History of Douglass School

Following the Civil War, a new State Missouri Constitution was ratified. Article Nine provided free public schools for all residents between the ages of 5 and 21. This included newly emancipated slaves. Every township in Missouri was to establish and maintain “equal” schools for black school-age children.

Higginsville was platted in 1869. The local school district was established in 1872. Before that, all children (black and white) walked two miles to District No. 2 for their education. Once the district was created, white children attended classes in a house “opposite the Higgins Hotel” until a school house was erected for them in 1878. There was no school facility for black children and they still walked to District No. 2. Following the construction of the African Methodist Church in 1879, black students attended school in its basement. Their first building was built near the church in 1886. Two teachers were employed to teach 151 students.

In 1925, the school district passed a bond issue to raze Douglass and the two white elementary schools and replace them on the same sites. The new building was designed by Ludwig Abt, and served the black population until 1955 when local schools were integrated. In 1950, the high school population had diminished and those students were bussed to Lexington’s Douglass School ten miles away. Elementary students continued to attend classes at Douglass in Higginsville.

This building has fallen into grave disrepair. A ceiling beam collapsed, the roof leaks, windows are broken, and there are holes in the floor. Through donations, critical repairs have been made, including replacing the ceiling beam and replacing the roof. But there is much more to be done. We would like to repair and renovate the facility, and have a museum and learning center on site to preserve the African American history of the area. We are interviewing former students about their time at Douglass and about the days of segregation and how it affected them. These interviews will be part of an audio exhibit at the museum once it is established.

This building was recently listed on the National Register for Historic Sites.