Story at a glance
- Seaman High School is named after founder and principal Fred Seaman, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
- Two student journalists found documentation of Seaman’s association with the KKK and published the information.
- The school board says they will listen to input from the community and have a discussion regarding the name.
High school rumors are notoriously scandalous, but sometimes the truth behind the rumor is even darker.
Two Kansas high school students and journalists found historical newspaper articles confirming that Fred Seaman, the founder and former principal of Seaman High School in Topeka, was not only a member of the Ku Klux Klan but a leader.
“We are grateful our district today is inclusive as we welcome and embrace all students regardless of color, race, ethnicity, etc. and we will continue to listen and support the research of our students and teachers in this ongoing investigation,” said the Seaman Board of Education in a statement to The Clipper, adding that the board is planning for a discussion and community input.
READ MORE LIKE THIS FROM CHANGING AMERICA
Seniors Tristan Fangman and Madeline Gearhart are co-editors-in-chief of The Clipper, the high school's newspaper, and they got a tip from history teacher Nathan McAlister, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, after he received a newspaper clip from an anonymous source. Fangman and McAlister tracked down more articles from The Atchison Globe, The Topeka Journal and The Hutchinson News, referencing Seamen in relation to the city's 1925 mayoral race.
“I think, part of the reason this is coming to light now is the fact that we’re getting to a point where more newspapers are being digitized, and so it’s easier for people to find information in those newspapers,” McAlister told the Capital-Journal. “As this goes along and as these get easier access, I think we’re going to find more stories similar to this.”
Seaman supported the Klan-blacked candidate J. E. Thomas, the articles revealed, and went on to run for state superintendent of instruction on a Klan ticket, according to reporting from the Kansas City Star.
“The Klan ticket, the first of its kind in a Topeka city election, appeared at the election polls… the tiny two inch by four inch slips bear across the face of the endorsement of Fred A. Seaman, exalted cyclops of the Klan organization. Seaman is principal of the Seaman rural high school, north of the city,” said an article in the Topeka Journal published on April 7, 1925, and cited by the Clipper.
The student newspaper said it alerted the Seaman school district's Board of Education, and Fangman told the Topeka Capital-Journal there had already been calls for a name change, despite those who argue that the past association has little to do with the present.
The Ku Klux Klan is a white supremacist, racist organization that exists to this day, despite the Department of Homeland security adding white supremacy to a list of domestic terrorism threats. They are not officially active in Kansas, which pushed the KKK out of the state in 1925. There are three official hate groups in Kansas today, according to the The Southern Poverty Law Center, including a neo-Nazi and Black separatist group and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, where roughly 10 percent of the population is Black.
“I think we’ve come a long way as a society and been more accepting,” Fangman told the Capital-Journal. “Naming the school after someone who was a part of that, it just comes off bad. Right now, we’re in a time that when people are tearing down statues of former slave owners, so for us as a school to have that name, it just becomes really controversial."
THE LATEST ON THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT