First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School

Alison Stewart, Author, Melissa Harris-Perry, Foreword by
Alison Stewart. Lawrence Hill (IPG, dist.), $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61374-009-5
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 08/01/2013
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-61373-176-5
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-306-01227-0
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-61374-012-5
Open Ebook - 356 pages - 978-1-61374-010-1
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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. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Aug.)
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