TODAY   |  August 31, 2013

New book chronicles America’s first black public high school

Dunbar, a high school in in Washington D.C.,  produced students who went on to be pioneers, in spite of segregation in the area at the time. Now remodeled, the school is ready to welcome a new generation of students. TODAY’s Erica Hill interviews author Alison Stewart.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> of "first class." nice to have you with us this morning.

>> thank you for taking an interest.

>> this is a great story. a lot of people don't know about it. it's not that widely published. this was an impressive pool that graduated so many firsts.

>> my parents went there. they said did you know the first black general of the army went to dunbar ? they would tell me about amazing professors they had. they would tell me all about this. i thought well, why doesn't anyone in d.c. know about this? i wanted to chronicle it.

>> your dad moved there from new york to go to high school at dunbar . what happened? there's an incredible legacy, then it took a major turn.

>> it was like a magnet. in washington, d.c. , there were only two or three high schools black kids could go to because of segregation. after it became a neighborhood school, problems came in. drugs in the '80s. they wanted to hold on to the old, historic experience. d.c. 's problems became dunbar 's problems.

>> things are changing and the school started this week.

>> in a brand-new, $122 million high school . it is stunning.

>> one of the things in high school that's become a focus for a lot of people. there's a wall. the legacy looking at past dunbar graduates and space.

>> they have plaques in the floor. they had postage stamps of graduates. they have left some plaques blank to say this could be you. you could be the next great dunbar graduate.

>> what is the take. if you read the history, it started in 1807 . as we move forward, how likely is it that those things will change , that we will have it.

>> the idea i want people to take is the human capital . buildings are beautiful but they can only do so much. it's the dedication of parents, teachers and community. it's how we keep our public schools vibrant and alive.

>> you have pulled out a new sense of community with the book. you did a book the other night.

>> washington, d.c. , 250 people showed up. a 91-year-old dunbar graduate came up to me and said thank you for telling our story. my heart broke.