Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Legacy of D.C.'s Dunbar H.S.

Up! Men and brothers, be noble, be earnest!
Ripe is the time and success is assured;
Know that your fate was the hardest and sternest
When through those lash-ringing days you endured.
-- Paul Laurence Dunbar

The nation's first black public high school, named after the great African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and located less than two miles from the nation's capitol, opened its doors in 1870. But more than 140 years later, Dunbar — like many urban schools — has fallen on hard times. The crumbling, brutalist-style building is often described as a prison, and graduation rates hover around 60 percent.
But it wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, the yearbook read like a Who's Who of black America.
"It's really amazing because we're talking about people who literally changed America, who changed the United States," journalist Alison Stewart tells host Audie Cornish on All Things Considered. "The architect of school desegregation, Charles Hamilton Houston, was a Dunbar graduate. Elizabeth Catlett, the artist. Billy Taylor, the jazz musician. The first black general in the Army. The first black graduate of the Naval Academy. The first black presidential Cabinet member. The lists go on and on."
In 2008, then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee handed Dunbar over to a private, outside group to run. By 2010 the group had run Dunbar further into the ground and was given the boot by Rhee's successor, Kaya Henderson. Since then, it's been one new "reform" after another with a revolving door of leadership. Sounds a lot like Chicago's DuSable H.S., now "reformed" out of existence by corporate reformers and charter privateers to make way for neighborhood gentrification.

Be sure and read the comments section which add some interesting history to Stewart's account.

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