Frederick Douglass School performance, 1916

After the passage of the Arnett Law requiring school integration in 1877, the (white) Cincinnati School Board closed the Eastern and Western District Colored Common Schools downtown. The students in those schools were placed in the mostly white public schools, with all white teachers. The more affluent African American community in Walnut Hills managed to protect the Colored School on Elm Street. Under the new arrangement, the school continued to operate with its Black faculty. (Gaines Colored High School remained open for a few years, but attendance fell precipitously and the School Board closed it for economic reasons.)
The legal status of the school changed from time to time. African American children in Walnut Hills were allowed to attend the white Twenty Second District School. Technically the Colored School was opened to any student in the Cincinnati Public School system; in practice, it became an elite institution for the city’s Black population. (It is interesting that the nearby Walnut Hills High School forty years later became the city’s College Prep school, open to high-performing students throughout Cincinnati.)
In 1902, the School changed its name to the Frederick Douglass School, in honor of the great nineteenth century escaped slave and Abolitionist. The school and the African American neighborhood remained sufficiently influential that the school board constructed a new Frederick Douglass school building in 1911. The large school building became an important community center, sufficiently prestigious that WEB DuBois noted in this column “Along the Color Line” in the NAACP Crisis magazine:
“A large audience in Cincinnati witnessed the ‘Kermess’ given by seventy-five girls under the auspices of the Douglass School. Costumes and calcium lights were used, and there was a series of folk dances.”