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The Exhibit

The Story of Our School
Morgan to Reed: A Journey Forged by Community

Morgan and Wilson Schools

 Washington, DC was a segregated city from the 1890 through the 1950s. Black children and white children attended separate schools. 

In 1891, Wilson Elementary School, located at 2428 17th Street NW, was built to serve Black children. It was named after Henry Wilson, a congressman who wrote the 1862 bill that ended slavery in the District of Columbia.

In 1901, the Morgan School, located at 18th Street and California Street NW, was built to serve white children. It was named after Thomas P. Morgan, a city commissioner who served 1879 through 1883.

Morgan and Adams Schools

 By 1930, the Morgan School building, which served white children, had begun to deteriorate. The School Board voted to build a new school for the white students and named it after John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. 

As so often happened, after the new school was built for the white students, the Black students at Wilson were sent to the Morgan School, which was still in poor condition. When the Morgan School became overcrowded, the old Wilson School was used as an annex. 

It’s from these two segregated schools, Adams and Morgan, that the Adams Morgan neighborhood obtained its name. 

Voices from the Community

At the time I grew up there were two distinct communities… around the corner from my house was the Adams School. I could not go to Adams School because it was a two-school system—one for us, who were known as coloreds, and one for whites. I had to go to the school for coloreds, which was called Morgan. It was about four blocks from where I lived.

Barbara MorganBarbara Morgan attended the Morgan School from 1938 to 1945. She was born and raised in DC and still lives there today. Although they share the same last name, Ms. Morgan is not related to Thomas P. Morgan after whom the Morgan school is named.

Tensions Rise

 In the 1950s, racial tensions begin to rise. After a rock throwing incident involving Black students from Morgan and white students from Adams left one student injured, principals from both schools met with community leaders to discuss the problem. Several community associations formed to propose ideas that would promote positive change.


 In 1954, public schools in the United States were integrated, based on the famous Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. However, the decision applied only to the states. Since Washington, DC was not a state, a separate case, Bolling v. Sharpe, ruled that the District must integrate the public schools. Although argued at separate times, both cases were unanimously decided on May 17, 1954.

After the schools were legally integrated, white parents in the District began sending their children to private schools. Morgan’s student body remained 98% Black. The school lacked books and materials and became overcrowded. Lower grades were on half-day schedules, and the school stopped taking new kindergarten students. The parents saw the inequality and were dissatisfied. They wanted the same improved school environment that other schools had.

The Community Takes Control

 Beginning in the mid-1950s, Black and white residents, unhappy with the status quo in their racially and economically diverse community, joined together to improve the public schools and provide enrichment programs such as summer camp for students and medical programs for their neighbors.

One such organization was the Adams Morgan Community Council, led by Bishop Marie Reed. In 1965, the Council decided to create a “community school” for their neighborhood.

The idea of a community school began during the Great Depression in 1935 in Flint, Michigan. The idea was to allow the community, not just the school board, to have input into the decisions that affected the quality of education. In addition, a community school would provide health and other programs year round to benefit the neighborhood.

Voices from the Community

No Urban Renewal is involved. Just a community trying and wanting to live together.

Adams Morgan Community Council Leaflet

We needed to have a community school; it was out of control. One snowy day, we met [a director from the DC School Board] at her office. She was surprised that we showed up that morning because it was snowing so bad. She said, ‘You folks coming down here in this weather?’ So Ms. French said, ‘We’re here on behalf of our school.’ Then she said, ‘All right have a seat.’ And we talked . . . that was beginning of it right there.

Ed JacksonEd Jackson is an Adams Morgan community leader and long-time resident. He was instrumental in the creation of the Morgan Community School and served on the Board of Directors.

Morgan Community School

 Morgan Community School opened in 1967. Despite initial problems and growing pains, by the 1970s the children were testing better and the community felt stronger. Many innovative programs served the students and the community as a whole.

The District of Columbia School Board allowed Morgan Community School to have “maximum feasible autonomy.” The Principals worked with the parents and the community to develop innovative programs. The school published annual reports to show the community how well the programs were working.

Growing Pains

 Problems plagued the school when it opened in 1967. Within the first year, most of the white students and a few of the Black students transferred out.

The school replaced three principals in two years. Bishop Reed’s death in 1969 left a leadership void, and Antioch College lessened its involvement. There were curriculum problems, teachers were unprepared, and tensions among staff led to a quick teacher turnover.

In 1970, the Morgan and Wilson school buildings were 80 years old. Although the school received the same support and services available to all DC schools, the buildings still deteriorated. In the early 1970s, a Ford Foundation grant provided money for staff development, interior renovation projects, and bus transportation. Volunteers worked on projects to make the interior bright and inviting. Despite these improvements, community support for a complete school renovation began to swell.

She had just talked to me a day or two before [her death]…she said, ‘Jackson, what am I going to do? Things don’t look good at the school.’ She talked to me a long time, and I said, ‘Bishop, you don’t have to worry. I’m going to see this to the end.’ That’s when I decided I would not allow anybody [to deter] us.

Ed Jackson

Innovative Programs

 Morgan Community School’s innovative programs served the needs and interests of the school community well. Field trips to embassies and museums, a nature center, an arts workshop, and a trip to Cape Kennedy in Florida enriched the educational experience for students by providing hands-on opportunities. 

More than 300 students, adults, and parents took advantage of the school’s evening and extended classes such as driving, typing, sewing, music, PE, dancing, gymnastics, karate, basketball, baseball, cooking, and high school equivalency classes.

My thing is to make people aware of their being, to make them aware of their dignity, to make them more conscious of themselves. And allow, or try to preserve the humanity that I think exists in a black community.

Topper Carew

The Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center

 When the Morgan Community School building continued to deteriorate, the School Board decided that it could not be repaired. In 1971, the Board hired the architectural firm Fry and Welch to design a new school on a three-acre site spanning both sides of Champlain Street. The name of the school was changed to honor the person who first envisioned the community school. The new Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center was dedicated on Sunday, May 7, 1978.

The new building included space for 1,200 elementary school students. A bridge over Champlain Street connected the West Wing, which replaced the old Morgan School, and the East Wing, on the opposite side of the street. The design featured open floor plans, a swimming pool, an auditorium, a gymnasium, arts and crafts rooms, and underground parking. To further serve the community, the School Board planned that the school would include a public health clinic, a welfare office, childcare facilities, and adult education classrooms. 

Who Was Marie Reed?

The granddaughter of an enslaved woman, Marie Brooks was born on April 2, 1915 in Spotsylvania, VA. She lived with her grandparents until age 10 when she moved to DC to live with her father, who was a butler, and her mother.

While in DC, she attended Armstrong and Cardozo High Schools and Howard University. She then studied for the ministry at St. Ann’s Spiritual School in Baltimore. In the 1940s, she graduated, married James Reed, and started her own church, the Sacred Heart Spiritual Church of Faith. In 1953 she was consecrated Bishop.

Marie Reed was dedicated to her community. She would pay a neighbor’s rent or utility bill, bring food or clothing to those in need, and help people find work. Working with other community leaders, she organized summer camp programs, a pre-school, and a nature center.

Believing that all communities should have a say in decisions that affected them, she was instrumental in the formation of the Morgan Community School. Elected the first Chairperson of its School Board, she believed that parents should be involved with their children’s education and that all children should have the opportunity to develop their creative abilities.

This world is not a place to sit still…

Bishop Marie Reed

Life at Marie Reed Elementary School

Since the 1970s, Marie Reed Elementary has continued to reflect the diverse community that is Adams Morgan. In its first forty years, only five principals have led the school, providing stable leadership that allowed the school to flourish. In 1992, Principal Dr. John Sparrow introduced the Spanish/English dual language program to better meet the needs of growing numbers of students arriving from Central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The dual language program continues to thrive today, serving an increasingly diverse student body. 

Marie Reed has continued to be a hub for community activities and involvement. Today a daycare, health clinic, recreation center, and pool serve the community. Students are able to get a quality education while participating in extracurricular activities. 

I love the diversity [of the school community] and the hard working staff that help the children. I have a family here at Marie Reed.

Virginia MontoyaIn the early 1980s, Ms. Montoya came to the United States from El Salvador looking for a better opportunity. She began working at Marie Reed Elementary in 1999 as the bilingual clerk and parent coordinator. Now as the school’s Registrar, she is a fixture in the school community and is often the first person to greet visitors. Her children and grandchildren have attended Marie Reed.

Modernization of Marie Reed Elementary School

 By 2013, DC Public Schools recognized that Marie Reed’s building needed major updating, and the mayor and City Council committed the necessary funds. In 2015, Quinn Evans Architects were hired to design the modernization plan. The school was designed to serve 450 pre-K through 5th grade students. Along with the classrooms and school spaces, facilities used by the community such as the pool, health clinic, and day care center were updated as well.

It was important that the spaces support collaboration, promote interdisciplinary learning, and provide resources to the larger community—all goals of the original Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center. In fact, the original plans were consulted during the 2017 renovation. The new building provides endless opportunities for Marie Reed students and the Adams Morgan community. 

As time goes on, the story of our school will continue to evolve. Where do you think we’ll be in a year from now? In 10 years from now?

I hope the new school will continue to provide a place where big ideas happen and our community comes together to embrace our differences.

Harlan KinzerHarlan Kinzer, a Florida native, came to DC in 2002 to attend American University. She teaches 5th grade at Marie Reed, and in 2016 she led the students in The Story of Our Schools Club to create this exhibit.

For the last 40 years our school has drawn in families and kids from across the city. When the renovated building opens, there will be even more interest in joining our school. My hope is that new families who come to Marie Reed are eager to join our school’s legacy of community engagement, justice, and family.

Katie LundgrenKatie Lundgren has been the principal at Marie Reed since 2014. She values the diversity and uniqueness of the school community and seeks to preserve it by addressing issues of race and equity with teachers, students, and families.

The Exhibit

The Story of Our Schools would like to thank the following for their generous grants and donations that made this exhibit possible: 

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C  |  Appointed  |  District of Columbia Public Schools  |  John Smith & Peter Grimm of the SMITH TEAM REALTORS!  |  Julia’s Empanadas  |  Fulcrum Properties Group  |  Penn Hill Group |   Quinn Evans Architects  |  Sudhouse


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