Backyard Talk

Community Fights to Preserve Historic School

The Ivy City section of the northeast Washington, DC is one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the district, established in 1872. It is the home of the Alexander Crummell Elementary School that served the Black children of Ivy City and Trinidad, a neighboring community. The school was named in 1911 for Alexander Crummell, a noted abolitionist, educator and clergyman, and a champion for Black Lives in his time.

The school was closed in 1977 and has been abandoned since. Residents fought and defeated a plan in 2013 by then Mayor Vincent Gray to use the school parking lot as a bus depot while construction continued at the nearby Union Station train station. Neighbors and activists worried that there already was too much pollution and industrial use in a neighborhood where about 1,200 people struggle to live every day. The school located in the heart of the neighborhood had been previously targeted by the city government for undesirable projects including a junk yard and later for rezoning to commercial land use. The neighboring residents however, wanted none of that. Instead, they want the school building and property to benefit their community. The local residents want the school restored and renovated “in a manner that serves, protects and uplifts area residents and their environment, and honors the legacy of Alexander Crummell.”

According to the website Black Past, Crummell was born in New York City and spent much of his life addressing the conditions of African Americans while urging an educated black elite to aspire to the highest intellectual attainments as a refutation of the theory of black inferiority. He was educated at Queens College at Cambridge University in England where he became the first black student to graduate from Cambridge. Crummell eventually settled in Washington, D.C. where he founded St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Crummell lectured widely across the United States on race issues. From 1895 to 1897 he taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1897, the last year of his life, Crummell helped found the American Negro Academy and became its first president, with W.E.B. DuBois and William Saunders Scarborough as vice presidents.  Alexander Crummell, who would become a major influence on myriad black leaders including DuBois, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and Marcus Garvey, died in Point Pleasant, New Jersey in 1898. The school was added to both the DC and National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Friends of the Alexander Crummell School was formed to achieve the restoration and reuse of the school. For more information go to <>.