Between 1930 and 1950, the black population in the District of Columbia doubled. For the first time, Federal government job opportunities for African Americans became available in the New Deal program of the 1930s, and opportunities also arose for African Americans in the service sectors and skilled markets. During this time the black student population increased from 33 percent to 50 percent. Overcrowding in black schools particularly worsened in the District as World War II halted school construction. Between 1941 and 1947 about 10 percent of the black student population went on double or even triple shifts, while white schools had rooms to spare. School administrators planned to construct new schools for the long-term, but as an immediate fix turned 21 all-white schools to all-black schools. This was resented by white parents, and also black parents who viewed the schools as "hand-me-downs."
In late 1949, a group of Anacostia neighborhood parents, the Consolidated Parents Group, joined with James Nabrit, Howard University professor of law, secretary of the University, and future president of the University to legally challenge the separate but equal doctrine. They petitioned the school board to use Sousa Junior High School on an integrated basis, as it could adequately offer Anacostia pupils a full Junior High program without additional cost for repairs or construction and serve all of the children and not be overcrowded. On September 11, 1950, in a carefully planned maneuver, the head of the Consolidated Parents' Group, along with student Spottswood Bolling and 11 other black school children, presented themselves at the brand new Sousa School for admission "with a police escort and a battery of lawyers." The principal refused to admit the children and Bolling then began his school year at Shaw Junior High, a 48-year-old school, ill-equipped, with a playground too small for a ball field, a welding shop turned into a makeshift gymnasium, and science lab with a Bunson burner and a bowl of goldfish.
Nabrit brought suit on behalf of Bolling and four other plaintiffs against C. Melvin Sharpe, president of the Board of Education of the District of Columbia. True to Nabrit's strategy, the Bolling case charged simply that segregation in itself was discrimination. The NAACP public school segregation cases before the Supreme Court took the form of one case joining similar cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, DC, and Kansas, naming it after the later case (Brown v. Board of Education) to show that the issue was not unique to the South. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued its decisions. In the Bolling decision, the court found racial segregation in the District's public schools a denial to black children of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
The John Philip Sousa Junior High School is located at 3650 Ely Place, in Southeast Washington, DC. It is still in use as a middle school.
John Philip Sousa Junior High School is one of the subjects of an online lesson plan, Brown v. Board: Five Communities That Changed America, produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Park Service program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on places listed in the Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.