Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 14 From Bed-Stuy to Shaw

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 Bed-Stuy in the chapter title refers to a New York neighborhood from which the group Friends of Bedford hailed. It was the earlier part of the Fenty mayoral administration, which meant the Superintendent was Michelle Rhee. This was an environment for trying new things, hiring consultants, throwing more spaghetti at walls. The pasta in this case was Friends of Bedford who were tasked with fixing schools like Dunbar High.

The school building was in poor shape. The Friends of Bedford noted the unsatisfactory ADA compliance,  bad interiors, dirty carpets, an unstable aged roof and ‘fair’ electrical system. FoB had a Summer Blitz where there was cleaning and fixing. Unfortunately, a lot of Dunbar’s history got ditched in the frenzy. Yeah, that happened.

In 2010 there was a very heated race for the mayor and Fenty was replaced by Councilman Vincent Gray. The chapter pointed out that Gray did not like Rhee. A lot of people did not like Rhee. I suspect some did not like her because she wasn’t Black. But many more probably didn’t like her because of all the school closures and other shake ups.

Gray was a Dunbar graduate (1959), but a post-desegregation Dunbar grad. So he didn’t have the same love or romance for the school as the legally segregated Dunbar. He was asked to be the commencement speaker for the class of 2010. Fenty was on the same platform. Both addressed the students. Fenty was booed.