Yearbooks from the collection of
ARTHUR L. WASHINGTON
Graduate, Sumner Intermediate 1927
Graduate, Sumner High 1935
Sumner High School
Teacher and Administrator
1945 - 1988
Arthur L. Washington (1917 - 2001) was a lifelong member of the Sumner High family. From early education through his final years he was part of the fabric that held this great institution together.
Summer High, was founded in 1875, and was the first high school opened for African-Americans west of the Mississippi. The school is named after the well-known abolitionist senator Charles E. Sumner. The high school was established on Eleventh Street in St. Louis between Poplar and Spruce Street, in response to demands from parents to provide educational opportunities, following a requirement that school boards support black education with the radical Constitution of 1865 in Missouri. The school was moved in the 1880s because parents complained that their children were walking past the city gallows and morgue on their way to school. The current structure, built in 1908, was designed by architect William B. Ittner. Sumner was the only Black public high school in St. Louis until 1927.
Founded a mere 10 years after the Civil War, Sumner High School was a landmark institution that paved the way for the inclusion of Black teachers in Black schools. Prior to Sumner, there wer few opportunities for Black children to gain a suitable education except for the schools operated by the Freedmans Bureau, Union Army and those provided by the Black church. There were even fewer opportunities for great minds such as Edward Bouchet, who taught briefly at Sumner in its infantcy, to pursue greater knowledge because of racial discrimination. During this early era of segregated schools, many efforts were underway nationally to respond to this injustice.
Author Nell Irvin Painter in her book Exodusters; Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction writes; "The Civil Rights Bill of 1875 - introduced and championed by Charles Sumner - aimed at inspiring equal access to public schools and transportation. Congress passed the bill in 1875; Texas immediately declared it unconstitutional. In 1883 the United States Supreme Court invalidated it in a move that, more than any other single act condoned the color bar and racial exclusion." "As early as 1877, Blacks in St. Louis petitioned the Board of Public Schools to place only Black teachers in Black schools.... At the National convention of colored Men in Nashville in 1879, the cause received renewed impetus when Ferdinand L. Barnett of Chicago summarized the issue for a national audience. "White teachers in colored schools are nearly always mentally, morally, or financially bankrupts, and no colored community should tolerate the imposition. High schools and colleges are sending learned colored teachers in the field constantly, and it is manifestly unjust to make them stand idle and see their people taught by those whose only interest lies in securing their monthly compensation in dollars and cents. Again, colored schools thrive better under colored teachers. The St. Louis schools furnish an excellent example. According to the report of Superintendent Harris, during the past two years the schools have increased under colored teachers more than fifty per cent, and similar results always follow the introduction of colored teachers."
Sumner High became a magnet for the best and brightest Black minds of its era and signaled monumental change for the entire country. Today it is faced with the all too familiar plight of urban decay and an impoverished inner city community that clings to the very vestiges of personal and intellectual pursuit. Despite the crumbling environs and ediface that once housed champions Sumner remains a source of strength, pride and accomplishment.
During his career, Washington served at Vashon, Washington Technical and Sumner High Schools. In summer sessions, he served as Assistant Principal at Vashon, Beaumont, Roosevelt, Soldan, Northwest High Schools, and Principal at Kennedy High School, Kinlock, Missouri respectively.
After exemplary service in WWII and earning a masters degree from New York University, Washington was recruited by principal, George Dennis Bradley in 1945 to lead the Physical Education Department at Sumner. He retired as Assistant Principal of Administration on March 4, 1988, after working 43 years for the St. Louis Board of Education.