The first African American school in OKC was founded in 1891, and would later become Douglass High (named for the famous ex-slave author and abolitionist). It has had a somewhat troubled and nomadic existence. The first location of the school suspiciously burned down, and the second location was grossly inadequate and in an unsafe, industrial neighborhood. Due to legal battles regarding city, county, and even Federal ownership of properties, it took three years to move Douglass High students into a new building. In 1934, the old “Lowell School”, a previously all-white school originally built in 1910, was expanded and became the third location of Douglass High School. With a swimming pool, auditorium, stage, and proximity to students’ neighborhood, this was a great step forward for the school’s student body.
Douglass High School was home to pillars of the Oklahoma City African American community. Examples include Zelia Breaux, the first woman ever appointed President of the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers, and daughter of the first President of Langston University, Inman Page; and Ralph Ellison, author of the national bestseller “Invisible Man” and one-time Vice President of ONG.
As the only African American school in OKC, Douglass High School quickly became overcrowded. A new high school was constructed in 1954, and Douglass High School became the Page-Woodson 5th Grade Center. Page-Woodson was then closed permanently in 1994 when 5th Grade Centers across the city were converted to elementary schools through a federal grant. The former Douglass High School was the only school not converted, but simply closed, and has been vacant since 1994.
For a short period of time around 2004, the non-profit organization Oklahoma City Northeast Incorporated had plans to renovate the building to be utilized for a community cultural or development center. Unfortunately, these plans fell through, and again the building sits abandoned, dangerously close to being lost, either to its own deterioration or to make way for new development.[i]
[i] Douglass High School; Preservation Oklahoma; http://www.preservationok.org/Douglass_High_School.html