The Brown v Board of Education National Historical Park is located in Topeka, Kansas. The school where this all started is still standing and is on the register of historical places. There is no charge to get into this historic site as it is run by the national parks services. When you get to the site the parking lot is in front of the school. If you have children with you they can get a junior ranger booklet to fill out along the way.
There are a few signs when you get into the parking lot about the school. One sign talks about how that grass area before the parking lot is geothermal to heat and cool the school. I was really shocked at this as many places didn’t use it till later. The install price is so high but long run it’s better.
If you don’t know what Brown vs Board of Education is, it’s about allowing black children to attend their neighborhood schools. 13 parents and 20 children attempted to enroll them in their local school. They were denied, so along with the NAACP, they sued the Topeka Board of Education. Oliver Brown was listed first so the case is named after him. The case in 1951 stated that segregation affected the psychological evidence of African American children. These findings were later used by the US Supreme Court.
Walking Into the School
When you walk into the school who should greet you is the park ranger from the principal office. These nice park rangers explain the two different paths, the gymnasium videos, bathrooms and more. Not only do you get to learn about this case but you get to walk into history of a local 1927 school. Monroe school was built for separate but equal. There is a kindergarten space, classrooms, space for home economics, and large gym combined auditorium.
After the park ranger greeting you, one of the first things you notice are signs indicating sides for colored or white. Inside the auditorium, you can enjoy 5 five minute videos. These videos are quick and were easy able to sit through even with a 4-year-old. There are three screens going at once on each side of the gym so many people can watch at once. The school is old and the floor creaks like one especially in the gym/audtiourm. The film is about Race and the American Creed. It is an older gentleman and a young girl asking questions on how they are to the freedom and equality struggles of all Americans.
Down each hallway are two different exhibits starting inside one classroom. Following along, you wind your way through to the next classroom door to exit. On the right is the Road to Brown and the left is Legacy of Brown. Across from the Legacy of Brown is a kindergarten classroom set up from the times.
The Road to Brown shows history from 19th century to the 1954 case and all the barriers African Americans faced to recieve a formal education. There is graphic historical film footage might not be suitable for all ages under 12 and those with certain disabilities, but there is a walk through behind pass to come into the second area. Along with pictures and information on the wall to read there are a few short films you can sit to watch. You can interact with a few of the exhibits which is nice being hands on. Towards the end of Road to Brown you can watch six little videos and see the map showing school segregation before Brown. It is very interesting. After exiting, check out the Legacy of Brown down the hall.
The Legacy of Brown
The second exhibit explores the Legacy of Brown, which is the civil rights movement that happened after the Brown ruling. This walk through exhibit has a few videos to watch and music to listen to that were written about protest. They have a wall of courage with lots of people from different areas around the world. It even talks about how traveling in the 1950s-1960s with Jim Crow laws made it difficult. To help, they had special guides to know where they could stay. When you’re done with Legacy of Brown walk across the hall to the Kindergarten room.
The Kindergarten Room
Check out the former Kindergarten room restored to the 1954 appearance. A few of the things I noticed was the classroom has a fireplace, the teacher’s desk was in the back of the room, and even back then Kindergarten classroom had their own bathrooms to make it easier for them to go to the bathroom. You will also notice the block table, the kitchen with metal dishes instead of the plastic we use today, and the small bookcase. The classroom even has some displays on the wall to read about teachers affected by the decision and why they wouldn’t join the cause.
On your way out, don’t forget to check out the Western National Parks Association Bookstore with books about African American history, civil rights, and National Park Services.
If you have children that decided to do the junior ranger booklet, make sure you turn it in and get deputized and get your junior ranger badge for Brown Vs Board of Education.
Looking for more to do in Topeka with smaller kids? Check out the Discovery Center or near by LeCompton and more places to see!