Ten years ago, Banneker School in Parkville was in shambles.
Trees were growing inside the school, which was built in 1885. The floor had rotted away and the roof was leaking.
The honorable history of the school — the site where children of freed slaves were educated — was vanishing into dust.
But that has started to change thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Banneker School Foundation, which will celebrate 10 years of progress in preserving the school during the annual Banneker School Breakfast on Feb. 26 at Park University.
“We’ve come a long way,” Connie Friends said of the project to restore the school her grandfather attended.
Friends, 64, of Parkville, is a charter member of the foundation.
When the foundation was organized in 2008, the school was on Missouri’s list of most endangered historic places.
Since then, enough money has been raised to repair the mortar on the red brick schoolhouse, install a new roof, and repair the floor, windows and doors. Now, the building is stable, secure and watertight.
While efforts to preserve the school and turn it into a living history museum and interpretive center are far from finished, the building is no longer on the endangered list.
Of course, saving the aging school has been slow and costly. Why bother?
“As a historian, I can teach only the history that we’ve preserved,” Delia Gillis of Overland Park said.
Gillis, a professor of history and director for the Center of Africana Studies at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, will be the keynote speaker at the Breakfast.
When the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, only an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the former slave population could read or write, Gillis said. By 1900 — after schools like Banneker were built — the trend was reversed and only about 20 percent of that population was illiterate.
Without preservation efforts to document the past, the history that Banneker represents may be lost.
“My father taught us how valuable it was to get an education,” Friends said.
Her father, Gaylon Hoskins Sr., worked for years on the save-the-school crusade until he died in 2016.
When Banneker School, located at 31 W. 8th St. in Parkville, was on the state’s endangered list, vandalism and deferred maintenance — no upkeep work had been done since the 1990s — threatened its continued existence.
Timothy Westcott, associate professor of history at Park University, recalled the decision made by concerned citizens in 2008 to organize a nonprofit in a last-ditch effort to save the Banneker School.
“We had to decide whether to preserve or tear down,” Westcott said.
Two decades earlier, Lucille S. Douglass rescued the school from the wrecking ball by raising money to purchase the property. Douglass was a Parkville social worker and teacher who spearheaded a campaign to restore the one-room schoolhouse.
“At the time, it seemed like an impossible undertaking,” said Pearl Spencer, Douglass’ oldest daughter.
Douglass rallied others to the Banneker School cause and together they raised money in the mid- to late 1990s by carrying a banner in Parkville Days parades, staffing booths at festivals, selling coasters and T-shirts, holding raffles, and distributing pamphlets to raise awareness.
Grade-school students at Union Chapel Elementary School helped by launching a successful million-penny campaign to raise $10,000.
When interviewed in 1993, Douglass knew fundraising would take time, but she believed the school, which educated black children for almost 15 years before it closed around 1905 due to overcrowding, was worth saving because it stood for “the history of education among black children” and the visible roots of black people in southern Platte County.
Through the years, the school had been converted into a home and families living there added a kitchen, fireplace, bathroom and chimney. Removing these alterations was the first step in restoring the schoolhouse to its original structure.
Douglass’ fundraising efforts stalled and she died in 2003 before she could see her vision realized, but her three daughters — Pearl Spencer, 75; Lucille H. Douglass, 70; and Cora Thompson, 69 — took up the cause.
“We’ve applied for funding to divert flood waters away from the building, for securing the foundation and for finishing the interior,” Lucille H. Douglass said of the Banneker School Foundation’s current efforts.
An architectural assessment of the school in 2010 referred to the building as extremely deteriorated, so a capital campaign to raise $580,000 was launched to raise the money needed for the master plan’s estimated cost of restoring the schoolhouse and turning it into a museum.
So far, more than $160,000 has been raised.
The master plan also calls for purchasing additional land to improve public access to the school.
The daughters helped carry out their mother’s wishes in 2017 by finalizing a gift of family-owned property valued at $30,000 to the foundation.
“It’s what mama wanted us to do,” Douglass said.
For more information on the Banneker School Foundation and Historic Site, visit www.bannekerschoolparkvillemo.org or find the nonprofit on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BannekerSchoolParkvilleMO.
Banneker School Foundation Annual Breakfast Fundraiser
When: 7:30 to 9 a.m., Feb. 26
Where: Park University Distance Learning Center , 8700 N.W. River Park Drive in Parkville
Cost: Reservations are $35 a person.
Visit www.banneker2018breakfast.eventbrite.com for more information.