Civil Rights Tour: Education - Sousa Junior High and Bolling v. Sharpe

3650 Ely Place SE

John Philip Sousa Junior High School was at the center of Bolling v. Sharpe, D.C.’s companion case to Brown v. Board of Education. Parent activist Gardner Bishop, a co-founder of the Consolidated Parents Group, had begun pushing seriously against school segregation in 1947. Three years later, Sousa opened as one of several new DC schools for white children when there was not a single junior high school east of the Anacostia River for black students.

On opening day, September 11, 1950, Bishop attempted to enroll a group of African American students but was turned away. Attorneys James Nabrit and George E.C. Hayes stepped in and sued DC Board of Education President Melvin Sharpe on behalf of Spottswood Bolling, Jr., and four other students. The segregation of D.C.’s schools was unconstitutional, they charged.

The US District Court dismissed the suit, citing the recent ruling in Carr v. Corning (concerning Browne Junior High School in Northeast) that DC’s dual school system was constitutional. But then, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Bolling along with four other cases. And, on May 17, 1954, the Court ruled that segregating the District’s schools violated the 5th Amendment’s guarantee that the federal government treat all citizens with “due process of law.” Brown v. Board of Education was decided on the basis of the 14th Amendment which required only “states” to provide equal treatment.

Known today as Sousa Middle School, the school was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and is a National Historic Landmark.