*Update: The time for a rally being held at the Kansas State Capitol, highlighting efforts to reopen the “Kansas Vocational School,” a historically black college in Topeka, has been changed. The rally will take place Thursday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


TOPEKA (KSNT) – In the heart of downtown Topeka, just a couple of miles from the Kansas State Capitol, what used to be a prestigious Black college known by some as the “Tuskegee of the West,” is now a prison.

Long-time Topeka activist Curtis Pitts is moving forward with plans to reopen the former vocational school. In an exclusive interview with the Kansas Capitol Bureau, he said the institution once provided education opportunities for people in the community.

“They were self sufficient. They had their own farm. They had their own water and irrigation system. They had a nursing program. They had tailoring. They had so many things that we needed to make our community competitive,” Pitts said.

“We can again build strong families and communities again using this institution and this land.”

Pitts is calling on state leaders to help return the institution to its former glory, and to reclaim land that is now home to the Topeka Correctional Facility.

This year, Pitts’ goal is to work with state lawmakers to develop a bill as part of his three-part plan.

“We’re talking about trying to get legislation passed during this session — make whole the ability for us to renovate,” he said. “A year from now, offer academic programs out there. Two years to be accredited, three years to be on site … This is key to the longevity and the upward mobility of our state.”

The local activist is also holding a rally at the Kansas Statehouse on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to talk more with lawmakers and community members about the former vocational school and his plans to restore it.