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Vivian Scales Interview

View at Kansas Memory

Creator: Scales, Vivian M.

Date: October 30, 1991

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Audiotape, Voice

Call Number: Cassette Tape 78, 35-10-05-06
Brown v. Board Oral History Coll. 251, Box 3, Folder 2

Unit ID: 211838

Restrictions: This interview has a signed release for scholarly or educational purposes only.

Summary: Vivian Scales was born March 11, 1922, in Winfield, Cowley County, Kansas, where she attended an integrated grade school. After her family moved to Topeka she became a student at the segregated McKinley Elementary, which was an adjustment for her and her siblings. She later attended Curtis Junior High and Topeka High School. Her interview discusses how extracurricular activities at Topeka High were segregated on the basis of race. After she married and started a family she joined the Topeka chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where she became a plaintiff in the Brown v. Board case that called for the desegregation of Topeka grade schools. Scales had attempted to enroll her daughter, Ruth Ann, in fourth grade at Parkdale Elementary, which was only two blocks from their home. Her request was denied. Ruth Ann had attended the segregated Washington and Monroe Elementary schools, which were both located far from the Scales' home. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated educational facilities were unconstitutional. The interview was conducted by Jean VanDelinder. This interview has a signed release for scholarly or educational purposes only.

Space Required/Quantity: One compact cassette audiotape.

Title (Main title): Vivian Scales Interview

Titles (Other):

  • Vivian Scales

Part of: Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Oral History Collection at the Kansas State Historical Society.


Biog. Sketch (Full): Vivian Scales

Mrs. Vivian Scales and her sister Mrs. Shirla Fleming (deceased) secured their places in the history books as two of the thirteen plaintiffs in the NAACP’s Brown case of 1954. Mrs. Scales was a participant on behalf of her daughter Ruth Ann. Mrs. Fleming participated on behalf of her sons Silas and Duane.

Vivian was born March 11, 1922, in the small central Kansas community of Winfield. Her parents were Ella (Palmer) and James Willhoite. Mrs. Scales was one of eight children. She was entering third grade when her parents, Sarah and James Willhoite, moved their seven daughters and one son to Topeka. Both parents had come to Kansas from the South. Her mother was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and her father in Memphis, Tennessee. Ironically Winfield was a second-class city based on population and according to Kansas law could not operate segregated schools. Consequently Vivian and her siblings came to Topeka’s segregated schools from an integrated rural education.

Once in Topeka, she attended McKinley Elementary, one of the segregated schools for African American children. From there she went on to Curtis Junior High and Topeka Senior High, both integrated schools. However, the high school was only integrated for academics. Extra curricular activities were segregated. After graduation she married George Scales (born August 3, 1919, in Topeka, Kansas) on August 5, 1941, and started a family.

As a young wife and mother she joined the Topeka NAACP along with her sister Shirla. It was through the organization that they were asked to participate in a class action suit to challenge segregated public elementary schools in Topeka. She was willing because her daughter, Ruth Ann, attended segregated Washington and later Monroe Elementary Schools. Both of these schools were of some distance from their home while Parkdale Elementary School for white children was just two blocks away. In the fall of 1950, she and her sister took a stand. By following the instructions given by NAACP legal counsel, their unsuccessful attempts to enroll their children in public elementary schools designated for white children only provided evidence to file a court challenge to the Board of Education racial segregation policy. Her sister’s husband has been quoted over the years for his testimony in this case. "The only way to reach the light is to start our children together in their infancy and they will come up together.”

Mr. & Mrs. George Scales still reside in Topeka. Their daughter Ruth Ann (Scales) Everett, her children and grandchildren also reside in Topeka.

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Restrictions: This interview has a signed release for scholarly or educational purposes only.