Charles Sumner School is one of the first public elementary school buildings for African Americans in Washington, DC and quite possibly the earliest school building of its architectural magnitude in the United States. Completed in 1872, just short of a decade after slavery was abolished in Washington, DC, the Sumner School was built as a national monument in the Nation’s Capital to honor Senator Charles Sumner. The school continued to educate generations of African American pupils throughout the 20th Century until the school’s physical deterioration a little over a century after it was built. One of the most significant historical events to take place at the Sumner School was the first commencement of the very first public high school in the United States for African American students, which occurred in 1877. The commencement speaker was none other than Frederick Douglass.
During the late 1970s, the roof of the school collapsed and the building was scheduled to be demolished. Those plans were thwarted by Richard L. Hurlbut, an employee of the DC Public School system. He was knowledgeable about the school’s important history and led a public/private collaboration to save the building. The historic school was successfully renovated and chartered the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, the official museum, archives, and repository for artifacts and documents pertaining to the history of the development and evolution of public education in Washington, DC. The Sumner Museum is the first and only of its kind in the United States.
The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives collects and preserves material culture and documents that capture the often untold stories of the people, history, and evolution of the DC public education system. The Museum connects and inspires diverse audiences through dynamic programs, events and exhibitions and promotes research and discovery of DC’s public education history.
Message from the Director:
For over 145 years, Sumner School has served the Washington, DC Community and in its various capacities, has served as a national model. Due to the efforts of local citizens who identified the Sumner School as a space worth preserving, the building still exists as a beacon in the Nation’s Capital, honoring the esteemed Congressman Charles Sumner, whose life was devoted to fighting for equal justice and civil rights for all. As the Executive Director of the Museum, I am a proud steward of the historic school building and the important collection detailing the history of DC Public School system. It is an honor to assist in illuminating the rich cultural legacy and pride of the DC public education system, which has been recognized as a sterling example for the nation on several occasions throughout its storied history. The Sumner Museum is a place for Washingtonians and visitors from all across the nation and the world to come and reflect on their educational experiences and recall fond memories, which is a part of our common cultural identity that help shape us. As we recently celebrated the Museum’s 30th Anniversary, we honored great strides and achievements within the organization’s history, and we look forward to continuing to sustain the Museum’s future as a National Treasure for the next century and beyond.
Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives is full of dynamic exhibitions displaying an array of artifacts and documents related to the history and culture of DC Public Schools.
Today, through Sumner School’s re-purpose as a Museum, a major part of our role and mission is that we provide an accessible historical road map and lens for future generations of Washingtonians to succeed. –Kimberly Springle, Executive Director
Charles Sumner Museum & Archives
1201 17th Street NW
Washington DC 20036
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives © 2018
Museum & Archives
1201 17th Street NW
Washington DC 20036