities. By summer, the teens had secured the services of an NAACP attorney and their case was being heard in Federal District Court. Once the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Brown case, county officials closed all the public schools in Farmville, disregarding the integration ruling. Lacy’s aunt, Flossie Hudson, opened a community school for African American students in her home to keep them in school during the four-year school closure.
As an adult Lacy Ward joined the staff of Congressman Lewis Franklin Payne, Jr.; Farmville was part of his Congressional district. Prior to Payne’s retirement in 1996, Lacy assisted a local group, the Martha E. Forester Women’s Club, with efforts to preserve and interpret Farmville’s school integration history. The court case, which emanated from their community, was eventually part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Lacy continued his efforts under the newly elected Congressman Virgil H. Goode, Jr. Lacy Ward’s mother was elected, in 1996, to the infamous Board of County Supervisors, the group responsible for the 4-year school closure. Lacy along with his wife and two children reside in Roanoke, Virginia.
Vadeth Whiteside was born in Perry, Kansas, on March 6, 1913. Her parents were also Kansans. She is the daughter of Isabella (Bella) Rosella Bland of Jefferson County (died ca. 1962) and Moses Jones (died ca. 1923) of Oskaloosa. Her fraternal grandfather had been enslaved in Kentucky. He escaped with his family and found his way to a farm located between Perry and Oskaloosa. Vadeth was the third youngest of nine children. The Jones children attended integrated country elementary schools in Jefferson County and Perry High School. In her late teens she lived with her older sister and attended Topeka High School.
At the age of seventeen, she married and moved to Denver where she found work in a hat repair shop. After returning to Topeka, she worked in retail prior to seventeen years of employment at the Menninger Foundation. Vadeth Whiteside has been married three times. Her first marriage was to Paul Bryant of Perry, Kansas. The second marriage was to Harold Hearst of Ozawkie, Kansas, and her third and final husband was James Whiteside of Independence, Missouri. She had two children, Barbara and Dean Bryant.
Her children attended Washington Elementary, one of Topeka’s four segregated schools for African American children. In the summer of 1950 Vadeth was asked to participate in the NAACP legal challenge to school segregation. Although she did not accept the NAACP offer, once her daughter graduated from Washington School, Vadeth enrolled her son in private school to escape segregated public schools. She believed he would receive a better education.
Her sister was married to McKinley Burnett, president of the Topeka NAACP. Vadeth was a member of the organization, but unlike her sister she was not actively involved. Vadeth Whiteside now resides in Phoenix, Arizona.
Carl Williams, Jr., was born in Topeka on March 21, 1920. His parents, too, were Kansas natives. Geneva Jackson Williams, his mother, was born in Columbus and Carl Williams, Sr., his father, was born in Eskridge. The family included Carl and one brother, Claude. In 1948 he married Wanda, a young woman from Wabaunsee, Kansas. The couple has three children.
Carl was raised in an integrated neighborhood in South Topeka. He graduated the eighth grade from Monroe Elementary, a segregated school for African American children. He attended ninth grade at Crane Junior High School and graduated from Topeka High School in 1938. Both schools had integrated student bodies. During high school, Carl played basketball on the segregated school team the Ramblers. He was the first African American student to be in the Topeka High School A Capella Singers Club. His education beyond high school includes an associate degree in corrections from Washburn University. He began his career in the National Youth Corps.
In 1943 he became a mechanic in the Santa Fe Railway Shops in Topeka. It was during this time that he met and worked with Oliver Brown. For a short time he also worked at the Santa Fe Shops in Needles, California. He returned to Topeka and was drafted during World War II into the Army. His military service ended in 1946. He returned to work at the Santa Fe Shops; from there he was a charge aide at the Topeka State Hospital for 23 years. After attending Washburn he became a tax examiner for the State of Kansas. His final employment prior to retirement was as a lieutenant with the Kansas Department of Corrections. He has been and remains very active in African American organizations and civic clubs. Carl Williams and his second wife still reside in Topeka along with one daughter and her family. His other daughters live in Massachusetts and North Carolina.
James Samuel Williams, Jr., was born in New York City in 1933. When he was six months old his parents separated and then divorced, so his mother moved back to Farmville, Virginia. His parents were originally from there; he lived with his maternal grandparents. The three major influences in his life were his sixth grade teacher, Arthur Jordon; Professor Hall who taught African American history at his grade school; and George Watson, who was his high school football coach.
Mr. Williams attended Robert R. Moton Elementary School (now Marion Grant Elementary School) for grades one thru seven. There was no junior high; high school was eighth thru twelfth grades. Outside of school activities, he was active in the Boy Scouts and the First Baptist Church. While in high school, J. Samuel Williams took part in the student strike; he has always been somewhat of a leader, and in 1951 he was the senior class president. He had also become dissatisfied with the conditions at the high school compared to those at the white high school. During the strike, the students walked downtown and met with the superintendent of schools, they discussed the situation amongst themselves, and had a mass meeting at the First Baptist Church. Representatives from the NAACP were at the church meeting. His mother, who was teaching at Cumberland, was very supportive of the student strike; she understood what it was they were trying to accomplish.
After high school, Mr. Williams served in the Army. In 1960 he was a student at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He graduated in 1962 and enrolled in the School of Religion in Union, North Carolina, in 1963. He graduated from there in 1967 after leaving to work and teach school for a few years. He took part in the seven demonstrations that the students held there, during which the Student Nonviolent Coodinating Committee (SNCC) was formed. He was the chairman of the Steering Committee as well as taking part in the demonstrations. In 1963 he took part in the demonstration in Farmville that lead to the desegregation of the theater and the hiring of African American workers at Safeway. He also took part in the demonstration to integrate the Farmville Baptist Church; he was arrested for that.
Mr. Williams was ordained as a minister on January 1, 1961, at the First Baptist Church of Farmville. After getting his degree from the School of Religion, he went to Buffalo, New York, where he was the supervisor for community development at Settlement House. At the same time, he was also the director of the Social Service Department for the Council of Churches for Buffalo and Erie County, New York. He was also the fiscal director for the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the stateside counterpart of the Peace Corps. The Williamses moved back to Farmville in 1977 and still reside there.
Frank Wilson was born in the small southeast Kansas town of Moran. After high school he attended two years of junior college in Iowa. He returned to Kansas and taught in a rural elementary school while taking classes toward a degree at Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg (niow Pittsburg State University). His master’s degree was obtained from Colorado State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.
Frank Wilson began his teaching career in a one-room school in Eureka, Kansas, and also taught in two other Kansas communities, Augusta and Manhattan. He arrived in Topeka in 1947, and served as principal of Sumner Elementary, a segregated school for white children. His tenure there was from 1947 to 1951. In the fall of 1950, the Topeka NAACP was in the midst of a plan to challenge segregation in public schools. Sumner was among the schools targeted by the organization. Frank Wilson was in his office when Oliver Brown attempted to enroll his daughter at Sumner as part of the NAACP strategy.
In 1951 Wilson was assigned for one year as principal of State Street Elementary, another segregated school for white children. From there he served for 25 years as principal of Whitson Elementary, which was also a segregated school. While at Whitson he witnessed the change, after the Brown decision, to integrated public schools. The last five years of his career were spent as principal of McCarter Elementary School. Frank Wilson and his wife still reside in Topeka.
Harriet (Stephens) Wilson was born May 6, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. Her father, Harry T. Stephens, was a Topeka native and her mother, Senah Ramsey Stephens, was from El Dorado Springs, Missouri. The Stephens family included three girls and one boy.
Harriet attended Topeka Public Schools including Lowman Hill Elementary, Boswell Junior High and Topeka High School. She graduated from the newly constructed high school as part of the class of 1936. Her post secondary education took place at the University of Kansas. She graduated from college in 1940 with a degree in English. Her degree was followed by one year of graduate work.
Harriet met Paul Wilson while attending the University of Kansas. After graduation they married in 1941 at the home of her parents in Topeka. Over the years the couple started a family, which eventually included four children: three daughters and a son. Throughout her life Harriet Wilson worked as a substitute teacher. She also supported and advised her husband Paul as he began his career as an attorney.
In 1950 they found themselves in the midst of a history-making journey. By that time Paul Wilson had joined the staff of the Kansas attorney general. He was immediately assigned to represent the state in a class action case against Topeka Public Schools. The case also named the State of Kansas as a defendant. Little did they know that Paul would find himself arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education. Harriet Wilson considers herself an amateur historian. She still resides in Lawrence, Kansas.
Paul E. Wilson was born on November 11, 1913, in Quenemo, Kansas, to Clara (Jacobs) and Dale Wilson. His mother was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 14, 1891, and died in 1963. His father was born in Lucas, Kansas, and died in 1973. Both are buried in Quenemo. Another son, Morris, resides in Overbrook, Kansas.
Mr. Wilson is noted for his role as the attorney of record for the State of Kansas in the Brown case. In 1951 it was his responsibility to defend the state statute that permitted segregated public schools. Mr. Wilson was born on a farm near the small rural community of Quenemo, Kansas. Quenemo, 40 miles southwest of Lawrence, is where he made his home. Until his recent death, he was semi-retired from a professorship at the University of Kansas Law School.
Mr. Wilson graduated from high school in 1930; he was a member of a small rural senior class of only 50 students. Even as a high school student his leadership skills were evident through positions as both class president and valedictorian. He arrived at his first day of school in a horse drawn buggy driven by his mother. From then on he walked the four-mile round-trip to and from school. The one-room school he attended all grades in shaped his commitment to education and led to his eventually seeking a college degree. Paul Wilson was a third generation Kansan. In the 1870s his paternal grandparents migrated to Kansas from Indiana. Years later, his maternal grandmother migrated to the state after living in both Illinois and Missouri. His parents, like his grandparents before them, made their living from the land. The multitude of farm chores helped to shape Paul’s commitment to hard work.
Although his father had not completed grade school, Paul set high standards for himself. He decided while in high school that after graduation he would study to become a lawyer. However, the Great Depression and poor economic conditions in Kansas delayed his plans to attend college for three years. By 1933 he had worked and saved enough money to afford college tuition. That same year, he enrolled at the University of Kansas (KU). He received an undergraduate degree in political science in 1937, a graduate degree in 1938 from KU, and his law degree from Washburn University in 1940.
Like so many young men of his day, Mr. Wilson was called on to serve his country during World War II. He was in the military for nearly four years. After military service he returned to home in Lyndon, Kansas, joining his new wife Harriet Stephens. She was born on May 6, 1917, in Topeka; the couple was married on June 18, 1941, in Topeka. Four children were born to the union: three daughters and a son. An ongoing interest in government led Mr. Wilson to seek elective office. He served two terms as county attorney, resigning during his second term. That same year he moved to Topeka to become an attorney for the Department of Social Welfare.
In December 1951, he joined the staff of the State Attorney General’s Office. The first case he was assigned to was Oliver L. Brown, et al., v. The Board of Education of Topeka. His role in the appeal was to represent the state’s interest during the Supreme Court proceedings. In 1957 he joined the faculty of the University of Kansas Law School. He semi-retired from KU in 1981, keeping part time office hours until his death. He published his memoirs in a book called A Time to Lose. Mr. Wilson passed away on April 22, 2001, in Lawrence, Kansas.