Dunbar High School is the country’s first public high school for African-American students. It has produced numerous important African Americans, including Edward Brooke, the first African-American elected to the United States Senate, and Benjamin O. David Jr, the first African-American Air Force general, among others.
With the objective of offering education to African-American children, the school began in the basement of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church. According to Saving Places, it was once known as M Street High School before being renamed Dunbar in 1916. Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet, inspired the school’s name.
The school began a concentrated effort to recruit the most intelligent African-American pupils in the district. It expected academic success from all of its pupils despite racial segregation, and encouraged them to defy obstacles and dream big. It inspired kids to believe that they could achieve their dreams regardless of their skin color. Dunbar High School officials also ensured that students employed proper grammar when speaking English while encouraging students to pursue a college education.
In her book “First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School,” journalist Alison Stewart stated that the values of Dunbar are not found in the building but in the living testimony of individuals who watched and passed through the system. She authored her book to preserve the history of Dunbar High School in the aftermath of the school’s original structure being dismantled several times.
In 1977 and 2013, the school was dismantled and rebuilt. Alison noticed that the school has had its ups and downs and has functioned as a microcosm of the city. She stated that, while the old edifice had been dismantled, the newly constructed Dunbar High School embodies the school’s spirit and tradition.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Black schools were at the epicenter of race riots and post-civil unrest that were detrimental to teaching and learning. This explains why the new Dunbar High School has a towering appearance that welcomes everyone and exudes academic success.