It takes more than sandblasting, tuckpointing and roofing to preserve a piece of history.
A determined group of women and men would tell you that it takes time and determination. At the 130-year-old Bannecker School in Parkville, a promise is being fulfilled.
The historic structure was built by the Parkville School District in 1885 as a one-room schoolhouse to educate the children of freed slaves in Platte County.
The building, at 31 W. Eighth St., was saved from demolition in 1988 by Lucille S. Douglass, a Parkville social worker and teacher. Douglass and five others pooled their funds to buy the property from a development company with the goal of preserving the school and honoring its history.
Fundraising efforts stalled out, and Douglass died in 2004 before she could see her vision realized.
Earlier this year, Douglass’ dream moved closer to reality with a decision by the Banneker School Foundation and Historic Site in Parkville.
“There can be no more waiting,” said Carla Barksdale, chairwoman of the foundation, which was established as a nonprofit organization in 2008.
Its goal is to restore the school, transform it into a living-history museum and to build an interpretive center to re-create the classroom conditions of the students who attended the school.
Board members decided that they cannot delay restoration until they achieve their capital campaign goal of $500,000. Enough has been raised that some work is underway now.
The school “drew rural students from miles around, because there were only three schools in Platte County for black children,” said Mary Celeste, vice chairwoman and historian of the foundation and former manager of the Boardwalk branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library in Kansas City, North.
In her research, Celeste found a reference to the school’s construction in a Sept. 10, 1885, Parkville newspaper story: “The new school building for the education of our colored students is well underway and will soon be completed. It will be a one story brick building 18 x 34 feet.”
An architectural assessment of the school in 2010 described the building as extremely deteriorated. To prevent further decline, permanent preservation efforts have begun while the Banneker foundation continues its campaign. So far more than $100,000 has been raised to restore the school, one of several across the nation named in honor of Benjamin Banneker, a free black man who helped survey and design the city of Washington, D.C., in the late 1700s.
This month MTS Contracting of North Kansas City replaced mortar between the bricks of the schoolhouse. Tuckpointing, which involves repairing a mortar joint in a brick wall, was completed on the interior brick portion, the exterior rock foundation and on 75 percent of the interior rock foundation.
“Once a roof is put on, the structure will be watertight,” said Wayne Loftin, project manager and estimator. “Deterioration was mainly due to water getting into the wall cavities.”
A door on the east side of the building was removed because it was not part of the original structure, Loftin said. The space was replaced with a window for historic accuracy.
The school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and as such it must adhere as closely as possible to the authenticity of the structure and materials used in 1885. After the school closed, alterations were made to the building, which was used as a one-room efficiency for several years. A kitchen and fireplace were added, for example, and have since been removed.
In March the foundation was awarded a Platte County Parks and Recreation Outreach Grant of $12,740 for a new roof, the next step in restoration.
Douglass always knew that restoration would take time. In a 1993 Kansas City Star interview about the school, Douglass said: “It’s a slow process. But it’s important to preserve this building, because it represents the visible roots of black people in the community.”
Before her death in 2004, Douglass extracted a promise from two close friends: Daisy Young of Grandview and Marva Williams of Kansas City.
“In my mother’s final days, Daisy and Marva gave their word to her that they would finish the Banneker project,” said Lucille H. Douglass, daughter of Lucille S. Douglass.
The younger Douglass, 67, of Kansas City, became a caregiver after her mother suffered a stroke in 2003.
Both Young and Williams were familiar with Banneker School from memories shared with them by older relatives who were educated there.
Young’s father, for example, attended the first Banneker School. By 1902 its enrollment had grown to some 80 students — more than the small building could accommodate — and the school was closed. Another school was built, a two-room brick building across from Washington Chapel C.M.E. Church. The second Banneker School, now a private home, educated African-American students in southern Platte County from 1903 to 1959. In both Banneker schoolhouses, one teacher taught all students from first through eighth grade.
Young and Williams attended the second Banneker School.
The two friends kept their promise to restore the first school. Young, 75, served as chairwoman of the foundation until 2014. Williams, who has since died, worked alongside Young.
Throughout its history as a state, Missouri has both outlawed and mandated the education of the black community.
A law passed by the Missouri legislature in 1847 prohibited the education of any black person, free or slave. Violators could be fined at least $500 and be sentenced up to six months in jail.
Later in 1875, Missouri required separate schools for black and white children. The law imposed an obligation on townships with 20 or more black children to provide separate schools for them. The other two Platte County schools that African-Americans were allowed to attend were in Platte City and Weston.
Like several of those working on the restoration of the first Banneker School, Young credits her involvement to her admiration for Lucille S. Douglass, who taught at the second school.
When she was growing up, Young’s family lived in Waldron and her father drove the children to Parkville to attend the second Banneker School. One day Young rode with her father.
“I went to school with Dad, and I didn’t want to go back home,” Young recalled. “Mrs. Douglass said to me, ‘Come on in and take a seat.’”
Young did so, and her public education began at the age of 4.
“She was an excellent role model and teacher,” Young said of Douglass. “She was so creative. She could go into the woods, come out with a stick and have four or five lessons to teach from it.”
Lucille H. Douglass shares her mother’s passion for the campaign.
“Anything Mama was involved in, we were all involved in,” said Douglass, referring to her two sisters and her brother, the other children of Lucille and Frank Douglass.
Douglass said she hopes the restoration will bring an awareness to people who don’t believe their lives were impacted by the slavery of years past and will help with the healing of those who endured segregation. She also hopes future generations will learn to appreciate the history of education for the children of freed slaves in Platte County.
Another dedicated member of the foundation is Rosetta Scott of Parkville, a younger sister of Lucille S. Douglass.
Scott has helped by donating land to the foundation and by hosting tables at the annual fundraiser breakfast. In 2013, at the age of 96, Scott received a state AARP volunteer-recognition award of $1,500, which she donated to the cause closest to her heart.
Restoring the school is important, Scott said, “to let young people of all nationalities know how our poor parents struggled to survive, to make sure we would have good lives.”
Schools built to educate African-Americans were generally inferior structures with less than adequate maintenance, Celeste said.
“They were provided with hand-me-down furnishings, equipment and textbooks,” she said.
Celeste cited a newspaper of the 1890s that reported that the local white school would be getting new chairs and that the old ones would be sent to Banneker to replace the wooden benches previously used by the students there.
Stories like this and others are now being documented in video interviews conducted at Park University by social work honor students. In 2012, Rita Weighill, vice president for university marketing and communications, began interviewing relatives of those who attended Banneker School.
“The Banneker School interviews continue to be a priority project with the important objective to preserve the memories of those who attended the school and to record comments and remembrances from their relatives,” Weighill said. “The school is an important piece of history of Parkville and Platte County.”
The video recordings are being archived at the university and eventually will be featured at the restored site.
Integration brought about by a Supreme Court desegregation ruling in 1955 led to the eventual closing of the second Banneker School.
Sixty years after that ruling, the first Banneker School is being restored to its original purpose: to educate those who enter it.
Banneker School Restoration Project
To donate or for more information, write
Banneker School Foundation and Historic Site
P.O. Box 29028
Parkville, MO 64152
City of Parkville
Park Hill School District
Platte County Historic and Genealogical Society