Education would play an important role in much of this development. Although schools in Washington were strictly segregated until 1954, public education was provided as early as 1862. Myrtilla Minerís School, the Institute for the Education of Colored Youth, was incorporated into the public school system in 1863. In 1867 and with the support of the Freedmenís Bureau and members of the First Congregational Church, Howard University was established with a wide range of educational programs. In many ways its Preparatory Department was essentially the first public high school in the city. In many other ways, however, the irony is that Black people, who had been routinely and legally forbidden the privileges of education in many other parts of the South, spearheaded the effort for their own education and pioneered in the development of public secondary education. They would achieve a level of attainment that was envied by those in areas where such achievement was more difficult and often impossible. The high school of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, pastored by John F. Cook, a former enslavee long active as a teacher, churchman, and community leader, was opened in 1870 and is generally credited as the first such school in the city. This school eventually became the renowned M Street and later Dunbar High School. Throughout this period of educational development, whatever was lacking in physical resources and fiscal commitment was tempered by the efforts of well qualified and talented Black teachers to uplift the race through education, which included the development of clerical, manual and technical schools. Both the high school and Howard University would achieve great success and attract faculties representing the highest quality of academic attainment.

     Despite the promising gains made by Blacks in the years immediately following the Civil War, the end of Reconstruction was to bring a new period of oppression and disillusionment, a nadir of Black life in America. In 1866, suffrage had been extended to Black males and, in 1868, John F. Cook, Jr. and Stewart Barber were the first Blacks to hold elective office. Many whites were fearful of the influence enfranchised Blacks would have in elections, although no backlash was reflected in their voting. Those opposed to the more liberal views of Syles Bowen, who had been elected mayor in 1868, sought to remove him from government and to effect a reorganization. In 1870 this Citizens Reform Association submitted to the Congress a plan for territorial government, which was revised and passed in 1871. In 1878 Congress abolished all local suffrage with the support of the majority white population and established an appointed three commissioner system which lasted until 1968. No Black would serve until John Duncan was appointed in 1961.


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November 2000