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Elisha Scott, Sr.

Photo of Elisha Scott, 1950s

African American attorney. Born October 14, 1890, in Topeka, Kansas. Married Esther Van Dyane. Died April 23, 1963, in Topeka, Kansas.

Elisha Scott, Sr, was born to Jefferson and Diane B. in Topeka, Kansas, on October 14, 1890. His family lived on Lane Street in Tennessee Town, part of west Topeka. Both of his parents came to Kansas as Exodusters from Tennessee in 1879. They met in Topeka and married on October 10, 1883. Jefferson Scott died in spring 1891. 

As a youth he possessed a strong drive and a quick wit, which attracted the eye of the prominent minister Charles M. Sheldon. Scott was one of the students who attended the Tennessee Town kindergarten.

Sheldon helped Scott enroll at the Kansas Technical Institute, which was an all African American vocational school. Scott work as a teenager in the office of James Guy, a Topeka attorney, who was a founding member of the Topeka branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in 1913. Guy inspired Scott to pursue a legal career for the benefit of African Americans.

Through community support and hard work, Scott earned his law degree from Washburn Law School in 1916, the third African American to graduate from the institution; the only African American student in his class. He was admitted to the Kansas bar that June.

Scott worked as a attorney in Guy's office before opening his own practice. He gained a reputation for his fine oration on display in speaking engagements around the community, and for his use of drama in the courtroom. He helped negotiate the constitution for the National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs, known as the Negro national League, in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1920. He was asked to provide legal assistance after three men were lynched in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1920. He secured a charter for the first African American nationally chartered bank, operated in the Black community of Boley, Oklahoma, in 1921. Scott provided legal assistance to families in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, as they faced obstacles in rebuilding after lynchings in that community.

Several school segregation cases raised awareness for Scott. He represented plaintiffs in Thurman-Watts v. The Board of Education of the City of Coffeyville in 1924; the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Scott was elected of president of the Topeka branch of the NAACP in 1936 and served multiple terms.

Scott represented families in Johnson County in the Kansas Supreme Court case Webb v. School District No. 90, which gained entrance for black students in a local elementary school. He gained a reputation in Kansas as taking the most impossible cases, and winning them.

Scott's two sons, John and Charles, joined him in his law firm of Scott, Scott, Scott, and Jackson. His sons would make history by assisting with the 1951 U.S. District Court case leading to Brown v. Board of Education.

Scott died in Topeka on April 23, 1963.

Entry: Scott, Elisha Sr.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2009

Date Modified: March 2021

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.