The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935

By Kim Cary Warren | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
TEACHERS
FROM INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION
TO AFRICAN AMERICAN RACE PRIDE

Missouri’s shores and muddy waves,
In fairest landscape’s view,
On bleeding Kansas’ famous soil
Stands Dear Old Western U.
—Reverend Calvin Douglass, “Kansas Western University”

Sumner [High School] is a child not of our own volition, but rather an offspring
of the race of a bygone period. It is a veritable blessing in disguise.
—Teacher at Sumner High School, 1935

In 1905, when Reverend William Tecumseh Vernon addressed the Kansas Day Club, he was the first African American to do so. The title of his speech, “A Plea for Suspension of Judgment,” implied that Vernon intended to ask the audience of white Kansans to ease their criticism of his African American brethren, and he started by stating, “The cause of my people is my cause, their struggles my struggles.” The rest of his speech, however, did not detail the plight of blacks in hopes of gaining pity or understanding. Instead, Vernon used this platform, along with many of his other speeches and publications throughout his career, to call for nothing short of racial inclusion and equality. He demanded new terms for citizenship.1

In the 1880s and 1890s, when Elizabeth Comstock, Laura Haviland, and Charles Sheldon established their schools for African American children, their efforts reflected the intentions of other white reformers in the late nineteenth century—to educate African Americans for positions in society that would remain on the margins. But in the early twentieth century, when

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