The story of Sumner School

The Sumner School Building


The Sumner School building, completed in 1939 as a WPA project, is the third of its name in Boonville. It was region's black school until it closed in 1959 after desegregation. 

This modern building provided better classrooms than the previous structure, plus a gymnasium, kitchen, and cafeteria.  At the time this building was constructed, Sumner gained accreditation by the Missouri school board.  

In 1954 and 1955 “separate-but-equal” schools were declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in two Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka rulings and Boonville's school sytem was integrated.  Sumner closed its doors as a school in 1959.  

This historic building will be the home of Impact Activity Center. Learn how you can help...

Main hallway
Sumner school song from the 1951 Torch yearbook
Gymnasium scoreboard
Carl Connor, graduate of Lincoln University, was Principal starting in 1942
View from the back
Sumner Seniors in 1951
The original Sumner School building ca. 1900 (State Historical Society)

Sumner's roots


In the years after the Civil War when Missouri's ban on education for blacks was rescinded, Boonville's first black school met in a residential house and was known as Elias Buckner School.  When a more permanent building opened at Fourth and Spruce streets it was renamed Sumner Public School after Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Republican senator who fought in the 1850s for integrated schools in Massachusetts.  

James Milton Turner, who had attended the Floating Freedom School on a Mississippi steam boat and after the war helped establish black schools across the state as Missouri's Assistant Superintendent of Schools, was one of the first teachers.  Sumner School initially offered primary school education, and from 1884 onward high school as well.  

The original Sumner building was destroyed by a fire and was replaced by a new two-story school in 1916 at the same location.  This school served Boonville's black community until the improved WPA building opened on Rural Street in 1939.  The 1916 school was later converted to apartments and is on the National Register of Historic Places

Read more about Missouri's early rural black schools in this Missouri State Historical Preservation Office report.  

James Milton Turner (1839-1915)
The 1916 Sumner School at 4th and Spruce
Bust of Milton Turner in Morgan Street Park

C.T. Vivian talks about Boonville in the 1920s

Civil rights leader C.T. Vivian was born in Boonville.  His family spent the summers on their farm in Howard County and the winters in Boonville.  Hear him talk about life on Water Street, the area where Sumner School now stands, during his childhood in the 1920s.

CCBC Community Center sign

Community Center


In 1986 the Concerned Citizens for the Black Community (CCBC) purchased the Sumner School building to restore as a community center.  The CCBC formed in 1980 in response to proposed funding cuts that would have eliminated the position of Paul Dow, the only African-American teacher in the Boonville school system. That effort highlighted the need for a place where the community could come together. 

With considerable momentum from leaders like Larry Rowles, Richard Brown, and Wilbur Dowe, the CCBC looked for other ways that it could make Boonville a better place.  Brown said in a 1986 Boonville Daily News article that, "when Sumner was a black school, it was the hub of the black community."  The group purchased the building from Guy's Potato Chip Company and turned it into a community center. Volunteers patched the roof, fixed the bathrooms, and restored the gymnasium and other rooms.

For almost 35 years, CCBC's Community Center served Boonville with a wide range of activities, including celebrations of Martin Luther King Day, Kids Adventure Fests, breakfasts, dinners, private events, and educational activities. President Tawney Brown said in a BDN article that “the purpose of the organization was to put on recreational programs, educational programs, cultural programs, to serve the most vulnerable people by doing so. The upkeep of the building started to overshadow that."  The CCBC reluctantly closed the center in 2019 because of the financial hurdles posed by Sumner's leaking roof. 

You can read more about CCBC and its history on their FaceBook page.  

CCBC soul food breakfast fundraiser (2018)
Paul Dow, retired Boonville art teacher (right), at the final CCBC fundraiser (2019)
Basketball at CCBC Kids Adventure Fest (2015)

Do you have Sumner memories?

Please tell us about them

Take a Tour of Sumner School

Daniel Bruce shows you around the Sumner School building.  Hear about the building's history and learn about the restoration and remodeling that will be funded by the Veteran's United grant and your donations.

How can you help?

Take the Sumner Challenge and give to restore the School

Find us on FaceBook and YouTube

Where are we?

Impact Activity Center is located at 1111 Rural Street in Boonville, Missouri.  

(Katy rail bridge at Boonville)