Sumner School is one of three post-Civil War black schools and is named in honor of Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator and ardent abolitionist who attempted, unsuccessfully, to ban segregated schools and public facilities in city. Since its construction in 1871-1872, Sumner School has housed a broad spectrum of the developing black educational opportunities in the city. The School was one of the first public school buildings erected for the education of blacks in Washington. Sumner School is built on the site of a school constructed in 1866 under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau, with lumber salvaged from barracks.
It is one of a series of award-winning, modern public school buildings constructed by the District of Columbia government during a period of intensive municipal improvement which culminated in Alexander R. Shepherd's remarkable transformation of the city in the early 1870s. The architect of the building was Adolph Cluss, whose work had a major visual impact on the city during one of its most significant periods of development and included virtually all of the public buildings constructed by the city government between 1862 and 1876 as well as a large proportion of both federal and private buildings constructed here in the 1860s, 70s and 80s.
The School was awarded the medal for design at the 1873 Vienna Exposition. It served as the headquarters for the Superintendent and Board of Trustees for Colored Public Schools of Washington and Georgetown. It reflects the Second Empire architecture style and was renovated in 1984-1985.
The School is the oldest black public school building still extant that has remained substantially unaltered on both the exterior and interior. The School now houses a museum and archive for DC public school records and artifacts.
DC designation: November 21, 1978
National Register listing: December 20, 1979