Dunbar High School (Washington, D.C.)

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Dunbar High School
Dunbar High School.JPG
1301 New Jersey Ave Northwest[1]
District of Columbia, DC 20001
United States
Coordinates 38°54′31″N 77°00′51″W / 38.9087°N 77.0142°W / 38.9087; -77.0142Coordinates: 38°54′31″N 77°00′51″W / 38.9087°N 77.0142°W / 38.9087; -77.0142
School type Public high school
Established 1870
School district District of Columbia Public Schools Ward 5
Principal Stephen Jackson
Faculty 66.0 (on FTE basis)[2]
Grades 9 to 12
Enrollment 837 (as of 2009-10)[2]
Student to teacher ratio 12.68[2]
Campus type Urban
Color(s)      Black
Athletics conference District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association
Mascot Crimson Tide

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a public secondary school located in Washington, D.C., United States. The school is located in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Northwest Washington, two blocks from the intersection of New Jersey and New York Avenues. Dunbar, which serves grades 9 through 12, is a part of the District of Columbia Public Schools.


Originally named the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth and from 1891 to 1916 as M Street High School, the school was founded as an educational mission at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. The school was America's first public high school for black students. The school was renamed in 1916, when its location was changed from M Street, after the famous African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, who died in 1906.

It later was designated as the city's academic high school, with other schools providing more vocational or technical training goals. Dunbar was known for its excellent academics, enough so that some black parents moved to Washington specifically so their children could attend it. Its faculty was paid well by the standards of the time, earning parity pay with Washington's white school teachers because they were all federal employees. It also boasted a remarkably high number of graduates who went on to higher education, and a generally successful student body.

Dunbar is similar to Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland and Fort Worth, Texas, as all three schools have a majority African American student body and are of a major importance to the local African American community. All three schools are also highly regarded for their athletic programs within their respective school district in the sports of football, basketball and track. There is also a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.

One of Dunbar's first principals 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 percent of its students to college.[3] According to Thomas Sowell, this all changed after the landmark United States Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education : "For Washington, the end of racial segregation led to a political compromise, in which all schools became neighborhood schools. Dunbar, which had been accepting outstanding black students from anywhere in the city, could now accept only students from the rough ghetto neighborhood in which it was located. 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." [4]

Since its inception, the school has graduated many well-known figures of the 20th century, including Sterling Brown, H. Naylor Fitzhugh, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Charles R. Drew, William H. Hastie, Charles Hamilton Houston, Robert Heberton Terrell, Benjamin O. Davis, Benjamin O. Davis JR., Paul Capel, III, Robert C. Weaver, and James E. Bowman. Its illustrious faculty included Anna Julia Cooper, Kelly Miller, Mary Church Terrell, A.A. Birch Jr., Carter G. Woodson and Julia Evangeline Brooks who was also a graduate of the school. Among its principals were Anna J. Cooper, Richard Greener, Mary Jane Patterson, and Robert Heberton Terrell. An unusual number of teachers and principals held Ph.D. degrees, including Carter G. Woodson, father of Black history Month and the second African American to earn a Phd. from Harvard (after W. E. B. Du Bois).

This was the result of the entrenched white supremacy that pervaded the nation's professions and served to exclude the majority of African-American women and men from faculty positions at predominantly white institutions of higher learning. As a consequence, however, Dunbar High School was considered the nation's best high school for African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. It helped make Washington an educational and cultural capital.[citation needed]

Until the 1954 opening of the all-black Luther Jackson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia,[5] Dunbar and several other DCPS schools, along with a school in Manassas, Virginia, enrolled black secondary school students from the Fairfax County Public Schools as that district did not yet operate secondary schools for blacks.[6]


Dunbar competes in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Student body[edit]

Dunbar has about 1500 students.[7]

Approximately 46% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch.

Feeder patterns[edit]

Feeder elementary schools include:

  • J. F. Cook
  • Emery
  • Langdon
  • Marshall
  • Terrel
  • Webb
  • Wheatley
  • Young

Feeder middle schools include:

  • Browne

Feeder K-8 schools include:

  • Walker-Jones Education Center

Notable alumni[edit]

Notable graduates include:

Scholars and artists[edit]



Business, religion and professionals[edit]



  1. ^ GNIS entry for Dunbar Senior High School; USGS; December 31, 1981.
  2. ^ a b c National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed December 6, 2011.
  3. ^ [First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School, by Alison Stewart, Chicago Review Press, 2015, ISBN 1613731760, ISBN 978-1613731765]
  4. ^ http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2016/10/04/dunbar-high-school-after-100-years-n2227261
  5. ^ "History." Luther Jackson Middle School. Retrieved on June 4, 2016.
  6. ^ "A history of Luther P. Jackson high school : a report of a case study on the development of a black high school" (abstract). Virginia Tech. Retrieved on June 4, 2016.
  7. ^ Dunbar High School
  8. ^ Jones, Robert B. "Jean Toomer's Life and Career". Modern American Poetry. Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: Department of English, University of Illinois. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Shinhoster Lamb, Yvonne (2005-01-23). "Arts Administrator, Playwright Vantile Whitfield Dies". Washington Post. Washington, DC. Vantile Whitfield, known as "Motojicho," an influential playwright, director of stage and screen and founding director of the Expansion Arts program at the National Endowment of the Arts, died Jan. 9 at the Washington Home of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 74 and was considered a dean of black theater. 
  10. ^ a b c d Risen, Clay. "The Lightning Rod", The Atlantic, November 2008. 2.
  11. ^ Bernstein, Adam (2014-12-05). "Mary Washington, government official and widow of former D.C. mayor, dies at 88". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-12-29. 
  12. ^ "Clarence M. Pendleton, Jr.". aapra.org. Retrieved March 19, 2013. 
  13. ^ Colbert I. King - Dunbar High School's sad descent into hard times

External links[edit]