Black History Month 2024: First Class- Forward, Introduction, and Prologue

This year for Black History Month we’ll review chapter by chapter Alison Stewart’s First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School. This is more Truxton Circle related then this blog’s previous annual looks at Shaw resident and founder of Negro History Week (later Black history month) Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s Mis-Education of the Negro. As Dunbar High School is located in Truxton Circle currently taking up all of Square 554.

The Forward was written by author and political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry. She sets her part of the story in 2006/2007 during the Mayor Fenty years and mentions education reform. She then gives a wide sweep of the period the book covers which is about 100+ years where it goes from seeking excellence to mired in underachievement.

In the Introduction the author starts in 2003 with a plan to visit the school. When speaking to a local about the school the person gives mild praise to the basketball team. She entered and walked around with no one questioning her presence there. It was a far cry from the place her parents had described. She makes some useful points going forward reading the book about what we (as I too am African American) have called ourselves through time and that the author uses those terms. Another thing she wants readers to keep in mind are the school’s name changes. First it is the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, then M Street High School and finally Dunbar.

In the introduction is a great point I will quote:

The story of Dunbar shows what can happen in spite of huge legal, societal, and professional hurdles. It shows what is possible when a group of people focus and band together to make something better. Dunbar shows what happens when a stable middle class exists.

Th Prologue is a snapshot from Obama’s inauguration January 20, 2009. A couple, Dunbar alumni who were teens in the 1940s were watching the inauguration on TV. They were inspired and hopeful with the start of the first Black president but were scandalized by the performance of Dunbar High School marching band.

Taken January 19, 2009. Dunbar Marching Band marches south on the 1600 block of 4th St NW.