The alumni came out in tuxedos and gowns Saturday to the ballroom of the Westin Crown Center Hotel to celebrate a rare sesquicentennial.
That is, 150 years since Lincoln High, a historically black school, was founded in Kansas City. Lincoln has changed with the times since its founding as an elementary school in the Civil War era to its current incarnation as Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, a school admired across Missouri and the United States.
Most of the men and women at the Saturday gala graduated between 1950 and 1980, and remembered Lincoln High School as the “Castle on the Hill.” In a weekend of events, graduates celebrated famous former Lincoln students such as jazz innovator Charlie Parker, civil rights activist Leon Jordan, Kansas City Royals legend Frank White, barbecue baron Ollie Gates and Lucile Bluford, former publisher of The Call.
“To me, it means everything,” said Frederick Cooley, class of 1956. He volunteered at Saturday’s dance, working a merchandise table with Lincoln High T-shirts. “When I grew up, it was the only school to go to.”
Cooley credits the school with preparing him for a career as an air traffic controller that took him to Los Angeles International Airport, then the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C., and back to his hometown.
Now 77, Cooley carries a pride for Lincoln that few others could match. “It was the foundation for everything I did,” he said. “It prepared me to go and make a good living.”
Lincoln was founded in 1865 in a church at 10th and McGee streets as an elementary school. Twenty years later, four students graduated from a recently organized high school, according to the school’s website.
The Lincoln school building at 2111 Woodland Ave., known for its position high above the street that produced the castle nickname, was built during the Great Depression. In the 1950s, it was still the only school in the city that black children could attend. Lincoln was integrated in 1978 and became a magnet school, then reopened as Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in 1986.
Toni Oliver, class of ’67, volunteered to help organize Lincoln sesquicentennial events, from a night of music in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District to the unveiling of a historic marker Thursday and a historic bus tour on Friday. On Saturday came the formal ball.
“1865 to 2015?” Oliver said. “For me, it is a source of great pride, it really is.”
Current students and teachers have reason to be proud, too. Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report ranked Lincoln College Preparatory Academy the best high school in Missouri and the 67th best in the country.