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First African-American High School west of the Mississippi River

First African-American High School west of the Mississippi River

Sumner High School

Sumner High School in St. Louis on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes,

Sumner High School first opened in downtown St. Louis at 11th and Spruce Street in 1875, when the state board of education designated  school for white elementary children as a school for black students of all ages, through high school. It was named the Charles Sumner high school, named for a Massachusetts Senator who fought for the rights of others.

In the 1890s, it established a Normal School in the building to educate black students to become teachers for the black schools, and Sumner moved to a bigger building at 15th and Walnut in 1895. But parents complained about the location, saying it was surrounded by seedy saloons and pool rooms.

In 1908, the school moved to its present-day building, designed by architect William Itner in the Ville neighborhood. The school, long a source of neighborhood pride, graduated rock-'n-roll icon Chuck Berry, singer Tina Turner, opera singer Grace Bumbry, comedian and activist Dick Gregory and tennis hall-of-famer Arthur Ashe. It was the only black public high school in St. Louis until the opening of Vashon High School in 1927.

Sumner and Vashon Homecoming

The Vashon cheerleading squad cheer on the Wolverines during joint homecoming game against their rivals the Sumner Bulldogs on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Sumner High School. The homecoming game between the city's two oldest African-American high schools is a precious alumni tradition that dates back 90 years. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,



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