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First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School

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3.80  ·  Rating details ·  191 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Dunbar High School in Washington, DC, defied the odds and, in the process, changed America. In the first half of the twentieth century, Dunbar was an academically elite public school, despite being racially segregated by law and existing at the mercy of racist congressmen who held the school’s purse strings. These enormous challenges did not stop the local community from r ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by Chicago Review Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Valarie
Dec 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Generally, Alison Stewart did a good job with the overall narrative, but I'm sure old-school Dunbar graduates will have fits about the occasional typos and misspellings and that the narrative sort of broke down in the end. This is a good effort, but it could have been better.
Krystina
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first learned about this book from an interview with the author on a local radio station. Growing up outside of Washington, DC I always heard of Dunbar HS; unfortunately, it was usually something negative. What I loved most about this book was the dedication and hard work of the educators/administration at Dunbar and the local community that produced some of the best playwrights, educators, artists, government officials, and doctors.
Tunde
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i loved this book for many reasons. i'm a fan of dc and black history and this book gives great lessons on both. it also shows some positive effects of segregation albeit short lived effects. its a long read but definitely worth it. education plus history plus african american culture.
Ari
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
This is an amazing and sometimes painful story of America's first black public high school, located in Washington D.C. The author is the daughter of two Dunbar alums and she maintains a respectful tone when dealing with the school, reverential of its history but she includes the views of people who did not like the school, those who gradually became disappointed with it. She includes the multiple sides at play when the school was renovated in the 1970s (many alumni were against it because it de ...more
Lisa
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I wanted to like this book better than I did. It should have been one I liked- it's by Alison Stewart. Unfortunately, it seemed out of focus. When Stewart was on, it was great. But she often went on protracted digressions, to the point that I actually lost the thread on two occasions. There are a few chapters in which huge chunks of text are blockquoted from primary sources, which I found quite distracting, and while the book is more or less in chronological order, it's still difficult to keep s ...more
Danielle
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book chronicles the history of Dunbar High School in Washington D.C., which as the title indicates was the first public black high school in the United States. Set against the larger backdrop of racial relations, segregation, and the educational system in the country from the end of slavery up through today Stewart walks the reader through how the school was established, how it became an institution that graduated many prominent African Americans, and what led to its decline and current sta ...more
Chris Aylott
May 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
A not-so-great history of a great and historic school. Stewart does a good job of capturing the words and experiences of Dunbar teachers and alumni stretching back for most of a century, but the book keeps wandering into school board politics and confusing family history. I felt like there was a better book hiding in the text, waiting for some skilled editing to bring it into focus.

One thing Stewart does succeed at, though, is showing how the civil rights movement stretches back long before the
...more
Deborah Moscoso
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sometimes too wordy with too much detail, but really an eye opener in many ways. I did not know how early civil rights issues began to come before the legislatures and judicial systems. I also learned the names of a lot of prominent Americans that I should have heard of long ago. So glad I found this book.
Vanessa
Jun 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
A phenomenal chronological sketch of growth and decline of Dunbar High School. As a native Washingtonian, I felt like I could pinpoint various periods within the story.
David
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
By 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the famous decision of Brown v. Board of Education, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. had a distinguished history. According to Alison Stewart: “More than sixteen thousand young men and women had graduated from the institution.” This was no small accomplishment for African Americans had n been free from slavery less than a hundred years. Moreover, “eighty percent of the graduates went to college.” A fair number of Dunbar’s graduates w ...more
Rachel
The history related in this book is truly fascinating. I gained much insight into Washington DC’s unique history and enjoyed all the vignettes about the success of Dunbar alumni. As an educator myself, I found the roller-coaster story of the school both interesting and instructive. Unfortunately, I cannot just rate this amazing content; I have to give a rating to the book as a whole, reflecting both the content and the way it was delivered.
Knowing that Stewart is a trained journalist as well as
...more
Lynnetoo
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: tlc-book-club
According to my own family lore, Dunbar was THE best opportunity for a comprehensive, well-rounded education available to African-Americans in Washington, DC. (My father and other family members attended and graduated.) The caliber of teachers was equivalent to those in the best prep schools, colleges, and universities in the nation. The students who graduated from Dunbar attended just about every prestigious institution of higher learning in the world! They were groundbreakers in fields previou ...more
Hannah
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This narrative of the history of Dunbar high school in DC elicits more varied and strong emotion than most novels. Published just last year, Stewart's well-researched history covers the longest timeline possible about education for black students in the nation's capital. She depicts the human drama of hope, hard work, mistakes, futility, frustration, betrayal, and perseverance, letting the voices of the past and present speak in their own words.

The study of history can both inspire us by showin
...more
Christina
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this non-fiction book by Alison Stewart (who you may remember from MTV News in the early '90s, or recognize now from CBS News and 60 Minutes). She takes us through the history of America's first black public high school, located in Washington DC, where her parents attended. It was established in 1870 and by the 1950s it was sending 80% of its student body to college. Some notable graduates include the first black member of a president's cabinet, the first black army general, and ...more
Caroline
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
This was a really good book - well written, thoroughly researched. What I liked best was how it had a historical focus but went straight up through present day, going through the entire trajectory of Dunbar. Usually I'm not a big history person, because while I theoretically agree that it informs the present day I don't feel it emotionally, but in this case I thought the book did an excellent job connecting the history to the reality. The end was unbridled optimism combined with hilarious descri ...more
reneeNaDaBomb
First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School

I had nothing but the best educational experiences, including the journalism program, at Dunbar Senior High School, my alma mata! This book is an excellent read about the founding educators insight and perseverance during a difficult time of change in our country's history. Knowledge is power and it's amazing that this book is available to be shared w/ future generations. It's a part of history that will forever be revere
...more
Emily
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Stewart writes candidly and personally about Dunbar - it is clear she feels she has a responsibility to tell its story. While I enjoyed how the book followed certain successful graduates and helped explain some of the failures that led to Dunbar II's eventual decline, First Class only touches on what seems to be a much larger topic - how DC was not successfully desegregated. It might not be a fault of the book that it left me wanting to learn more, but it certainly seemed like I couldn't under ...more
Sam
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
There is so much interesting about this book. I feel like I know so much more about Washington, DC then I did before. The writing is kind of uneven. It is intended to be a chronological history of the school but it often takes detours to tell the stories of some of the graduates. Both things are really interesting but the book seems kind of choppy at times. Overall I am really glad I read the book and feel like I learned a lot of things I never would have known if I hadn't read it.
Katrina
Nov 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed reading the history of Dunbar High School. The history of the physical architecture of the buildings of Dunbar High was especially interesting and somewhat shocking.Who could have possibly thought that classrooms without walls would have been a good idea?! The demise of the school's stellar reputation is both depressing and now seems quite hopeless. I'm glad someone wrote a book about this institution.
Susan Prince
Jan 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
My mom went to Dunbar back in the 40s, so I was excited to read the book. While the stories of the students and teachers from the past were very interesting - the book could have really used a good editor.

So many times the story wandered all over the place I lost track of what the original point was.

And SO many typos. Yikes.

Still my mom is reading it now and I'm looking forward to talking with her about her memories.
Caitlin
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very well written. My only "complaint"... I walked into this book expecting more of a story-telling experience, like The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. There are many good stories here, and important ones. But this also is more statistic based. Chapter 4 was particularly tough for me. But, this is really good, and an important book.
Emily
Jan 08, 2015 rated it liked it
"And she was a colored woman at the turn of the century who had no children but did have two college degrees. She was that rare sort of soul who didn’t seem to answer to anyone or anything but her own moral compass."
BRan
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An absolutely wonderful book!! Took a little time to read because it's slow and filled with a lot of history. I put it down a few times. Definitely worth the time and will provide information you may not know.
Marilyn Batchelor
Fantastic Story & history!

The story of Dunbar high school is encouraging. I never knew it was the first Blackhigh school in the US not did I know about all of the amazing folks who graduated from Dr. Charles Drew to Elizabeth Catlett. I thoroughly enjoyed the detailed reporting.
...more
Torry
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
very good book about Dunbar and the history of education in the African-American community.
Wendy
Aug 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Was expecting so much more form this book. The second half of the book was more contemporary. Not well written and seemed very disjointed.
Robert E.  Kennedy Library
Find this book at Kennedy Library ...more
Brenda Shannon
Sep 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book captured the essence of an era of excellence in educating African Americans. The chronology of Dunbar from its creation to its demise is a fascinating read.
Sara
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. A must read for anyone working on education reform or who wants to understand the real history of DC
Gail
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Interesting read about the history of DC and this school.
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