Topeka sites surveyed for potential United Nations designations

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A group of surveyors with ties to the United Nations toured Topeka’s historic Brown vs Board of Education sites over the past two days.

Their visit was just the first step for UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, surveyors to possibly include Topeka in what they call a batch nomination to the U.N.

“We’ve been investigating over a hundred sites across the United States,” said Dr. Glenn Eskew, Director of Georgia State University’s World Heritage Initiative

Two of those sites are in Topeka, and they involve the historic 1954 Brown vs Board of Education Case. Monroe School, a now National Historic Site, and Sumner School. With a side visit to the old Federal Court House where the case was heard.

“Because of their significance in civil rights history,” Eskew explained. “We’re in the process of developing a serial nomination of U.S. civil right sites that we hope that the National Park Service will propose to the World Heritage Committee for potential inscription on the World Heritage list.”

If Topeka is selected for that list, that could mean more for the city.

“This will give people that are driving down I-70 one more reason to stop off and spend some time in Topeka,” said Matt Pivarnik, President & CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership.

“People all over the world are looking at now is those sites that are not only historically relevant and are fixed up so that you can see what it’s like, what it was like there. But that they’re interpretive as well that when you visit, you get a chance to get inside that experience of what they story was at that time,” said Karen Hiller, Topeka City Councilwoman.

But you can’t visit one site. Sumner School is closed and boarded up. The Southern Christian Palace Church, based in California, has owned the school since 2009. The Ward Mead Neighborhood Association has hired a lawyer to help gain the rights to the building, but their attempts to contact the church have gone unanswered.

“Appropriate coalition are put together to bring it back, and so we hope that happens, and there are various people who are working on strategies at this point,” Hiller explained.

The surveyors will give their recommendations to the National Park Service who will then submit the batch nominations to UNESCO. They could not say if the Topeka locations would be included in the nomination.

As for Sumner School, 13 NEWS has reached out to Christian Palace Church with no response.

If the Topeka locations make the list, it could also mean the locations can use the designation to apply for additional funding grants.