By Abby Hoover

Lincoln College Preparatory Academy has served Kansas City’s students since it was founded as the singular Black educational institution, and alumni are working hard to preserve its history.

The first iteration of the school was founded by Rev. Jonathan Copeland and his wife in 1865 at what is now 10th and McGee Streets in their church. The Congressional Sabbath School served 200 Black students of all ages. Prior to the end of the Civil War, Missouri state law did not allow for the education of African Americans.

The Kansas City, Mo., School District was established in 1867. Missouri law required that if there were more than 15 Black children between the ages of 5 and 21 within the district, a separate school had to be established. A count found 250 Black school age children in the district.

The school has moved, grown and changed with the times. Following desegregation, the demographics of the student body slowly shifted to reflect the diverse neighborhoods surrounding the school. Today, it is one of the Kansas City Public Schools’ (KCPS) Signature Schools, with a three-year middle school and four-year college preparatory.

Ron Walton, president of the Lincoln/R.T. Coles National Alumni Association, graduated from then-Lincoln High School in 1954. Walton provided an update last week to the Northeast News on the progress being made to preserve Lincoln’s history.

Walton and other alumni have been meeting with students in small groups to talk about the school’s complicated past.

“We have had several meetings in person with small contingents of students at the school and we are still instilling in them – not attempting, I must say we’re doing a pretty good job of making them aware – the historical value of Lincoln as it stands today,” Walton said. “It was founded as the Lincoln High School, and to a lot of people, that’s the way it will always be, especially people of my generation.”

Just last week, they met with a small group of students that they’re going to enlist through the last phase of the Alumni Room.

“It’s really about preserving the history in total, and by in total I mean from the very first idea that somebody had that African Americans should receive some type of education, which took place in the basement of a Methodist church downtown in the early- to mid-1800’s,” Walton said. “The school has evolved from there, with a lot of things in between, but what we’re trying to do is tell the full story of the school, step by step, as it evolved.”

Walton said there are a lot of things that have gone on under previous administrations of the alumni association, but he feels personally that the ball has been handed to him at a crucial moment in the game.

“It hurts me when I think that when I’m gone, who’s going to remember what Lincoln really meant?” Walton said in a 2021 interview with the Northeast News. “We’re doing our best document because you can’t stop the wheels of progress. What I think we can do is document that unseen and unspoken history about the school so that’s why we’re working hard to get what we call the alumni room set up, which will chronicle the history of the school. It’s up to those who want to learn, we want to provide that vehicle for them to learn, and that’s the best thing that we can do in the face of progress.”

It’s taken the Association 20 years to put together an Alumni Room at Lincoln, and now the end is in sight. The Association has been collecting memorabilia for years to display in the room.

They met last week with the LCPA Principal Kristian Foster and the Black Archives of Mid-America Archivist Geri Sanders, who will lead the project for students fulfilling community service hours. The Association plans to have a soft opening in the Spring of this year.

“She has gone out of her way to assist the efforts that we’re putting forth toward the Alumni Room,” Walton said of Foster. “Her devotion and willingness to work with me and the Association has been extremely commendable.”

Walton said the Alumni Room is one of the best kept secrets in the area, and he can’t wait for the school to get the recognition it deserves for its African American history.

“I think this history, in total, needs to be brought out,” Walton said.

Read more of Lincoln’s History here: