The M Street High School was one of the first high schools for Black students constructed with public funds in the nation. The school represents an important benchmark in the development of education for DC's black student population since 1870, when the principle of a dual system of education for the nation's capital was reaffirmed by Congress.
The Preparatory High School for Colored Youth was founded in November of 1870. Between 1870 and 1891, the institution was located in several makeshift locations. The first class graduated on June 7, 1877 in the assembly hall of the Charles Sumner School. As the school continued to grow and flourish, the need for a dedicated structure became clear, and in 1890, an appropriation of $112,000 was passed by Congress to construct a school building.
M Street High School organized its courses according to tracks: academic and scientific, which were both college preparatory. Due to the demands of its students, the school added business courses at the turn of the century. M Street High School produced many of the city's and the nation's Black leaders. It sent an unusually large number of its graduates to the nation's leading colleges and universities in the North at a time when the Black population did not enjoy equal access to quality education, especially in the South. M Street High School possessed an elite image as its students represented the upwardly mobile segments of the Black population. Its teachers were unusually well educated, far beyond those of most white schools, because of limited professional opportunities for Black professionals elsewhere.
Eventually, the M Street High School population outgrew the building and, in 1916, was moved to the Dunbar High School on First Street between N and O Streets, NW (since demolished). After that point, the old school building served the city's Black population as a junior high school and as an elementary school, renamed the Perry School, until the integration of the school system in 1954.
M Street High School now operates as the Perry School Community Services Center, Inc, addressing issues of chronic poverty in the area around North Capitol Street.
DC Inventory: November 21, 1978
National Register: October 23, 1986