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DuSable High School Given Landmark Status

By Sam Cholke | May 2, 2013 6:14am

BRONZEVILLE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented a bronze plaque to DuSable High School Wednesday designating it an official city landmark.

The school, as 4934 S. Wabash Ave., which counts former Mayor Harold Washington and singer Nat “King” Cole as alumni, is one of the few schools in the city to be landmarked.

“I can’t think of a better week to pick DuSable then during the week we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the election of Harold Washington,” Emanuel said, adding that it is the first landmark plaque installed with his name on it.

Emanuel praised the opportunity that an education DuSable has provided to pupils for 78 years in the historically black community.

During its history, the art deco school has churned out notables in music and the arts. Cole, Dorothy Donegan and Dinah Washington all credited their training at DuSable as fundamental to their later success.

Margaret Burroughs, founder of the South Side Community Art Center and the Lake Meadows Art Fair, taught at the school for 22 years.

Mayor Washington was not the only alum to achieve a notable first. Fred Rice, the first African American to be appointed superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, and Margaret Smith, the first African American woman elected to the Illinois State Senate, also attended DuSable.

Ebony and Jet magazines Publisher John H. Johnson, “Soul Train” host Don Cornelius and comedian Redd Foxx also studied at the three-story, block-long school.

For all its success, DuSable’s creation was a struggle. Bronzeville residents protested for two years starting in 1929 before the Board of Education agreed to build a new school in the neighborhood to ease overcrowding at the rundown Phillips High School.

Construction stalled for years as the country sank into the Great Depression and the idle site became a stage for 1933 protest by 20,000 Bronzeville residents against the racially motivated rape trials in Alabama.

The school opened in 1935 under a dark cloud as students moved into an unfinished building after Phillips caught fire. When Phillips students left the next year, they kept Phillips' red and black school colors, which are still the school colors.

Three schools now operate in the DuSable building: the DuSable Leadership Academy Charter High School, the Bronzeville Scholastic Academy High School and the Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School of Medicine.

Landmarking the building was first proposed by the school’s alumni group in 2011 and the City Council approved the designation in October 2011.