Prelude to Brown - 1881-1949: The Kansas Cases

1881-1949: The Kansas Cases

Before Brown v. Board of Education became part of the national legal landscape, African American parents in Kansas had initiated eleven court challenges to segregated public schools. During a span of nearly seventy years from 1881 to 1949 the Kansas Supreme Court became the venue for the constitutional question of public schools and segregation.

Why did desegregation cases arise in Kansas? The free state heritage, central geographical location, and makeup of its population positioned Kansas to play a central role in the major questions of educational freedom and equality. Kansas law at first had little to say on the subject of school segregation. In 1868, the law allowed, but did not require, separate schools. Some schools admitted children without discrimination and one of the first Superintendents of Public Instruction, Peter McVicar, vocally opposed segregated schools. 

The increase in the African American population with the arrival of the "Exdosters" from the South in the 1870s, however, hardened attitudes in Kansas. Some schools began to separate children by race. In 1877, the Kansas legislature passed a statue specifically allowing first class cities (those with populations of 15,000 or more) to conduct separate elementary schools. This law remained in effect into the 1950s. With the exception of Wyandotte, high schools were not segregated in Kansas.

Read the 1876 law and the 1877 amendment.

View  a scanned copy of the 1876 law.        View a scanned copy of the 1877 law.