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Dunbar High School (Washington, D.C.)

Coordinates: 38°54′31″N 77°00′51″W / 38.9087°N 77.0142°W / 38.9087; -77.0142
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dunbar High School
101 N Street Northwest[1]


United States
Coordinates38°54′31″N 77°00′51″W / 38.9087°N 77.0142°W / 38.9087; -77.0142
Former namePreparatory High School for Colored Youth
School typePublic high school
Established1870 (154 years ago) (1870)
School boardDistrict of Columbia State Board of Education
School districtDistrict of Columbia Public Schools
NCES District ID1100030[3]
School codeDC-001-467[2]
CEEB code090055[4]
NCES School ID110003000079[2]
PrincipalNadine Smith
Faculty42 (on an FTE basis)[2]
Grades9 to 12[2]
Enrollment666[2] (2020–2021)
 • Grade 9222[2]
 • Grade 10173[2]
 • Grade 11115[2]
 • Grade 12156[2]
Student to teacher ratio15.86[2]
Campus typeUrban
Color(s)Black and crimson
Athletics conferenceDCIAA
NicknameCrimson Tide
USNWR ranking13,394–17,857[5]
Communities servedWard 5

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a historically black public secondary school located in Washington, D.C. The school was America's first public high school for black students.

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.

From the early 20th century to the 1950s, Dunbar became known as the classical academic high school for black students in segregated public schools. As all public school teachers were federal civil servants, the school's teachers received pay equal to white teachers in other schools in the district. It attracted high-quality faculty, many with advanced degrees, including doctorates. Parents sent their children to the school from across the city because of its high standards. Many of its alumni graduated from top-quality colleges and universities and gained professional degrees. An early principal was Mary Jane Patterson.[6][7]


The school was founded in 1870 by William Syphax, President of the Board of Trustees for Colored Schools, as the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth. The school was started at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. From 1891 to 1916, it became known as M Street High School. The school was America's first public high school for black students. When its location was changed from M Street, the school was renamed in 1916 for the noted African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, who died in 1906.[8]

Dunbar High School, Washington DC in 1917

As the city established other high schools, it designated Dunbar as its academic high school, with other schools providing more vocational or technical training. Dunbar was known for its excellent academics, enough so that some black parents moved to Washington specifically so their children could attend it. All the public school teachers were federal employees, and Dunbar's faculty was paid well by the standards of the time, earning parity pay with Washington's white school teachers. The school boasted many graduates who went on to higher education and a generally successful student body.[8]: 91 

Dunbar's original 1916 building, designed by architect Snowden Ashford, was demolished in 1977 and subsequently rebuilt; the resulting building was in turn demolished and rebuilt in 2013.[9]

In the 21st century, 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 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 football, basketball, and track. There is also a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.[8]: 307 

One of Dunbar's first principals in Washington, D.C., 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 sent 80 percent of its students to college.[8]: 173 

According to economist Thomas Sowell's 2015 appraisal, this all changed after the landmark United States Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education that ruled for integration of public schools:

"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."[10]

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 Sr., Jean Toomer, 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 historian Carter G. Woodson, the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard (after W. E. B. Du Bois) and the father of 'Black History Month'.[8]: 39-106 [11]

Until 1954, Fairfax County, Virginia, had no secondary schools for black students. Dunbar and several other District of Columbia public schools accepted black students from the county before that time.[12][13]


Dunbar has about 650 students.[14]

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

Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity 2020–2021[2]
Black Hispanic Two or More Races Native Hawaiian/

Pacific Islander

635 26 3 1

Feeder patterns[edit]

Feeder elementary schools include:

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

Feeder middle schools include:

  • Browne

Feeder K-8 schools include:

  • Walker-Jones Education Center

Notable alumni[edit]

Artists and entertainers[edit]



Scholars and professionals[edit]

Charles Drew in 1922 yearbook.


Notable faculty[edit]


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  14. ^ Dunbar High School
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External links[edit]