Morgan to Reed: A Journey Forged by Community

 
 
 

Morgan and Wilson Schools

Washington, DC was a segregated city from the 1890s 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 African American 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.

18th Street and Columbia NW, c. 1930s

Courtesy of DC Public Library 

The Morgan School, c. 1902–1903

Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington

Thomas P. Morgan (1821–1896)

Courtesy of Metropolitan Police Department

Wilson School, 1949

Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington 

Henry Wilson (1812–1875)

Courtesy of Library of Congress 

Act of Congress that freed the slaves in DC, 1862

Courtesy of National Archives 

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 African American 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. 

Morgan School, 1949

This school served Adams Morgan’s African American residents.

Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington

Morgan School report card, 1934–1935

Courtesy of Anonymous Donor

John Quincy Adams School, 1949

This school served Adams Morgan’s white students.

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington

Graduating class from Adams School

Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington

Morgan and Adams Schools

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.

Integration

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 remained 98% African American. 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.

Morgan School, 1963

Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington

New York Times front page

Courtesy of DC Public Library

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.

“No Urban Renewal is involved. Just a community trying and wanting to live together.”  —Adams Morgan Community Council Leaflet

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.

Adams Morgan News, 1966

Sponsored by the Adams Morgan Community Council, this article urges parents to unite and speak out about the problems at the Morgan School.

Courtesy of DC Public Library 

The Washington Post, September 13, 1967

To allow more parent representation, the residents elected a School Council. 

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection 

Main Hall of Antioch College in Greene County Ohio, mid-1900s

Realizing they needed professional guidance to accomplish their goals, School Council members formed a partnership with Antioch College. Antioch wanted a year to plan the new community school, but the council gave them only a few months.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

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.

School and Community Work Together

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 African Americans 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.

Policy Statement from the Board of Education, September 18, 1968

This policy statement granted the Morgan Community School the maximum possible independence from the DC School Board.

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

Letter from Principal Paul Lauter, 1967

This letter describes to parents how the new Morgan Community School would operate when it opened.

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

Morgan Community School Annual Report, 1968

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

Marie Reed's obituary, June 20, 1969

“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

Courtesy of The Washington Post 

Morgan Annex, formerly known as the Wilson School, c. 1970s

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

Morgan Annex Playground, 1982

Courtesy of Nancy Shia

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.

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. 

Cover page from Fry and Welch plans, 1971

Courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects

Dedication Program, May 7, 1978

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

Memo from Vincent E. Reed, Superintendent of Schools, November 17, 1976

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

Basketball game in front of Marie Reed

Courtesy of DC Public Library

Who Was Marie Reed?

The granddaughter of a slave, 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.

Bishop Marie H. Reed (1915–1969)

“This world is not a place to sit still…”

Courtesy of Sumner Museum Collection

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. 

Marie Reed Elementary School, 2016

Courtesy of Jen Harris

Marie Reed Elementary School, 2016

Courtesy of Jen Harris

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?

Marie Reed Elementary School, 2018

Courtesy of Jen Harris

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.

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.

Ed JacksonEd Jackson was 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.

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.

Topper CarewFounded by Topper Carew, the New Thing arts workshop provided creative opportunities for children from the Morgan School and the Adams Morgan community.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.