About the Scotts of Topeka

Elisha, Sr., John and Charles Scott

Elisha J. Scott, Sr. was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1890--the youngest of thirteen children. The large Scott family made their way to Topeka, settling on Lane Street in West Topeka.

Elisha was befriended by a local, well-respected minister, the Rev. Charles Sheldon. Rev. Sheldon paid Elisha's tuition at the Kansas Technical Institute, an all-black vocational school, which helped propel Elisha into Washburn University's Law School where he graduated in 1916. He was the only black in his graduating class and only the third black to graduate from Washburn Law School.

Elisha went on to become one of Topeka's most prominent attorneys. His courtroom flair and extraordinary flamboyance gained him national exposure. It was not uncommon for his mail to be addressed simply as "Colored Lawyer, Topeka." Elisha was known for taking cases that were impossible to win. He used every legal maneuver available to secure an acquittal.

His financial breakthrough came in the mid-20s when he represented a group of black and Indian clients from Oklahoma and Texas who had been driven off their land. As it turned out, the land was rich in oil.

Elisha and his wife Esther V. Vandyne Scott had three sons; Elisha, Jr., John, and Charles. All three would join their father's law practice. Elisha Sr., John and Charles secured their place in history as the proponents of a landmark desegregation case.

After 1948, Elisha Jr. went off to Flint, Michigan to take over his uncle's law practice.

Elisha Scott, Sr. died on April 22, 1963 at the age of 73.

In 1951, at the age of 32, John J. Scott earned a place in history when he joined his brother, Charles, in a fight for the educational equality of all children. John was born on August 31, 1919 in Topeka. He was the second child of Elisha and Esther Scott.

He received his formal education at Topeka High School and the University of Kansas. After graduation, John decided to follow in his father's footsteps and in 1942 entered Washburn University Law School. He completed two years when he was called for active duty in World War II. In 1946, John returned to Washburn to complete his law degree. He graduated on June 8, 1947 and joined his father in the family law firm.

Notoriety came to John in 1954 when he and his brother Charles filed the now-famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case. That same year Scott and his wife Berdyne relocated to Washington, D.C. where he took a position at the Department of Interior as assistant solicitor.

John worked for the Department of Interior for 30 years and retired in October, 1984. Later that month, October 24, John J. Scott died of a heart attack. He was 65. In October of 1996, his wife Berdyne spoke at dedication ceremonies for Scott Magnet School.

Born on April 15, 1921 in Topeka, Charles S. Scott, Sr. became the second heir to the then-famous trial lawyer Elisha Scott, Sr. Charles attended Topeka Public Schools and graduated from Topeka High School. He began at Washburn Law School in 1940 only to be interrupted by World War II. During the war he was assigned to the all-black 2nd Cavalry Division and served in Southern France. After the war, Charles re-enrolled in Washburn Law School and acquired his law degree in 1948. From there he went on to join his father and two brothers, John and Elisha, Jr., at the family firm.

During his initial years in private practice, Charles and his father were successful in securing the racial integration of elementary schools in South Park, Johnson County, Kansas. Later, with his brother John, he represented plaintiffs in several cases that sought to allow blacks access to swimming pools, theaters, and restaurants in Topeka.

In 1954, Charles was one of the attorneys who filed the landmark Brown vs. Board case. Although the case was unsuccessful at the District Court level, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned it on May 17, 1954. Charles S. Scott, Sr. died on March 3, 1989. He was 67.

Thanks to Brad Stauffer of the Communications Dept. of Topeka Public Schools, USD 501 for providing this information.



John J. Scott, Aug. 31, 1919 - Oct. 24, 1984
Martha Ransom, 1827 - Oct. 1, 1917

Mrs. Martha Ransom, lovingly called Granny Ransom, was an ex-slave freed by the Great Emancipation Proclamation, and is buried here, the Old Richie Cemetery.
On Aug. 31, 1919. John Jefferson Scott, one of Granny Ransom's great-grandsons, was born. John was destined to continue the fight for freedom by becoming one of the architects of Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education.


There are believed to be other graves which are not visible, including those for some Native Americans and former slaves. See Cemetery photographs.
Read Capital-Journal article about Ritchie Cemetery.

All photos © 2001 by Carol Yoho
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