Dunbar High School (Washington, D.C.)

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Dunbar High School
Dunbar High School DC (new building).jpg
101 N Street Northwest[1]


United States
Coordinates38°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 typePublic high school
School districtDistrict of Columbia Public Schools Ward 5
PrincipalNadine Smith
Grades9 to 12
Enrollment653 (2015-16)[2]
Student to teacher ratio12.68[3]
Campus typeUrban
Color(s)     Black
Athletics conferenceDistrict of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association
MascotCrimson 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.

From the early 20th century to the 1950s, Dunbar became known as the classical academic high school for black students in the segregated public schools. As all public school teachers were federal civil servants, its teachers received pay equal to that of 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 high 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.


Originally named the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth from 1891 to 1916 it became known as M Street High School. The school was founded as an educational mission at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. The school was one of 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.

Dunbar High School, Washington DC in 1917

As more high schools had been established, Dunbar was designated as the city's 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 a high number of graduates who went on to higher education and a generally successful student body.

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 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 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 percent of its students to college.[4]

According to columnist 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." [5]

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, 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 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'.

Up until 1954, Fairfax County, Virginia, had no secondary schools for black students. Dunbar and several other District of Columbia public schools were able to accept black students from the county before that time.[6][7]


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

Student body[edit]

Dunbar has about 650 students.[8]

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. ^ "Dunbar HS". National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  3. ^ National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed December 6, 2011.
  4. ^ Alison Stewart, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School, Chicago Review Press, 2015, ISBN 1613731760, ISBN 978-1613731765]
  5. ^ Sowell, Thomas (October 4, 2016). "Dunbar High School after 100 Years". Creators Syndicate. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  6. ^ "History Archived August 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine." Luther Jackson Middle School. Retrieved on June 4, 2016.
  7. ^ "A History of Luther P. Jackson High School : A Report of a Case Study on the Development of a Black High School" (thesis abstract). Virginia Tech. Retrieved on June 4, 2016.
  8. ^ Dunbar High School
  9. ^ Jones, Robert B. "Jean Toomer's Life and Career". Modern American Poetry. Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: Department of English, University of Illinois. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  10. ^ Shinhoster Lamb, Yvonne (January 23, 2005). "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.
  11. ^ a b c d Risen, Clay. "The Lightning Rod", The Atlantic, November 2008. 2.
  12. ^ Bernstein, Adam (December 5, 2014). "Mary Washington, government official and widow of former D.C. mayor, dies at 88". Washington Post. Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  13. ^ "Clarence M. Pendleton, Jr". aapra.org. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  14. ^ Colbert I. King - "Dunbar High School's sad descent into hard times", Washington Post]
  15. ^ Brubaker, Bill (November 2, 1989). "COURTING RAYFUL EDMOND". Washington Post. Retrieved April 1, 2019.

External links[edit]