Historic Dunbar High School Remembers Past, Looks to Future | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Historic Dunbar High School Remembers Past, Looks to Future

Play associated audio
Dunbar High School was founded in 1870 as the nation's first public high school for black students. An existing building for the school was built in the mid-1970s, but had few windows and no walls separating classrooms from each other.
Martin Austermuhle
Dunbar High School was founded in 1870 as the nation's first public high school for black students. An existing building for the school was built in the mid-1970s, but had few windows and no walls separating classrooms from each other.

The District's Dunbar High School opened for classes this week in a brand new, state-of-the art building, complete with a sparkling auditorium, interactive white boards and top of the line science labs. But the new Dunbar is also designed to teach students lessons about one very specific subject: history. Dunbar was the first public school for black students in the U.S, and its alumni include America's first black federal judge and the Army's first black general.

Some of that history has faded over the years, as D.C. public schools like Dunbar have become better known for dysfunction than for achievement. The new building, which features a museum and plaques commemorating notable alumni, seeks to revive it.

"I'm so glad that the history of the school is physically built into the building so that it cannot be lost," journalist Alison Stewart recently said on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

Both of her parents attended Dunbar, when it was still a segregated school. "That is, I think, so important, and I'm paraphrasing here, but I think it was Marcus Garvey who said, 'a culture in ethnicity that doesn't know its history is like a tree without its roots.' And I think it's so important — you can't relive the past — you cannot recreate Dunbar, but you can be inspired by its history, the fight for it, the fight for it to stay being a good school, the excellence and the extraordinary achievements of its graduates."

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray graduated from Dunbar in 1959. At the school's ribbon cutting earlier this month, he boasted about the eight Dunbar alumni who've been featured on U.S. postage stamps -- a group that includes the physician Charles Drew and historian Carter G. Woodson.

"I don't know the data, but I bet you there's not 10 percent of other high schools in America that have even two of its graduates on postage stamps," Gray said in his remarks.

Principal Stephen Jackson knows the history of Dunbar quite well — his great aunt graduated from the school in the 1930s, when it was an academic powerhouse. He said it was particularly important that some of the plaques and markers in the new building were left blank to honor future students.

"We told students: 'You see that marker on the floor? That can be you one day,'" Jackson said.


[Music: "School Days" by Santo & Johnny from Sleepwalk: The Very Best Of]

Photos: Dunbar High School

Photos courtesy of Martin Austermule


Related Video: Legacy of notable alumni at Dunbar High School

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Dec. 25

Merry Christmas from Art Beat! Two shows keep the holiday festivities going through the weekend.

NPR

Inside The Indiana Megadairy Making Coca-Cola's New Milk

Coca-Cola got a lot of attention in November when it announced it was going into the milk business. In fact, its extra-nutritious milk product was invented by some dairy farmers in Indiana.
NPR

What To Expect In The 2016 Presidential Announcement Season

With Jeb Bush signaling he's likely to run for president in 2016, it's another sign that the presidential announcement season is underway. Here's a look at who has jumped in the race early and what to expect in the coming months.
NPR

2014 Hashtags: #BringBackOurGirls Made Nigerian Schoolgirls All Of 'Ours'

As part of a series on hashtag activism in 2014, Audie Cornish speaks with Obiageli Ezekwesili of the Open Society Foundation. Ezekwesili was one of the early promoters of the hashtag #bringbackourgirls, about schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria in April.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.