The Lincoln School
August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Many still remember and many more have learned from the history books the words of Dr. King’s speech that August day. I began to wonder what history we have in our small Midwestern town of Kirksville. I learned about the Lincoln School.
Did you know that at 907 S. Wabash in Kirksville stands a small brick school house? It is the Lincoln School. It has been closed for 59 years. No student has attended the Lincoln School since 1954. It was Kirksville’s first and only elementary school for African American children in Kirksville. The Lincoln School was established in 1874. Its first teacher was Mrs. A. D. Risdon. In June of 1877 a contract was let and a school house was built and later enlarged in 1890. The red brick building on Wabash Street was built in 1914.
In 2012, Mr. Clyde Johnson, who attended Lincoln school as a youngster, was interviewed by Danielle Breshears for the Truman Index. Mr. Johnson said, “The school setting was warm and steeped in tradition. We had one on one instruction. And the education I received was very solid and really carried on for a good portion of my life.” Mr. Johnson later earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Northeast Missouri State University (now called Truman State University) in 1964. He also said in the Index article, “The black community’s activities centered around two organizations, the church and the school. The school was a social center. That’s where families were brought together and friendship ties were maintained.”
In 1954 the United States Supreme Court decided in Brown verses the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas that segregation was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren brought all the justices together to hand down a unanimous decision. On May 14, 1954, Justice Warren delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Promptly in 1954 the Kirksville School Board voted to abide by the law of the land. They integrated the 9 students who had been attending the Lincoln School into the other schools of the Kirksville School District and closed the little brick school house on Wabash Street.
Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Are we there yet?