The Paul Laurence Dunbar High in Washington, D.C., was built in 1870 and is billed as the nation’s first Black public high school. In her new book, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School, broadcast journalist and author Alison Stewart tells of the school’s rich history, which includes alumnae such as artist Elizabeth Catlett and the first Black presidential cabinet member, and how it ended up in its current state of lower-than-average graduation rates and a decrepit infrastructure.
With a foreward written by MSNBC talk show host and Tulane University professor Melissa Harris-Perry, the book has debuted to stellar reviews.
In a recent interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish, Stewart describes the academic standards at the school as extremely high. In an excerpt of the interview, Stewart said the following:
"What ended up happening is the first African-Americans to go to competitive colleges — Oberlin, Amherst, Brown, Harvard — they would graduate from school and have nowhere to go. Many of them came back to teach at this high school. My mom and dad went to this high school in the 1940s; they had a very different experience. My mother was born and raised in Washington, D.C. My dad was born and raised in Harlem, and my grandmother picked him up at 14 and took him to D.C. just to go to Dunbar, which many people did. People moved to D.C. just to send their kids to this high school."
"And my mom used to talk about having teachers who were Ph.Ds. You had the first three black women to get Ph.Ds; two of them went to Dunbar, and two of them taught at Dunbar.
"So what ended up happening was that these next two and three generations were these hypereducated African-Americans."
Read more at NPR.