Civil Rights Tour: Education - Morgan Community School

2200 Champlain Street NW (Site)

Morgan School, which stood at 18th and California streets until 1977 (now occupied by the soccer field at Marie Reed Recreation Center), stood as a symbol of the success that this mostly Black community achieved in its fight to manage its own affairs and to run a public school that met the community's specific needs.

Originally built for white children, Morgan School was transferred to use by African Americans in 1929 when the new whites-only Adams Elementary opened one block west on 19th Street. When the Supreme Court ruled in Bolling v. Sharpe (1954) that segregated schools were unconstitutional, white and Black community members came together to form the Adams-Morgan Better Neighborhood Conference; the group's name soon became associated with the whole area.

Members worked to ensure high-quality, integrated schools in the neighborhood, and a decade later they persuaded the city to cede control of the two schools to a community school board led by Bishop Marie H. Reed. Before her death in 1969, Reed led residents in planning for a new community center to replace the aging and overcrowded Morgan School. The larger Marie Reed Elementary School and Recreation Center, renovated in 2016, continues to reflect the community’s vision.

Organizing around the school led residents to come together on other issues that threatened the neighborhood. The community helped stop the construction of a freeway along Florida Avenue and successfully resisted urban renewal plans for Adams Morgan, which would have displaced thousands of low-income, mostly African American residents.

Co-led by statehood activist Josephine Butler and former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer Frank Smith, residents formed the Adams Morgan Organization (AMO) in 1972. When a real estate company bought several run-down rowhouses on Seaton Street with plans to evict the residents—mostly African American women and children with nowhere else to go—AMO successfully worked with the families to resist eviction and ultimately enabled some of them to purchase their houses. AMO brokered a deal with Perpetual Building Association requiring that as a condition of opening a branch at 18th Street and Columbia Road in the heart of Adams Morgan, the bank provide financing for Seaton Street residents. Perpetual complied and also agreed to making favorable loans to neighborhood residents.