The Springfield Free Public Library's (Really Good!) Book Discussion Group will meet on Thursday, May 2nd at 7 p.m. to discuss First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black High School by Alison Stewart.
Dunbar was an academically elite public school, despite being racially segregated by law and at the mercy of the congressmen who held the school’s purse strings. At one point Dunbar had 100 % black students and many famous graduates. One of Dunbar’s first principals in Washington, DC was the first black graduate of Harvard College. Almost all the teachers had graduate degrees, and several earned PhDs. By the 1950s, Dunbar High School was sending 80% of its students to college. But all this changed after the landmark United States Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education that ruled for integration of public schools. The end of racial segregation in Washington led to a political compromise in which all schools became neighborhood schools. Dunbar had been accepting outstanding black students from anywhere in the city. This changed and they could only accept students from the rough ghetto neighborhood in which it was located. Thomas Sowell stated in 2015 that, “Virtually overnight, Dunbar became a typical ghetto school. As unmotivated, unruly and disruptive students flooded in, Dunbar teachers began moving out and many retired. More than 80 years of academic excellence simply vanished into thin air.”
Journalist and author Alison Stewart, whose parents were both Dunbar graduates, tells the story of the school’s rise, fall and path toward resurgence prior to the reopening of its new campus.