Taking his place in history

Danny Biniecki, The Mentor Managing Editor

Do you know about John Berry Meachum? How about the Learning Tree? The Tuskegee Experiment? These are the questions that Physical Education teacher Robert Harper has asked during Black History Month.

Throughout February, Harper has asked a black history question daily and students who answer the question correctly receive a cash prize. 

“You’ve got the whole world in the palm of your hand,” Harper said. “All these kids would research the answer and would tell me the answer.” 

When asking these questions, Harper is more focused on students actually researching the topic than saying the answer.

“One day one of the SPED teachers emailed me saying that this was a really good distraction because these kids would look up the answer,” Harper said. “So I’m going to reward those kids for taking the time and using the tools to just learn something.” 

Harper started asking black history questions to students many years ago and has continued ever since. Even though this will be his last year because of his retirement, he said it has been the best year he’s ever had asking these questions. 

Harper recalls his years as a student at MHS – his friends, the events he went to with them and that he was a co-founder of MHS’s Black Student Union founded in 1971, his senior  year.

“There were about six of us,” Harper said. “And we started Black Student Union.”

Harper’s cousin’s great grandparents came to Kansas by use of the Underground Railroad back during the Civil War. His grandparents stopped at one of the Railroad’s key stops at the Beecher Bible & Rifle Church in Wabaunsee. Harper’s father had to work on a farm while he went to school. Harper was extremely grateful to have his education, which is what strengthened his passion for the subject. After graduating at K-State he decided to stick around at the school he grew up in, MHS. 

So, to answer those Black History Month questions, John Berry Meachum was the founder of the First African American Church in St. Louis, The Learning Tree was the educational ground for the slaves taught by Mary S. Peake, The Tuskegee Experiment was the use of hundreds of black men as test subjects in highly unethical experiments at the Tuskegee Health Institute in Alabama and Robert Harper was one of the co-founders of Manhattan High’s BSU, a MHS alumnus and a college graduate who devoted his career to proudly educating students at MHS, including during Black History Month.

“The last resort to dehumanize a people is to deprive them of their education.” Harper said.