Civil Rights Tour: Education - New School of Afro-American Thought

2208 14th Street NW

In 1966, poet Gaston Neal—described as "one of the most epic voices to ever grace the District" and Howard University student activist "Baba" Don Freeman co-founded the New School of Afro-American Thought.

Freeman conceived of the New School of Afro-American Thought as a much-need institution for educating and empowering Black residents through a wide array of Afro-centric offerings. As he later explained, some had begun to see Howard University as failing "to accept its responsibility to do anything other than produce people for jobs." The New School was established to fill that gap. The project grew out of the Cardozo Area Art Committee which sponsored public exhibitions, and its March 1966 festival “Three Days of Soul,” which brought a variety of musicians, dancers, poets and other Black performance artists to DC for a festival celebrating black culture.

In a poor neighborhood that Freeman described as having "too many liquor stores," the New School transformed the former auto repair shop at 2208 14th Street NW into "a factory for Black minds," offering free classes in writing, drama, poetry, history, drumming, dance, Swahili, photography, data processing, and political thought, among other subjects. It brought in well-known speakers and encouraged members of the community, especially underserved neighborhood residents, to plan and participate in events. It also served as a free facility for political and community organizing, hosting the first meeting of DC's Black United Front in January 1968. Organized by Stokely Carmichael, the meeting attracted a standing-room-only crowd of around 100 local leaders.

Because DC was a mecca for Black political organizing and regularly attracted leaders from across the country, the New School became a seed for similar institutions in other cities. Although the school had closed by the spring of 1971, its impact continued to be felt through the spread of Afro-centric education and by Washingtonians who attended the school during its active years. After the school closed, the building fell into disrepair and stood boarded up and abandoned until it was renovated in recent years.