port of harlem magazine
Theo Hodge, Jr. M.D.
Ida Jones Supports Renaming DC Wilson High School William Syphax High School
December 17 – December 30, 2020
william syphax

In summer 2020, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser formed a working group charged with evaluating named DC government-owned facilities and making recommendations as to what, if any, actions need to be taken if the person the facility is named for is inconsistent with DC values and in some way encouraged the oppression of African Americans and other communities of color or contributed to systemic racism.

After their evaluation the working group recommend renaming 21 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) schools and school buildings, including Woodrow Wilson High School. (The Racist Legacy of Woodrow Wilson) The public now has a chance to help rename the school named for the former U.S. president.

Morgan State University Archivist and Port Of Harlem contributor Dr. Ida Jones is calling for the DCPS to rename Woodrow Wilson High School after William Syphax. Besides be a DC native, Jones says he deserves the honor because he “organized and established the preparatory high school for advanced African American students, known today as Dunbar High School.” 

Historian CR Gibbs called it a “worthwhile suggestion.”

As a trailblazer in Negro education, the Secretary of the Interior appointed Syphax to the Board of Trustees of Colored Schools of Washington and Georgetown in 1868. He served as the board’s first President from 1868 until 1871, and then as Treasurer in 1871.  

Under his leadership, the city constructed the first schools for African American students considered equal to those being constructed for White students: Thaddeus Stevens (1868), Abraham Lincoln (1871), and Charles Sumner (1871-72). He has created opportunities for Negro teachers.

DCPS had an elementary school named for Syphax from 1902 until 1993. The building has been closed for educational purposes for nearly 30 years. It was sold in 1999 and repurposed by the District of Columbia government and an affordable housing non-profit developer as part of a community plan to preserve the building. In July 2003, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the former Syphax Elementary School is known as Syphax Village Condominiums.  

Public Input on New Name for DCPS’ Ward 3 High School

A nomination form released in October to suggest new school names received over 2,000 responses. From that list, a group of DCPS and school stakeholders narrowed the names down to seven finalists for public input. Feedback provided on these names will be considered by Chancellor Ferebee and Mayor Bowser in selecting a new school name to propose to DC Council.  You don't need to be a DC resident to vote.

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