History of Spingarn High School


Spingarn High School owes its existence to two factors: a tradition and a trend. The tradition was a segregated school system, the trend was the rapid increase in the school age population among Negroes in the northeast section of the District of Columbia. During the latter part of the thirties, discussions were frequent concerning the possibility of building a senior high school to complete the education center at Twenty-fourth Street and Benning Road.

On April 16, 1941, Garnet C. Wilkinson, First Assistant Superintendent of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia, directed a memorandum to Robert L. Haycock, Acting Superintendent recommending that the proposed new senior high school for Divisions 10-13 be located at Twenty-fourth Street and Benning Road. Suggesting that the school be named for Joel Elias Spingarn, Dr. Wilkinson said, “In his life, Dr. Spingarn remembered us; in his death, I desire that the Negro race should remember him.” When this suggestion was submitted to the Board, it was approved. Thus, the institution became a nominal reality.

Ideas convert themselves from mind into mortar and stone very slowly in public school systems. Spingarn, therefore, traveled an unhurried course from conception to inception—through the bogs of Congressional appropriations and committee hearings, through alterations of architects’ plans, and through wartime shortages and inflated costs. The breaking of the ground for the actual construction of Spingarn was begun on March 27, 1950. Citizens of the community saw piles of steel and stone assume the frame and form of a building. On June 24, 1952, the work was at last completed, and the building was formally approved by the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Education. As of June 30, 1952, the taxpayers of the District of Columbia had spent approximately $3,500,000 for the building and furnishings of the new institution.

Purvis J. Williams was selected by the Board of Education to serve as the first principal of the school. Appointed with Dr. Williams as assistant principals were Annie E. Duncan and W. Tilford Davis. An able faculty of forty-five members was assigned to serve at the institution. On September 15, 1952, the doors of the Joel Elias Spingarn High School were opened to receive a student body of approximately thirteen hundred.

From the Spingarn High School Dedication
December 11, 1953


Spingarn Alumni Association, Inc. of Washington, DC
P.O. Box 31173   Washington, DC 20030-1173