Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 16 New New School

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.

In late 2011 the wheels started moving to create the 3rd Dunbar building. It was supposed to be the complete opposite of the 2nd Dunbar building. That was a success. The old 1970ish building was a Brutalist prison like structure and the new, current building looks like it belongs on a college campus. It is well lit, has lots of glass, open in a good way.

View of Armstrong Parking Lot from Dunbar High School window. Taken April 2018.

One part of the DC government to take credit for this change for the better is the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM) which was formed in 2007. OPEFM wanted to have a nod to the 1916 building, which there is.  The old building was along 1st St, the 1977 was closer to New Jersey Avenue. The current building is at the corner of 1st and N St NW.

The new building was planned to reflect current values but also make alumni happy. It was planned to be a LEED building. It was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There was space for metal detectors… we’re not about to forget about the crime. You kidding, we’re still in Shaw. There were nods to great Dunbar alumni built into the building.

Not mentioned in the chapter was another great change with the new building. O Street was reopened. Dunbar II ate O Street. It was not there. The neighborhood gained some extra street parking. It was good.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 15 The Fall

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.

So it’s 2010 and Dunbar is going down. In flames. Figuratively.

Literally it was a hot mess. In the previous chapter the building was not only ugly as sin, it was also in meh to poor condition in need of serious repairs. The open classroom concept worked against classroom management and made it hard to teach. In a school. Where the whole point is to teach students. Crime was a problem. The crime around the school was also inside. Drugs and gambling were inside. And there was a publicized sexual assault of a student in a stairwell.

Mayor Fenty lost to Vincent Gray in 2010. With that polarizing Superintendent Michelle Rhee was not able to remain, even after being heroically portrayed in Waiting for Superman. Gray removed a lot of Fenty’s work, including the Friends of Bedford managing Dunbar. Rhee was replaced by Kaya Henderson and the FoB were replaced by interim principal Stephen Jackson.

Alumni did not seem to care for Jackson because he was a FoB hire. They did not care for the New York connection. Jackson survived that and was able to stick around for the plans for a 3rd Dunbar building.

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.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 13 Children Left Behind

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.

This chapter starts in 2008. It’s the Fenty era and Michelle Rhee is the first, and so far only, Asian American DC school chancellor. The chapter name refers to President Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ program.

The author covers the poor education students received in 2008. It didn’t improve. I covered Dunbar’s PARCC scores in 2019 and they are depressing.
PARCC by Race

PARCC Scores 2018-19, % meeting & exceeding expectations
Black White Hispanic Asian
ELA 2018-19 16.5% N/A n<10 N/A
Math 2018-19 .5% N/A n<10 n<10
Males ELA 13.4% N/A n<10 N/A
Males Math .9% N/A n<10 n<10

ELA- basically covers English and Language Arts, that would be reading and writing. And Math is math, numbers, adding, subtracting, figuring out sales tax or a 20% tip. Less than 1% of Dunbar students were proficient in Math.

The chapter covers the school from the 1980s to the aughts. The author mentions the school’s challenges as well as a few success stories as it is not all doom and gloom, despite dismal academics.  But there was a clear academic and cultural difference between pre-desegregation Dunbar and post.

That difference also showed up in a division in the alumni association. The old Dunbar alumni who were held to higher standards and expectations had trouble connecting with the younger alumni. It is not as if the Old Dunbar did not help the New Dunbar students. There were scholarships and a story about a student who was accepted into Amherst College revived a Amherst-Dunbar connection and money flowed to the student.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 12 New School

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.

Southeast on 7th and M Street, 1969

This chapter starts with the 1968 riots which pretty much destroyed much of 9th and 7th Street in Shaw. Yes, other neighborhoods experienced damage too, but we’re focusing on Shaw. The damage lasted 30 years. Whatever plans for the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area took on a new spirit after the riots and redoing Dunbar was part of it.

There were pre-riot plans for the Dunbar facility. There was a modernization plan to make it larger than Eastern High School. After the riot the School Board decided the building needed to be torn down.

As the 1970s approach Dunbar was a completely different school. Gone were the high standards and expectations of earlier years. There was a mix and range of students. And there were drug dealers around the neighborhood.

This chapter gives some detail about the prison like structure that loomed on Square 554 for 30 years. The new Dunbar Senior High School would be modern. It had open classrooms. I’m sure that idea looked great on paper.

Of course Dunbar alumni fought the good fight and tried to save the original 1916 building. Senator Brooke (mentioned in the previous chapter) lent his support for saving the old building. Apparently the building was recognized as an historic landmark. The alumni even took the city to court in 1977. June 2, 1977 the city began to knock down the old Dunbar building.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 11 Elite versus Elitism

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 first half of the chapter is about all the great graduates of Dunbar. Jazz pianist Billy Taylor (1939) and Senator Edward William Brooke III (1936).

Billy Taylor. 1947.
Senator Edward Brooke standing behind a chair which is decorated with the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, probably in Washington, D.C. after his election

 

 

 

 

 

The second half has Dunbar going through the 1960s and a tension of philosophies. To tell that story the focus is Madison Tingor, a teacher who started at Dunbar in the 1930s and in the 60s was given a chance to be the assistant principal of the formerly all-white Eastern High School. It was the philosophy and outlook that he brought from Dunbar vs the 60s Afrocentric strivers.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 10 Bolling, NOT Brown

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.

Most are familiar with Brown v. Board of Education. It is the US Supreme Court case cited and credited with desegregating American schools. What most don’t realize (because history seems to be a drive by affair where you briefly are told of a topic and then immediately run off to the next in the chronology) that Brown v. Board was made of 5 cases, a DC case being one of them. That DC case was Bolling v. Sharpe.

The note that a M St/Dunbar graduate, Charles Houston, was on the legal team seems unimportant. What the chapter does is give a sense of what public education was like for African American students in the 1950s. The previous chapters gave it for the 1940s and earlier. Both Dunbar and Armstrong were overcrowded in 1948, as well as the other Black high schools in the city.

Armstrong High School March 1942
Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information photograph collection (Library of Congress)- Armstrong High 1942.

May 17, 1954 the US Supreme Court made their decision on Brown v. Board and that year the District began a slow roll to desegregate starting at the elementary level. Of course, there was fighting. At least in the book, adults in positions of influence fighting about how the desegregation was going and planned.

I’m going to detour from the book to make a note. In the neighborhood had a smattering of white families in the 1950 census and by 1960, they’re gone. Doing the WSIC 1950 sell off series, I know why. It wasn’t because of school desegregation that had the families moving out. It was that those households were renters and their landlord WSIC decided to sell, specifically to Black buyers. Just looking at the census demographics and knowing about desegregation, it’s no great leap to assume that the change was due to the schools. Okay, back to the book.

“By 1957, Superintendent Hobart Corning declared, “Desegregation id complete.” But he then added this: “Desegregation is the moving about of people and things, Integration is a much longer process depending the creation of a community.”” So what does this mean for Dunbar, a school dedicated to Black academic excellence? Well it was the beginning of the end of that tradition and that culture.

Those fighting hard for desegregation weren’t thinking about Dunbar and what would come of its teachers and prospective students.  Dunbar was on its way to becoming just a neighborhood school.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 9 Right to Serve

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.

Military unit in Armstrong Technical High School which is trained by the regular Army, a tradition in all Washington schools. Library of Congress

Yes the above photo is of Armstrong students, but they are on the Dunbar campus. Chapter 9 is about Dunbar students who went to serve and have careers in the US military. I will focus on what happened at Dunbar.

Dunbar had the Dunbar High School Cadet Corps, referred to as the Corps in the chapter. Armstrong had a Corps too, but the book isn’t about them. It appears the Corps formed in the 1940s, probably a response to America’s involvement in World War II.

We learn about the importance of the Corps through Wesley Brown. Brown was the son of a truck driver and a laundress, and he himself had a job in a mailroom. He juggled school work and work work. Brown credited the high expectations he was held to at Dunbar and the discipline drilling gave him a leg up over other cadets at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. And it was at Annapolis he met and befriended Jimmy Carter.

But back to Dunbar.  “The cadets were a part of everyday life at Dunbar.” They marched everywhere. Inside the building, as there was a large space on the 1st floor that could accommodate a group that size. They marched in front of the school’s armory. They practiced drills with Browning rifles. They even had a firing range at the school. Cadets were expected to keep their uniforms sharp and clean.

Students in the Corps practiced/drilled constantly. There were competitions. The author mentions drill competitions going back to 1890s. The drilling and the expectations placed on students provided them with the skills needed to serve well in our armed forces.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 8 Coming of Age

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.

This chapter focuses on the Class of 1946 and their stories. From these individuals’ stories we can see how much Dunbar meant to them and what a unique institution it was. We can gather this group was still alive to extract this history from when the author was gathering material.

The story of Vashti Atkins, who was the Editor in Chief of the Dunbar yearbook, was less than romantic. In her sophomore year she got TB and at that time had to go to a special hospital where she stayed for a little over 3 years. But while in the hospital she was roomed with another Dunbar student, Vivian Stark and they formed a life long friendship. When she returned to Dunbar, she was a legal adult.

The next story was that of Joe Stewart was was from New York City. Dunbar must have been something special as it seemed to attract students beyond the District of Columbia’s borders. His parents were concerned about his academic future. His father graduated from M Street, so his parents decided to send him to live with grandparents in DC to attend Dunbar. Stewart recalled an instance when he and a fellow student Leon Ransom were collecting signatures to protest Safeway’s lack of Black cashiers and the police were called. Leon “Andy” Ransom was the son of NAACP lawyer Leon A. Ransom, and upon recognition of the name the police left the boys alone. The chapter also tells Carol Graham’s story and we learn later that Carol and Joe Stewart married and their lives after Dunbar.

Black History Month 2024: First Class- Ch. 7 Chromatics

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.

Oh this will be quick. There was a rumor about Dunbar that darker skinned students were not allowed there. It was wrong. Students of various shades and economic backgrounds attended.