Ann Shipp Taylor dreamed of wearing a cap and gown at her eighth grade graduation from Young School in the early 1950s.

Ann Shipp Taylor dreamed of wearing a cap and gown at her eighth grade graduation from Young School in the early 1950s.

About 10 children were in a young Ann Shipp’s class as she attended the segregated Young School on North Dodgion Street. Over a period of time, she remembers, the class size dwindled down to just two children – Shipp and a girl named Viola. 

No graduation assembly took place since it was just the two girls. It wasn’t necessary, school officials told them.

“We were really disillusioned about that,” Taylor, 72, said laughing. “There was no ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ That was out.”

The absent ceremony was one event Taylor said she had actually looked forward to in her young life. Young School students read from textbooks that were handed down from all-white schools. Taylor remembers pages, sometimes even chapters, missing from her books, filled with artwork doodles.

At one time, the Young School had its own high school, but it wasn’t accredited. So, black students in Independence boarded a school bus to attend Lincoln High School in Kansas City.

Taylor’s high-school career started at Lincoln High and continued until 1954 when the integration of schools took place in Independence. Residing at 214 E. Truman Road, Ann Shipp made the daily trek east on Truman Road, past Harry S. Truman’s home, and up to William Chrisman High School on North Noland Road. 

Ten black students attended William Chrisman that first integrated academic year. Ann Shipp Taylor was one of two black students among a class of 272 in 1955.

“It was difficult, but this is Truman’s town, and basically, they were not going to have any problems in Truman’s town,” Taylor said.

Born near Second Baptist Church at 116 E. White Oak St., Taylor still attends Second Baptist Church today, which is the oldest black-attended church in the Kansas City area. 

Pastors of multiple congregations prepared the students – both black and white – for the integration, Taylor said. Ministers told her to “turn the other cheek” when racial slurs took place, “that words are just words.”

Such slurs were commonplace daily, Taylor said, and students would mouth the words after they stopped saying them aloud. As she walked home, an old red pickup truck filled with young men taunted Taylor with offensive remarks. She ignored them until one day the boys told her, “We’re gonna kill you. You’ll never graduate. We’re going to kill you.”

“That frightened me,” Taylor said. “It possibly could have been just talk, but how was I to know?” She reported the incident to the Independence Police Department and received rides to school for several weeks following the threat.

Taylor never saw the red truck again.

Nearly five years ago, Taylor spoke at her 50th high school class reunion. She spoke then of hurtful memories, but there were good times, too, said Taylor, who has lived on North Lynn Street just blocks from William Chrisman High School for 45 years.

Mary Foster Williams’ drama class, Taylor said, “was the most enjoyable of the whole day.”

“It would uplift me to be in that classroom,” Taylor said of the white female teacher, “and I think all of the students in her class felt that way.”

Taylor also got along well with her principal, Joseph Benson. Benson sought after Taylor’s advice on the white students’ plan to hold a talent assembly featuring blackface makeup performances while singing “Mammy.”

The black students planned to skip the assembly, Taylor said. “What is the problem?” Benson asked Taylor.

“This is how we come to school on a daily basis under this kind of tension,” Taylor explained. “How do you think you would feel if you were in our shoes, and you were to go to an assembly of this type? We will be teased about it for a month afterward.”

Taylor worked at Bundschu’s Store in Independence and Western Electric before settling down with the U.S. Post Office where she retired. Job opportunities as simple as bagging groceries at a market were once unavailable for black residents, Taylor said.

She never thought she’d live long enough to see a black person as a candidate for U.S. president, let alone see a black man serve as the nation’s top elected official.

“I think we’re going to always have problems as long as we have the different races,” she said. “It goes all the way back to the Bible. That’s always going to be a problem, but when I stop and look back at the way things were at one time, everything was just so iffy for us.”