Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (1916-1977)

Dunbar High School became the country's first public high school for African Americans, producing generations of Black leaders.

Founded in 1870 as the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth in the basement of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, the school became the country's first public high school for African Americans. By 1891, the school became known as M Street High School when it moved to this new location. When it relocated again in 1916, the school was renamed for the noted African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). As more high schools established in DC, Dunbar remained the city’s academic high school for African Americans while additional schools provided more vocational and technical training.

Dunbar High School educated generations of Black leaders in fields such as law, education, science, and engineering. Celebrated graduates include 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.

Additionally, some of its noted faculty included Anna Julia Cooper, Kelly Miller, Mary Church Terrell, A. A. Birch Jr., Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of "Black History Month," and Julia Evangeline Brooks, who was a graduate of the school herself.

Despite protests by members of the DC Council and community members, the historic Dunbar building located on 1st and N streets NW was torn down in 1977 and a new Dunbar High School opened that same year. Built in the popular "open" concept of the time, the new school building was built without interior walls to separate classrooms. In 2013, the 1970s building was demolished and replaced with a modern high school that took design cues from its 1916 predecessor.

DC Inventory: April 29, 1975



1st Street and N Street NW