In February, events and ceremonies will take place to commemorate Black History Month. Perhaps two of the most influential people in Merriam’s history who helped pave the way for equal schooling of black children were esteemed citizens, Corinthian Nutter (1906-2004) and Esther Brown (1917-1970).
In 1888, Johnson County School District no. 90 was organized in South Park and the Madam C. J. Walker School was built to educate both black and white students who settled into the area. In the early 1940’s, a new school was built and opened, but for white students only. Black students remained at Walker School, by now a dilapidated building with 40 students, only two rooms, poor lighting, inferior heating and outdoor plumbing. In 1948, a lawsuit was filed by teachers, parents and citizens against the school district. With the help of Esther Brown, a white woman who lived in Merriam, black parents organized a boycott of Walker School while Corinthian Nutter and Hazel McCray-Weddington continued to teach 39 students in private homes. Through many obstacles, threats and harassment, Esther continued the fight for desegregation until black students were finally admitted to the South Park Elementary School in 1949. The “Walker School Walkout” and the lawsuit helped lay the groundwork for Brown v Topeka Board of Education, the 1954 landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
In 2001, the Merriam Visitors Bureau unveiled a historic marker and attended the dedication ceremony at the site of the former Walker School. Corinthian Nutter was present at the event and will long be remembered for her well-known words, “schools shouldn’t be for a color; they should be for children.” Corinthian Nutter and Esther Brown will forever be memorialized in Merriam for their tireless efforts in the desegregation of South Park school and equal rights for all.
- Online South Park Exhibit http://www.jocomuseum.org/southpark/index.htm now housed permanently at Merriam Park Elementary School.
- KC Currents / KCUR Archived Podcast: http://kcur.org/post/merriam-teacher-corinthian-nutter-became-1940s-civil-rights-leader — open, then click listen (this is an archive)
- Online Image collection – Johnson County Museum – Corinthian Nutter
- Online Image collection — Johnson County Museum – Esther Brown