Those who know of Washington, D.C.’s Dunbar High School likely view it as one of the city’s failing public schools, hardly a piece of national history. Alison Stewart, a journalist and daughter of Dunbar graduates, proves otherwise in First Class. At its height Dunbar attracted an outstanding faculty and produced a long list of accomplished graduates despite intense racial discrimination: Charles R. Drew established the blood bank, faculty member Carter G. Woodson became a noted author, historian, and journalist, and civil rights activist and faculty member Mary Church Terrell was one of the first black women to earn a college degree. As society changed, however, so did Dunbar. Today, the newly remodeled building bears the socioeconomic weight of its neighborhood, but also holds a newfound hope for the future. Stewart’s personal and compelling examination shows how long-term under-funding, politics, and social factors shaped the Dunbar of today–a theme all too common among urban public schools.
(Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of STAND, the ACLU magazine)