St. Louis' Sumner High Facing Possible Closure; Tina Turner, Others AttendedBreaking News
tags: African American history, St. Louis, School Desegregation
Alumni of the oldest high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi River are again fighting for the school's survival, extolling its symbolism and importance, and fueled by a deep pride in its history.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a few dozen alumni gathered at the base of the steps to Sumner High School, on St. Louis' north side, clad in the school's maroon and white. Many had their class year bedazzled on sweatshirts and letterman jackets.
"It's just a big part of my life," says Eugenia Davis, who graduated from Sumner 50 years ago this spring, and organized the rally. "And it's where I began to learn who I was."
The school opened in 1875 as the first high school in St. Louis, and the Western U.S., to give diplomas to Black students. Its famous alumni include rockers such as Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, and comedian Dick Gregory. Several Tuskegee Airman, the World War II pilots, also attended the school.
"That is one of the reasons why we cannot let it be closed, simply because when you erase that history, you're not only erasing Black St. Louis history, but you're erasing American history," says Pierre Blaine, a 1973 graduate.
But Sumner's enrollment has plummeted. Urban flight has left the surrounding Ville neighborhood largely empty.
St. Louis Public Schools listed Sumner for closure over the winter along with a dozen other school buildings as part of a district-wide consolidation plan. The city school district can't be relied on to save city neighborhoods suffering from disinvestment, says Superintendent Kelvin Adams.