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First Class

The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


Combining a fascinating history of the first U.S. high school for African Americans with an unflinching analysis of urban public-school education today, First Class explores an underrepresented and largely unknown aspect of black history while opening a discussion on what it takes to make a public school successful. In 1870, in the wake of the Civil War, citizens of Washington, DC, opened the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, the first black public high school in the United States; it would later be renamed Dunbar High and would flourish despite Jim Crow laws and segregation. Dunbar attracted an extraordinary faculty: its early principal was the first black graduate of Harvard, and at a time it had seven teachers with PhDs, a medical doctor, and a lawyer. During the school’s first 80 years, these teachers would develop generations of highly educated, successful African Americans, and at its height in the 1940s and ’50s, Dunbar High School sent 80 percent of its students to college. Today, as in too many failing urban public schools, the majority of Dunbar students are barely proficient in reading and math. Journalist and author Alison Stewart—whose parents were both Dunbar graduates—tells the story of the school’s rise, fall, and possible resurgence as it looks to reopen its new, state-of-the-art campus in the fall of 2013.

From Publishers Weekly

May 13, 2013 –  When Dunbar High School opened in Washington, D.C., in 1916, it was already a historic institution. The first public high school for black students in the U.S. had its roots in the basement of a black church in 1870 as the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, and its flowering as M Street High School (1891 1916). The school flourished through the mid-20th century, and suffered during the latter half; its history traverses the rise and decline of public education in America s cities. The school currently has 98% black students and a dismal performance record, but previously Dunbar had 100% black students and many famous graduates: Jean Toomer (1914); Sterling Brown (1918); Charles Drew (1922); and Eleanor Holmes Norton (1955), to name a few. Journalist Stewart s book, featuring a foreword by Tulane political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry, embraces principals, staff, and teachers, buildings and curricula, public policy debates and internecine ones, through Dunbar s nearly 150-year history; interviews with alumni are included as well. Worthy as this remarkable history is, it ambles from the chatty to the clunky, from the storyteller s impulse to the political edge. Nevertheless, Stewart s question, What will the newest incarnation of Dunbar be? remains germane, especially as its new building is scheduled to open in fall 2013. Contemplating Dunbar s history may offer answers. 25 b&w photos.
First Class
View in iTunes
  • $16.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Aug 01, 2013
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press
  • Seller: Chicago Review Press, Inc. DBA Independent Publishers Group
  • Print Length: 352 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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