11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Sumner Elementary School

Year Listed: 2008
Location: Topeka, Kansas
Threat: Deterioration, Neglect

Significance

Sumner Elementary School, a National Historic Landmark, helped launch the nation's Civil Rights Movement as one of the schools at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court's (1954) ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.  Built for white students in 1936, Sumner Elementary became a pivotal catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, when the School Board refused to admit Linda Brown, an African-American student. Although the school was only seven blocks from her home, Brown was forced to either walk one mile across a railroad switchyard or travel for more than an hour by an unreliable bus service to attend the all-black Monroe Elementary School.  In 1954, the NAACP took her complaint to the Supreme Court and made history when the case—Brown v. Board of Education—struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine and mandated that all schools be desegregated.  

In 1987, the National Park Service designated both Sumner and Monroe Elementary Schools National Historic Landmarks.  Since Sumner was still in active use at the time, Monroe Elementary was selected to house the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site where visitors could learn about the landmark case and its broader contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.