BY Stephen Nartey, 11:32am December 14, 2022,

How America’s 1st Black public high school started in a church basement changed history

Dunbar High School/Photo credit: Wiki

Dunbar High School is the first public high school for African-American students in the U.S. It has produced many influential African Americans like Edward Brooke, the first person to be elected to the U.S. Senate; Benjamin O. David Jr, the first African-American Air Force general, and many more.

The school started in the basement of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church with the goal of providing education to African-American children. It was initially named M Street High School before it took on the name Dunbar in 1916, as reported by Saving Places. The school was named after African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

The school launched a concerted campaign to attract the most intelligent African-American students in the districts. It demanded academic excellence from each of its students amid racial segregation, and encouraged them to defy odds and dream beyond their reach. It made students believe that it is possible to become anything they dreamed of irrespective of the color of their skin. Dunbar High School authorities also made sure that students used grammar correctly when speaking English while urging students to strive to acquire a college education.

Journalist Alison Stewart in her book “First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School” said the values of Dunbar do not lie in the structure but in the living evidence of those who witnessed and passed through the system. She wrote her book to document the history of Dunbar High School so its story will not be lost in the wake of the school’s original structure being demolished a number of times.

The school was demolished and rebuilt twice — in 1977 and 2013. Alison observed that the school has had its highs and lows and has been representative of the city. She said that though the old structure had been demolished, the newly erected Dunbar High School embodies the spirit and legacy of the school.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Black schools were at the heart of race riots and post-civil actions which were not conducive to teaching and learning. This explains why the new Dunbar High School has a towering look that welcomes everyone and radiates a community where academic excellence is the hallmark.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: December 14, 2022


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