The Charles Sumner School -Washington DC

Charles Sumner School
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

The Charles Sumner School was constructed in 1872 and designed by Washington architect Adolph Cluss. Named for US Senator Charles Sumner, a major figure in the fight for abolition of slavery and the establishment of equal rights for African Americans, it was one of the first public school buildings erected for the education of Washington’s black community. Charles Sumner opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the return of fugitive slaves by Union troops. He also fought for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, the creation of a Freedman’s Bureau, the admission of testimony from African Americans in the proceedings of the US Supreme Court, pay for black soldiers equal to that of whites, and the right of African Americans to use streetcars in the District of Columbia.

The Sumner School was built on the site of an earlier school constructed in 1866 under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Since its dedication in 1872, the School’s history encompasses the growing educational opportunities available for the District of Columbia’s African Americans. Sumner School stands as one of the few physical reminders of the presence and history of African Americans in one of the most historic areas of the city. It is one of a series of modern public buildings constructed by the District of Columbia government during the period of intensive municipal improvement which culminated in Alexander R. Shepard’s remarkable transformation of the city in the early 1870s. A century later, the school had fallen into disrepair. Through the concerted efforts of Richard L. Hurlbut and others, a meticulous $5 million renovation was undertaken from 1984 to 1986. The school now houses a museum and conference center, of which Hurlbut was named curator and director, according to his obituary in the Washington Post.

The Charles Sumner School is located on 17th and M Sts., NW. It now houses a museum and archive for the DC public school records and artifacts. Spaces are available for meetings and programs for non profit and government organizations on a limited basis. The museum is open to the public free of charge Monday-Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm; the archives are open by appointment only Monday-Friday 10:00am to 4:00pm, please call 202-730-1421 to schedule an appointment. If you are interested in arranging for one of the meeting spaces, please call 202-730-0478.

Nearest Metro Stop: Farragut North (Red Line)