Growing up, Mary (Jennings) McCallop attended Shawnee’s Dunbar School, a one-room all-black school. The McCallop children attended Greenwood Integrated School near Shawnee. However, when the McCallops’ children reached eighth grade, they were barred from attending the all-white Shawnee Mission High School. There was no high school in Johnson County for black students.
Rather than allow segregation to keep his children from getting a full education, Robert McCallop, like his father, chose to fight for freedom. In 1934, McCallop converted his farm truck into a makeshift bus, which he used to transport his children and others from Shawnee and South Park (present-day Merriam) to Northeast Junior High and Sumner High School in Wyandotte County.
The need for this type of transportation was so great that McCallop was able to start the first school bus service in Johnson County, the RL McCallop Bus Service. McCallop and his team drove African-American children to school during the week and transported private school students and religious groups on weekends in a fleet of more than ten buses. He’s owned and operated the McCallop Bus Service for 39 years. Many family members worked as chauffeurs.
After schools nationwide were integrated in 1954 following the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Robert McCallop took on a new role in addition to his private bus line: bus driver for the Shawnee Mission School District. He transported white students to the school that his own children had not been able to attend for many years. He retired from driving for SMSD at age 78 and died in 1981.
As Oscar Johnson, former president of the Northeast Johnson County branch of the NAACP, said in a Johnson County newspaper article in 2002, “Kids who went to school because of that rush [to Kansas City, Kansas] continue to contribute to the prosperity of this community and this nation”.
Johnson, himself a former educator, continued, “the McCallops were such an intact family, so busy staying the course in a community that wasn’t always welcoming. Yet, they thrived and thrived despite the adversity they faced.” Robert McCallop’s dedication to education has enabled his children and countless other black students living in Johnson County to receive a full public school education.