Kansas City Schools Names Reflect History

Written by Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

Kansas City Schools Honor Their Heroes
Having schools named after national figures is not a new phenomenon.  Over the years,
many schools across the country have been renamed to honor national figures.  In Kansas City schools however, schools are named not just after national icons but also local luminaries.  The study of the naming of Kansas City schools is so fascinating that one man, William S. Worley, an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City has researched the topic and emerged with some interesting results and insights on the subject.
 Kansas City Schools Named After Anti-Slavery Heroes
According to the study, back in 1870, a decision was made for Kansas City schools with majority black populations to be taught by black teachers. It seemed like a perfectly normal decision for the time, although it smacks of racism in a modern context. However, the emergence of such Kansas City schools created a new class of African American leaders as a product of this system. 
Not surprisingly, these schools were named for white leaders who had a played a dominant role in the anti-slavery movement. Lincoln was a popular choice with the first of the Kansas City schools for blacks being named Lincoln Elementary School.  Later Kansas City schools for blacks were named after William Lloyd Garrison, an eminent abolitionist, and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who was physically attacked for his anti-slavery position. 
In the 1890s Kansas City schools honored Blanche K. Bruce, a black Mississippi senator and Phyllis Wheately, one of a growing breed of African American poets. Black educators like W.W. Yates and R.T. Coles were also honored as Kansas City Schools developed a tradition of recognizing those who played an important part in the city’s educational and cultural fabric.  In 1953, the Benton Grammar School was renamed after D.A. Holmes a pastor and unofficial member of the School Board whose responsibilities largely consisted of interviewing black teaching applicants.  Philanthropists and corporate heads who have served in schools boards have in some instances been honored with a school named after them.  Real estate developer J.C. Nichols is a name that comes to mind here.
One of the most poignant examples of Kansas City Schools being renamed after a local hero is the naming of the Primitivo Garcia Elementary School recently. Garcia was killed trying to protect a woman under attack. True, the tradition of naming schools after heroes is not exclusive to Kansas City schools. The names here, however, do have a unique connection to their past. And there is no better way to make history seem real for students in the Kansas City Schools than to connect to real people.