Historical marker IDs one of 1st public schools for African American students

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new Indiana state historical marker commemorating the John Hope School No. 26 was to be unveiled Monday at the Oaks Academy.

Kisha Tandy, curator of social history at the Indiana State Museum, and Ron Lovett, School No. 26 graduate (1971), on “Life. Style. Live!” shared what you need to know about this slice of history.

The former John Hope building is now home to The Oaks Academy. The dedication is part of an evening of programing dedicated to the legacy and contributions of the school and its close relationship with the community. Following the premiere of the documentary “The Glories of Our Journey: A Community Story,” the new historical marker commemorating John Hope School No. 26 and the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library, which was located inside, will be unveiled and dedicated. The event is private, but open to the media. 

Amid Jim Crow segregation, School No. 26 was established in 1901, providing Black children with academic and vocational education. In addition to offering K-9 education, the school served as a community center. Prioritizing inclusivity, School 26 welcomed youth with disabilities, migrants from Southern states, and adults deprived of educational opportunities. In 1922, the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library opened in School No. 26 (renamed John Hope School). Directed by pioneering Black librarian Lillian C. Hall, the library served as a neighborhood hub for Black literature, culture, and history. Despite laws passed in the 1940s, desegregation of city schools like John Hope did not begin until the 1970s with mandatory busing.

Historical Distinctives: 

  • May 16 is the centennial of the opening of the doors of the Dunbar Library.
  • Only the third marker dedicated at a school in Marion County (Crispus Attucks High School (erected in 1992) and the Indiana School for the Blind (erected in 1994) 
  • The first library in the state to receive a Historical Marker that was not Carnegie Library (20 of the 164 Carnegie Libraries in IN have Historical Markers, Carnegie established nearly 1700 total libraries in the United States). 
  • School No. 26 was one of the first public schools for African American students in the city; quickly became known as “Little Tuskegee” for its curricular focus on vocational skills as well as academic fundamentals. 
  • School No. 26 at its peak was the largest elementary school in the state with over 1,600 students.
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar Library was the first library to be established in an African American community in Indianapolis, the first in the state to be publicly funded and in an African American community. 
  • Dunbar Library was led by the first African American librarian in the state (to graduate from an accredited library school).  Her name was Lillian Childress Hall.  
  • School No. 26 was the only school for African American children with disabilities, informally starting in 1918, and formally between 1938 and 1949. 
  • School No. 26 was the only elementary school in the state to have a 9th grade, which it added in 1938 to account for overcrowding at segregated Crispus Attucks High School.   

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