The Lincoln School is significant as the first and
only schoolhouse built for African-Americans in Canton, Missouri. From
its construction in 1880 until the Canton Public School System was
integrated in 1956, the Lincoln School provided the only educational
opportunity for the area's African-American citizens, teaching grades
one through eight and at times providing adult education classes as
well. The first school in Canton for African-Americans children began in
1866, in a building previously occupied by the Post Office. The Canton
Board of Education agreed to pay $5 a month for its use and employed
S.S. Seller as teacher for $50 a month. The school was closed at the end
of the year, because the Board lacked the funds to continue it. In 1868
the school was reorganized and a new teacher appointed for $30 a month.
This time classes were held in a frame house owned by R. A. Grant. By
1870 records indicate that the teacher of the school was authorized to
admit students over the legal age on payment of $1 month tuition,
provided they not interfere with the instruction of the regular pupils.
At this point the school had taken up quarters in the African Methodist
In 1871 a new school was built for Cantonís white
students and the contrast between the white facilities and the
inadequate facilities being provided African-Americans at the church was
striking. In 1872, in response to resentment in the African-American
community the building owned by the A.M.E. Church was repaired by the
School Board and new equipment purchased. In1880, the School Board
minutes recorded "a petition from the colored citizens of Canton asking
and praying for a better school building for the accommodation of the
colored children of Canton School District...." A committee was
appointed to estimate the cost of a new school building and on March 16
the Board resolved to submit to the voters a proposition to erect a new
"colored school" at a cost of $800. At a special election on May 1, the
proposal was passed.
The location chosen for the new school was a parcel
of land in town which had been set aside as a park. On July 6, 1880,
bids were opened and the contract for the construction of a brick
building, 42' by 24' in size, was awarded to J. S. Eaton for $700. The
Lincoln School is a vernacular, common bond brick building with walls
13" thick and sits on an ashlar limestone foundation. The ornamentation
of its facades is simple and entrance to the school is through a
transommed doubleleaf door. The original wood floor was replaced with
concrete after it became dilapidated due to flooding by the Mississippi
River. Sometime after 1924 a partition was constructed, and indoor
toilets and electricity were added.
The first teacher at the Lincoln School was M. L.
Clay who received $35 a month. After seeing a need for education for
adult African-Americans, clay organized night classes at the school at
his own expense. The Lincoln School was a segregated facility for all of
the seventy-five years it operated as a school. Facilities at the school
were always of a lower standard than its white counterparts. With the
exception of its first African-American teacher, Charles W. Lear, who
taught at the school for thirty-two years, teacher turnover was high.
Students who graduated from the Lincoln School were not allowed to
attend the white high school in Canton. In 1946 arrangements were made
to bus African-American high school students to Hannibal, a daily round
trip of eighty miles. The Lincoln school closed and African-American
students began attending white schools in Canton when the Supreme Court
outlawed segregation in schools with its decision in the Brown v. Board
of Education case in 1954.
The Lincoln School became a storage facility after it
no longer was being used as a school. The Lincoln School was listed on
the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. In 1995 the
dilapidated building was donated to the City of Canton by the school
district. The Lincoln School Restoration Association, Inc., a
multi-ethnic organization, has been restoring the building. Eleanora
Tate used the Lincoln School as the basis for the fictional Douglass
School of Nutbush, Missouri, in her stories for children and young
Only the exterior of the Lincoln School can be viewed.
There is no charge to visit the Lincoln School.
The Lincoln School is located in Martin Park at
the corner of 4th and Green Streets. Martin Park is located south of
downtown Canton on 4th Street (US-61 BUS.)
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