Guest Blog By: Kevin Maxwell, Principal of David T. Howard Middle School
There is excitement across our community and across generations about the opening of the David T. Howard Middle School.
It is well known that David Tobias Howard donated the 7.5 acres of land on which this former elementary school and high school operated from 1923 until its closing in 1976. It is fitting that this school should forever bear the name of the man who believed in a bright future for children during a dark time in our history.
His success and accomplishments, allowing for such generosity, need to be considered in the context of history. David T. Howard, born into slavery, made this donation during what historians call the Segregation Era. This was a time in the United States where nearly every facet of life was segregated, including public transportation and public restrooms. Black Americans faced exclusion and discrimination in every social domain from employment to the criminal justice system.
David T. Howard found success through his own enormous effort, intellect and persistence. While he could have simply basked in the comfort his wealth afforded, he chose to celebrate his sacrifices with philanthropy. His gift of this land sheds light on what must have been his optimism for the future, as there is no greater symbol of hope and opportunity than a public school. He may not have realized that this gift was also destined to make history with students like Martin Luther King, Jr., Walt Frazier, Lonnie King, Vernon Jordan, Clarence Cooper, and Mildred McDaniel Singleton walking the halls of the David T. Howard School.
These and many other David T. Howard alumni – through their own courage and persistence – multiplied the impact of his gift to our community.
Though the pandemic has delayed our full presence in the building, our staff have all been inspired by both the history that everyone feels here, and the exacting, skillful effort that went into the construction process at our new middle school. Our school’s rich history has been preserved, and its capacity to prepare our students for the future has been enhanced through thoughtful design.
The building has four levels. Level one will house the connections classes along with the gymnasium, auditorium, and cafeteria. Level two through four will be for sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade classes. There is a historical classroom that memorializes what a class would look like in the 1920s. The gymnasium was built in 1949 and can seat over 1,400 people. The administrative wing in the front of the building was designed over 80 years ago, and was built exactly how it was designed. The exterior of the building has a graceful presence, reflective of its history, but it also makes a bold statement about the significant place public schools hold in our neighborhoods.
Between 1979 and 1981 young Black children were murdered in a string of killings in Atlanta. Students from Buffalo, New York, moved by the enormous toll this took on the Atlanta community, created and donated a monument in memory of these lost lives.
The monument, an 8-foot teardrop, stands in front of our new school. Across from the building is another work of art created from a 150-year-old American elm tree that once stood on the grounds. This sculpture includes 10 outstretched, life-size arms carved from basswood and buckeye and hands cast in aqua resin. Provided by The Elder Project, it honors the faculty and students of David T. Howard High School and symbolizes the stability and vulnerability represented by the grand tree it once was.
We began this year differently. While we readily acknowledge the challenge this presents, we also want to acknowledge the opportunities we have. Those who came through David T. Howard long ago, lived through history, and in fact, made history.
Today, we are teaching and learning through a history-making time. Inspired by those who came before us, our staff and students have the talent, resources and commitment to honor the legacy of David T. Howard. We look forward to new generations of David T. Howard alumni and all that they will bring to our community.