Prior to 1865 it was against the law to teach a slave to read or write. When the Civil War ended, African Americans in Liberty first attended a private school for black and Indian children in the home of Mrs. Laura Armstrong, a liberal white woman, located at 212 W. Mill Street, and later in a series of other homes in Liberty. African-American residents established Garrison School in 1877.
The first Garrison School building stood until it was destroyed by a fire in 1910 (pictured below, date of this photo is unknown). The current building, located north of the Liberty square at 502 N. Water St., was built in 1911. In 1940, an auditorium and gymnasium were added.
The school’s first principal was Professor J. W. Mozee followed by John L. Talton, Virgil Williams, James A. Gay and C. E. Gantt. In 1893, Maggie Bright, Nathan Bright and William Robinson were the Garrison School’s first three graduates.
Despite relying on obsolete text books that were handed down from the white schools, the Garrison School earned a reputation as the best school for African American students in the state of Missouri. The school provided its students up to a 10th grade education. Until the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education Topeka that “separate but equal” laws were unconstitutional in 1954, many Garrison graduates had to ride buses to the black Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Mo. The Liberty Public School District initiated integration by desegregating its high schools. Garrison became a fourth grade center in the fall of 1958. It was transitioned to a kindergarten center in 1961.
The Clay County African American Legacy Inc. (CCAAL) purchased the school building in 2003 and has transformed several of the school’s classrooms into spaces dedicated to special collections and art galleries that celebrate the African American culture. Today, the Garrison School serves as office space for the CCAAL and as a center for cultural and educational events. The Garrison School is listed on both the National and Local Register of Historic Places in Clay County.
In 2017, the CCAAL commissioned and installed two murals on the exterior of the building.
"Sing a Song of The Hope The Present has Brought Us," created by Dan Vanderhoof (pictured above) and located on the exterior wall facing Main Street, focuses on the celebration of youth and education during integration. It depicts children of all races reading, researching, playing sports and walking to school.
"Stony The Road We Trod," created by Rodney “Lucky” Easterwood and located on the wall facing Water Street (pictured below), tells a story of African Americans in Liberty, from segregation to integration. The black and white piece features the history of education for African Americans in Liberty, including images of the Laura Armstrong School on Mill Street in 1865; former Garrison teachers Marion Pearley and Angie Kerford; former principals James Gay and Clarence Gantt; Clara Bell Colley’s 1954 third grade class; and more.
To learn more about the Garrison School, visit their website »
Learn more about African American History in Liberty
Clay County African American Legacy Inc. has compiled a self-guided tour of Liberty's African American historical sites. For more information about the African American Herigtage Walking Tour »
Clay County African American Legacy Inc. website
African American Historical Sites of Liberty, Missouri
City of Liberty Self-Guided Walking Tours
Liberty for All, Celebrating 175 years