This description is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration form submitted to the Maryland Historical Trust by Mark R. Heckman for David S. Shull AIA, Architects on June 8, 1988.
Completed in 1924, the old Frederick Douglass High School is a free-standing building with an adjacent playground area occupying nearly three quarters of the city block bounded by Calhoun, Cumberland, Carey and Baker streets in Baltimore, Maryland. It sets within a residential neighborhood of three-story row houses known as Sandtown-Winchester and is located two blocks west of Pennsylvania Avenue. The building is primarily a large three-story brick masonry structure with a flat roof. The three primary facades, exhibiting the stylistic details of Late Gothic Revival design, are punctuated by regularly displayed classroom fenestration framed in stone “quoins,” have entries defined with shallow stone pointed arches and are capped by a brick parapet broken with stone battlements. The school is roughly square in plan with classrooms arranged about the perimeter of a centrally placed auditorium. Interior finishes and detailing are simple. Floors are either wood or terrazo and the walls and ceilings are typically painted plaster. The original window sashes are missing in many areas. The interior plans and decorative detailing remain essentially intact to the 1920s. On the back of the property is a circa 1880 four story brick building which was renovated and incorporated into the school when the larger building was erected. Additions were made in the 1950s and 1970s. To the north, extending from the high school building to Cumberland Street, is a paved playground area.
The old Frederick Douglass High School at 1601 North Calhoun Street is significant for its association with the development of guality instruction for black children within the Baltimore City public school system. Built in 1923-1924, it is the first public high school building in the city, and believed to be the first in the state of Maryland, specifically erected for blacks and was the only secondary school in the Baltimore area that could be attended by black students through the 1930s. In its provision of space for “lower” vocational training and classrooms for “higher” academic pursuit, the building’s design embodied what was the prevailing philosophy toward black education of the period. The building is characterized by an elaborately decorated exterior, though somewhat plainer thanthe standard Baltimore school of the period, with a simple interior plan and decorative detailing. It remained as a “colored” high school until 1954 when the Baltimore school system adopted the desegregation policy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and the high school was moved to another location.
During the 1920s, Baltimore was the most influential section of Maryland. It was the state hub for railways, manufacturing, banking, insurance, law, medicine, and education. The city of Baltimorecomprised 51 percent of the state’s population during this period and unlike the smaller towns of the state, it was a city composed of ethnic neighborhoods, each of which was moving out along a radial path from the center of the city. Nearly half the black population was living in the northwest sector, packed close around Pennsylvania Avenue and Dolphin Street; an area that included most of the city’s black home owners, the professionals, and the highest share of the literate and youthful. The urban concentration, relative wealth and political mobilization of the black community in the northwest ghetto was influential in city politics, securing the location of a new “colored” school when the city embarked on an impressive new school building program after WWI. There was no pretense of equal accommodation; segregation was complete in the schools and remained so until 1954 when the city and the state were the first in the nation to implement the decision of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
The Frederick Douglass High School stands as a monument to the educational aspirations and activism of African American residents in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland. The building is also symbolic because it continues to represent for all citizens of Baltimore and the state that facility which served as the fertile ground from which many of Baltimore’s and the state’s black leadership emerged. It also bears the name, beginning in 1923, of one of the nation’s leading spokesmen for civil and human rights, Frederick Douglass.Standing in the midst of a predominantly black community, once renovated and occupied the building can again foster feelings of pride and achievement. It is noteworthy that the building represents the first educational physical plant with adequate space and design for high school students erected specifically for Afro-Americans in Baltimore.
In 1885, the Colored High School, the original name of Douglass Senior High, with a principal and several assistants, had become a separate unit within the High and Grammar School on Holliday Street, where the Peale Museum now stands. In 1897, a separate building was erected for the advanced students, but in 1901 the school was relocated at Pennsylvania Avenue and Dolphin streets; it included a normal and polytechnic department. In November 1909 the training school was separated from the high school. Dr. Mason A. Hawkins, a Douglass graduate, served as the principal of the high school from 1909 to 1934.
As late as 1920, Frederick Douglass High School and Booker T. Washington Junior High School provided the only training beyond the elementary level for Afro-Americans residing in Baltimore and the immediate area. Youngsters throughout the state travelled to Baltimore to attend Douglass. In 1901, thirteen persons graduated from the high school. Hawkins, as one of his last duties as principal, presided over commencement exercises for 209 seniors. The number of graduates has increased yearly. In time, the academic standards of the school and the gualifications and commitment of the teachers and the administrators earned for Douglass national recognition for its academic excellence.
Community and educational groups such as the Alumni Association of the Colored High School, the Civic Aid Association, and the Defense League began as early as 1902 to petition for a new physical plant for Douglass. However, it was not until 1925 that the facility was erected at Calhoun and Baker streets. The building contained an auditorium, music room, gymnasium for boys and girls, and classrooms. Adequate space was also provided for auxiliary offices; the industrial arts program was housed in an adjacent building. Harry T. Pratt, another Douglass alumnus, served as principal through 1940. The building was used during the day, and at night served as the educational center for those unable to attend the day program. Douglass was also used as a center for community, cultural, and related educational activities during the evening and the summers. The high school remained at this site until 1954 when it was relocated to another location. The building continued to serve as a school and housed Douglass students from 1981 to 1984 while the present school underwent renovation.
The history of Douglass Senior High School and the building at Calhoun and Baker streets is a long and rich one. It is in many ways reflective of the struggles and triumphs of the black citizens of Baltimore, the state of Maryland and the nation. Because the attainment of a good education remains in the eyes of many as one key component for success, it is indeed fitting that a building which represents in part that thrust be designated a historic site.Following is a list of some of the prominent Black Americans who graduated from old Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore. This list was prepared by the office of Dr. Cynthia Neverdon Morton, History Professor at Coppin State College, Baltimore.
|Singer, Jazz Musician
|Attended 1924-27; received diploma 1928
|U.S. Supreme Court Justice
|Parren J. Mitchell
|Former U.S. Congressman
|Juanita Jackson Mitchell
|Renowned Attorney & Civic Leader
|Attended 1925-1927; did not graduate
|Renowned Opera Singer
|Attended mid 1950s; graduated Peabody 1960
|Treasurer, State of Connecticut
|Editor of the Afro- American Newspaper (corrected from original form)
George H. Callcott, Maryland & America 1940-1989, p. 1.2Sherry H. Olson, Baltimore, The Building of an American City,p. 267. 3Olson, pp. 276-277; also see page 328. 4 Callcott, pp.151-152.
“Baltimore Schools Must Be Designed To Keep Pace With Commercial and Industrial Growth”, Baltimore Municipal Journal, April 27, 1927.
Burse, Jacqueline Cross, “The Remarkable Alumni of Douglass Senior High School”, The Evening Sun, May 22, 1981.
Callcott, George H., Maryland & America 1940- 1980, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.
Field, Isaac S., “Report of the President of the Board of SchoolCommissioners”, Baltimore Board of School Commissioners AnnualReport, for years 1920- 1926.
“First Black Postsecondary School”, Maryland Historical Magazine,73: 1978, p. 173.
Hawkins, Mason, Frederick Douglass High School A Seventeen Year-Period Survey, Thesis in Education, Graduate School University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1,933.
“New Building Stands Idle While Old One is Crowded to the Doors”, Baltimore Afro-American, Feb. 25, 1925.
Oliver, Elizabeth M., “Douglass High School marks 100th yearbirthday in 1983”, Baltimore Afro-American, Sept. 10, 1983.
Olson, Sherry H., Baltimore The Building of an American City, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.
Perring, H.G. “New Douglass High School to be Opened This Year.”Baltimore Municipal Journal, Vol XIII, No. 5, 10 March 1925.
Schoettler, Carl, “10,000 Old Grads Expected For Douglass Centennial Ball at Convention Center”, The Evening Sun, Oct. 13, 1983.
Sylvester, Charles W., “Vocational Education Provided by Public Schools”, Baltimore Municipal Journal, Mar. 10, 1927.
Weglein, Dr. David E., “Public Schools Have Made Great Progress”,Baltimore Municipal Journal, Mar. 10, 1927.
West, Henry S., “Progress in the Public Schools Under the Present Board of School Commissioners”, Baltimore Municipal Journal, Feb.23, 1923