Monroe Elementary School, an imposing, yet simple brick structure on
the corner of 15th and Monroe Streets in Southeast Topeka, Kansas is
typical of many early twentieth-century school buildings. This school
so seemingly commonplace, nonetheless holds a special place in American
memory. Here the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior,
commemorates one of the most influential decisions rendered by the U.S.
Supreme Court. The decision in Brown v.
Board of Education (1954) made racial segregation illegal in America's
schools and launched the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Monroe Elementary
School was one of the segregated schools African American plaintiffs
in the case were forced to attend after being refused admission to schools
for whites in their neighborhoods. It symbolizes the value society places
on education, the struggle of African American families to secure educational
opportunities for their children and the realities of racial discrimination
under a segregated educational system.
The story of Monroe Elementary begins long before the Brown decision.
In 1859, John Ritchie, an abolitionist, bought 160 acres from Jacob
Chase in. Topeka, Kansas. After the Civil War a number of newly freed
African Americans came to Topeka and built homes on this land. Due to
the sizable African American population, the school board decided to
establish a school for black children in the neighborhood. Monroe School
"Ritchie's Addition" became the site of. After Ritchie's death
in 1877, the land was purchased by the Topeka Board of Education to
build a school for African American children.
The current building
is actually the third Monroe school to sit on the corner of Fifteenth
and Monroe streets. The first school was located in a small rented building
that was used from 1868 until a permanent structure was erected in 1874.
The current building was constructed in 1926 just to the south of the
old school. It was one of many educational facilities in Topeka designed
by the prominent Topeka architect Thomas W. Williamson between 1920 and
1935. His firm, Williamson and Co., was hired by the Topeka Board of Education
to design a series of progressive schools. Monroe Elementary School is
a two-story brick and limestone building in the Italian Renaissance Revival
style. The building was made with some of the best materials and the most
modern technology of the time.
Monroe was the newest
of the four segregated schools serving Topeka's African American community.
The other schools were Buchanan, McKinley, and Washington. Washington
no longer stands and the Topeka Board of Education no longer owns the
Use through the
Monroe originally had thirteen classrooms. From the time of its construction
until 1941, Monroe served Kindergarten through eighth grades. After this
time the three upper grades were transferred to integrated junior high
schools, leaving additional classroom space in the school. The Manual
Training Room was later used as a lunchroom and two classrooms were converted
for use in music and visual education.
Directly across the
street from Monroe, there is an area that was used for an additional playground.
This playground is a visible triangular-shaped area that is part of the
park site. This property was used for the older children to participate
in athletic activities especially for softball, baseball, track and football.
The younger children would have used the playgrounds on the north and
south ends of the building.
Monroe School was closed in 1975 due to declining enrollment. The school
district utilized the school building as a warehouse and the grounds for
parking buses and performing vehicle maintenance. Eventually the school
and grounds were sold to private owners. Monroe Elementary remained in
private ownership for more than fifteen years. Richard Appelhans and Richard
L. Plush, Jr. intended to convert the school to offices or a private school,
instead they sold it in 1982. The new owner was the Church of the Nazarene
which used the property as a community outreach program and meeting place.
The next owner, Mark A. Steuve, President of S/S Builders purchased the
school from the church in 1988 to use as a warehouse. In 1990, Mr. Steuve
announced his intention to auction the building off.
The Brown Foundation
began a crusade to save Monroe Elementary School from being sold. After
a series of letter writing campaigns and meetings with local Congressional
leadership and the Trust for Public Lands the school was secured. The
Trust for Public Land purchased the property in 1991 and it was added
to the National Historic Landmark nomination for the Sumner Elementary
School, listed in 1987. On October 26, 1992, President George Bush signed
legislation establishing Brown v. Board
of Education National Historic Site. The title was transferred to the
National Park Service in December of 1993.
Monroe school is not the only site where the story of Brown v. Board of
Education can be told. There were many segregated schools throughout the
country, and countless parents who disliked the segregated system and
wanted something better for their children. As a symbol of the struggle
for equal educational opportunity, Monroe provides an ideal setting from
which to interpret Brown v. Board of Education.
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Last modified: 5/30/2000