In February, we celebrate the immeasurable impact African-Americans have had on our society and even our individual lives. With such a rich deposit of American and Atlanta history, we really should recognize every month as Black History Month!
It’s inspirational every year during Black History Month to see the legacies of Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, George Washington Carver and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. revered and discussed.
We, too, in Atlanta celebrate them. In fact, many of our schools are named after extraordinary and well-known African Americans, not only Carver, Douglass and King but Maynard H. Jackson, Benjamin E. Mays and Booker T. Washington as well.
We have honored our schools by naming them after extraordinary women – Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama, M. Agnes Jones, Margaret Fain, Leonora Precious Miles and Jean Childs Young – as I explored in this space last year.
During the transformation over the past few years in Atlanta Public Schools, we have had the opportunity to name or rename schools and buildings after living and local legends, including the Obamas, Congressman John Lewis, aviation industry pioneer Michael Hollis, the Tuskegee Airmen and Alonzo A. Crim, the first African-American superintendent for APS.
This year, I wanted to explore other APS schools, where the legacy and names of some of the most distinguished people in Atlanta and in American history are literally etched into those walls.
Boyd Elementary School – William Madison Boyd – As a renowned educator who taught at both Fort Valley State and Atlanta University, Boyd became known nationwide for his political writings, especially in support of the 1953 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In addition to his activism for equal access to education, he became a leader in the South for civil rights.
Bunche Middle School – Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) – Bunche was a political scientist, educator and diplomat best known for his mediation efforts in Israel in the late 1940s that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. He continued to serve on peacekeeping missions for the United Nations in the Middle East, the Congo, Cyprus and Bahrain.
Dobbs Elementary – John Wesley Dobbs (1882-1961) – Dobbs was a key civic and political leader from Atlanta who co-founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League in 1936, which registered more than 20,000 African Americans in Atlanta to vote over the subsequent 10 years. His activism paved the way for black men and women to hold city positions and government offices, including his grandson, Maynard H. Jackson, who became the city’s first mayor.
Charles Drew Charter School – Charles Drew (1904-1950) – Drew was an American surgeon and medical researcher. His expertise with blood transfusions contributed to the development of large-scale blood banks during World War II. He protested the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained such a policy until 1950.
Dunbar Elementary – Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) – As the son of freed slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar became one of the first influential black poets in American literature, known mostly for his dialectic verse but also for his versatility in style and also for his novels, short stories and essays.
Harper-Archer Elementary – Charles Lincoln Harper (1877-1955) and Samuel Howard Archer (1870-1941) – Harper was the first principal of Booker T. Washington High School when it opened in 1924. Samuel Howard Archer became president of Morehouse College in 1931 after teaching there for more than a quarter of a century.
Hope-Hill Elementary – Dr. John Hope (1868-1936) – Dr. Hope was the first African-American president of Atlanta University and Morehouse College, where he was instrumental in expanding the school to include a graduate program. Later, he became active in national civil rights organizations, including the Niagara Movement and later the NAACP.
Toomer Elementary School – Fred A. Toomer (1889-1961) – Toomer was a well-known businessman and civic leader, who worked as a bellhop, a Pullman porter and an embalmer before becoming an insurance salesman with Atlanta Life Insurance Company. He quickly rose through the rank to eventually become chief auditor and a vice president. He was active with the First Congregational Church in Atlanta, the United Negro College Fund and the YMCA.
Usher-Collier Heights Elementary – Bazoline Estelle Usher (1885-1992) – Usher was an American educator known for her work in APS as the director of education for African-American children before integration. She was the first African American to have an office at Atlanta City Hall. She founded the first Girl Scout troop for African-American girls in Atlanta in 1943. Her career as an educator lasted more than 50 years, most of which was in Atlanta schools.
Woodson Park Academy – Dr. Carter Woodson – Dr. Woodson was an American historian, author and journalist who founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. And it is appropriate that this list concludes with Dr. Woodson as he was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. As the founder of The Journal of Negro History in 1916 and for launching “Negro History Week” in 1926, he has been called the “father of black history.”
This list isn’t meant to be fully comprehensive or complete but designed to encourage more exploration into the many people who shaped the history of our schools, our city, our state and our nation!
I encourage everyone to delve deeper and take advantage of the fact that we are opening the APS Archives and Museum, located on the first floor of the Crim Center for Learning and Leadership, 130 Trinity Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Monday through the end of February.