Designated: Landmark Building Exterior
45 Whitehouse Drive, S.W.
Booker T. Washington High School was the first black public secondary school in Atlanta. It is reflective of a period of economic growth and transition in the black community. It was in the early 1920s that new communities developed and built by blacks for blacks were established on Atlanta's west side. Located in the Washington Park neighborhood, Booker T. Washington High School served those new communities, as well as educating students from across the city and out-of-town. Many notable Atlanta citizens have graduated from Booker T. Washington High School including Atlanta's only Nobel laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The schools built in the 1920s were designed in an eclectic mixture of historic revival styles. Washington High School is an excellent example of this trend as it was practiced by a leading local architect, Eugene C. Wachendorff.
Public education in Atlanta started in 1872 and yet this, the first public secondary school for blacks, did not open until 1924. It was the only black high school until 1947. At that time, its enrollment had reached 4,797. Before that, blacks who wanted to attend secondary school enrolled in the high school departments of the colleges in the Atlanta University Center. These schools were private and charged a small fee. This tuition charge prevented a large number of black students who completed elementary school from getting a high school education.
The opening of Booker T. Washington High School was the culmination of several attempts on the part of black leaders who had unsuccessfully lobbied for bond funds to construct a high school building to educate black youths. In 1903 and 1910 the black community helped pass a school bond referendum and was promised a high school in return for its support; it did not receive one. However, in 1919, with the help of the NAACP, black leaders conducted a successful voter registration drive. The newly registered voters helped to defeat a school bond referendum that year. In 1921 another bond campaign arose and this time it passed due to black support and a promise for more black schools. The school board then pledged $1,290,000 for black schools. Booker T. Washington High School, the first black junior/senior high school in Atlanta, resulted from that effort. The Board of Education approved the purchase of twenty acres of land for the school on June 13, 1922. Eugene C. Wachendorff was selected as the architect. The school was named after Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), a Virginia native who had been born a slave. In 1881, Washington founded and became the first principal of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He became one of the most influential black leaders and educators in the United States.
Throughout the years, Booker T. Washington High School has played an important part in the development of the black community in Atlanta and the nation. The excellent training provided at the school prepared many students who became local and national leaders in many professions. An example of some outstanding graduates include: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights leader), Romae T. Powell (judge), Dr. Asa Yancy (surgeon), Dr. Mabel Smith Lott (psychologist), Lyndon Wade (Urban League director), and Lucille Palmer Perrino (educator). These individuals were the products of dedicated administrators and teachers who believed in quality education. The number of graduates of this school in the late 1920s was just over 100, and in the years when there were two graduating classes a year (in January and June as with most high schools), the total came to 350 to 400 a year. After World War II, the total annual graduates remained about 400, and then in the early 1950s dropped to the low 300s, as other black high schools began. The 1960s saw the annual average at 325-350.
The first principal of Booker T. Washington High School was Charles L. Harper (1875-1955). He built a firm educational foundation for the school by hiring well-educated teachers, who were also concerned about the welfare of the students. These teachers required much of their students and did not tolerate mediocrity. The strong leadership of Professor Harper and the faculty had a tremendous influence on the students. Highlights of Mr. Harper's principalship include the erection of the Booker T. Washington statue at a cost of $7,500; the expansion of the school building; the organization of educational tours for honor students; the initiation of student government; the purchasing of additional land, adjoining the campus, for athletic fields; the building of a stadium; and the organization of the Music Festival and Dramatic Association for Secondary Schools in Georgia. Mr. Harper served as president of the Georgia Teachers and Education Association from 1941 to 1942. In 1943 he became the first executive secretary as well as president of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP. Serving in both capacities until his death, Mr. Harper was able to lobby for higher pay for black teachers and more state aid for black graduate students.
Today, Booker T. Washington High School continues to serve the same educational purposes and remains an important black educational and cultural institution.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL
Booker T. Washington High School is a four-story building (three floors and a basement) of reinforced concrete with brick veneer walls. The design incorporates an eclectic mixture of medieval and Byzantine elements. The elaborate main entrance contains five arches in two tiers using terra cotta and twisted columns. Brick is used for many of the building details including corbeling for a cornice across the front facade.
The school clearly dominates its environment, standing almost like a medieval cathedral in its setting. The main block of the school sufficed for about a decade. Then in 1938, six classrooms and a laboratory were added as a WPA project. In 1948 came a major, half million dollar addition that filled out the original plan. This was handled by the original architect, Eugene C. Wachendorff. In 1952, the cafeteria was added, and in 1954 the physical education/gymnasium were added. The 1965 building campaign cost $600,000 and provided for more classrooms and the renovation of the science rooms. The vocational educational building was built in 1968, as was the teaching theater.
Eugene C. Wachendorff (1880-1955) was an Atlanta-born architect whose better known works all seem to to be public buildings: the Lamar County Courthouse, in (Barnesville, Georgia) in 1930; the City Hospital in Columbus, Georgia (now demolished) in 1914; the Alumnae Building at Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia; and in Thomasville, Georgia, the John D. Archbold Hospital in 1925 and the Three Toms Inn (now demolished) in 1927. His long career covered diverse types of architectural styles and building types.
Two major works of art are associated with the school. The statue in front of the school was dedicated May 20, 1927. The statue shows Booker T. Washington "lifting the veil of ignorance" from the head of a former slave. It is an exact replica of the original, which is located at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. Both statues are the work of Charles Keck (1875-1951), a New York native, whose major works include statues in the United States Hall of Fame in New York, in the United States Capitol in Washington, at Duke University, and at many other locations in many different media.
A mural depicting the dignity of manual labor, painted in 1928 by Wilmer Jennings (a student), is located in the hallway. This mural predates WPA murals of the 1930s, but is painted in the same style.
Jackson, Kevan J. and Philip Q. Smith. National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form, 1986.
Group I (1) (2) (3)
The proposed nomination of Booker T. Washington High School meets the above-referenced criteria for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta.