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Family Works to Inspire, Empower, and Preserve: Opportunity 1888 Foundation, Inc.

Dr. Douglas S. Shipley

In 1888, white citizens of Tipton, Missouri, wanted to build a new school. By also promising to build a school for Blacks, they received Black voters’ support to pass a new school bond levy.  The levy raised $12,000.  There was $10,000 earmarked for the white school, and the remaining $2,000 was allocated for the Black school (Harrison School).  Harrison School was constructed between 1888 and 1890, with formerly enslaved Tipton residents who quarried, transported, and laid the stones for its foundation. In an era of log house buildings for the education of students throughout Missouri, Harrison School was constructed of brick with a stone foundation.

Historic image of Harrison School, Tipton, Missouri
Historic photo of Harrison School in Tipton, Missouri

From 1890 to 1957, Harrison School served Blacks in Tipton and the surrounding area. Before the 1930s, Harrison School only went to the eighth grade, and because of segregation laws, students that wanted to continue their education had to enroll in schools in Kansas City, Jefferson City, Sedalia, or St. Louis, Missouri. Therefore, dreams of higher educational pursuits for Blacks were at best hindered by these laws and at worst completely destroyed. Any potential student attempting to go to high school would have to obtain enough financial support to pay for that education and room and board, as they would need to secure living arrangements in those towns. Between 1936 and 1948, Tipton’s School Board allowed Harrison School to operate a two-year high school program.  However, no additional allotment of money was allocated for Harrison’s new high school program.  Harrison School remains as the last standing 19th-century Black school building in Moniteau County.

In 2020, the descendants of Harrison School alumni and their families joined together and formed a nonprofit organization, Opportunity 1888 Foundation, Inc.  The name pays homage to the year the bond levy facilitated the creation of Harrison School.  The foundation seeks to inspire, empower, and preserve the telling of Black history through education.  Opportunity 1888’s initial projects will include renovating the Harrison School building, preserving its history and the histories of Blacks in the area, and returning Harrison School to its community use. 

In addition to a repository for local Black genealogical interest, regional and national Black historical significance, the building will house the James L. Shipley Museum of African American History.  James L. Shipley is a Tipton native and alumnus of Harrison School.  He is a decorated Army Air Corps veteran with the 332 Fighter Squadron (Tuskegee Airmen), which served during World War II.

Opportunity 1888’s Board is vested in Harrison School’s history.  The school educated Tipton’s Black students, including Galveston Shipley (James Shipley’s father), who attended Harrison School from 1898-1906, and Galveston’s sisters, cousins, nephews, children, and some of his grandchildren.  Galveston Shipley also served 34 years as a teacher and Harrison School’s final Principal.  Galveston Shipley’s parents had the equivalent of a fifth-grade education, and he once wrote: 

“I was always eager for my people to get all that the other races got. For so long, our state laws held back teachers and pupils alike in Negro schools. Separate but equal was only a slogan, not a reality; but I took the scraps, the hand-me-down books, and other segregation practices and tried to build up respect for law and order, self-reliance, the use of what was at hand while we hoped and worked for a brighter day.” 

Opportunity 1888 looks to shine a light on Harrison School, and Tipton’s and the surrounding communities’ Black histories. There are direct correlations between the knowledge of this history, Galveston Shipley’s educational leadership, and the foundation of scholarship, which have been passed on to the generations of students that attended Harrison School and their descendants.

On February 1, 2021, Opportunity 1888 was successful in its campaign to have Harrison School officially listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.  The designation will allow a wider recognition for Tipton, Moniteau County, and the Central Missouri area.

Current photo of Harrison School.
Harrison School as it appears today.

Harrison School is the foundation of Opportunity 1888’s plan for education and community growth. Opportunity 1888’s goals are to:

  • Preserve the Harrison School building and the history, landmarks, and presence of Central Missouri’s Black community
  • Serve as an educational, cultural, and civic resource to promote Tipton’s Black history, its implications, and its connections to the larger society
  • Impart the understanding that people born in bondage, held as property, and emancipated could then study, earn degrees, and become world leaders
  • Provide a space where individuals, teams, and organizations can address self-imposed barriers
  • Promote a more inclusive society.

In order to accomplish these goals, Opportunity 1888 needs immediate funding. Harrison School is a 132 year old building. Due to its age and changes in public safety regulations, the building will require site and preservation studies, and the development of a unique set of architectural renovation plans that will preserve Harrison School’s place in history and the area’s future. This funding must be obtained before any of the necessary renovations to the building can begin.

Visit https://opportunity1888.org/ for more information or to make a donation.