A historic celebration – combined with jubilant reflections of the past, present and future – took center stage on Wednesday, Sept . 29, during a special ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the long-awaited reopening of the new David T. Howard Middle School.
Dozens of students, administrators, school staff, community partners and stakeholders joined Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring, the Atlanta Board of Education, and members of the David T. Howard High School National Alumni Association to celebrate the state-of-the-art building, which opened its doors to students during the 2020-2021 school year.
The ceremony also honored the rich legacy of David Tobias Howard, a former slave and prominent Atlanta businessman and noted philantropist who donated the 7.5 acres of land on which an elementary school first opened in 1924, and later a high school.
The event featured the Midtown High School JROTC, a selection by the David T. Howard Middle School band, as well as special remarks by Dr. Herring, Interim Principal Joy Antone, and Wesley Johnson, a 1948 graduate of David T. Howard High School.
Board member Leslie Grant and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell, former principal at David T. Howard during the 2019-2020 school year, were also featured, including Antonio Brooks and Madison Roberts, both fifth graders at Hope-Hill Elementary School.
Johnson reminded the audience of the greatness of his alma mater, its impact, and the man who made it all possible: David T. Howard. Before it closed in 1976, Howard High School produced several prominent graduates including Walt “Clyde” Frazier, NBA Hall of Fame member; Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., Atlanta’s first black mayor; Vernon Jordan, a successful businessman and former advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter; and Mildred McDaniel Singleton, the only woman to win a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics in track and field (high jump). Also, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Howard when it was an elementary school.
“One man. One community. Mr. Howard prevailed at an early age and addressed the basic essentials of this community in his business pursuits,” Johnson said in his speech. “Shortly after the end of World War I, Mr. Howard saw an educational need in his community. This site was chosen as the site for the very first school in this community. And as a native son, we have seen many of the successes of the students that study here. Even more so, we have seen the contribution to this community, to the ATL, and the influence of David T. Howard over the past 97 years. Its influence continues to prevail. The sun will rise tomorrow on a new day where we will continue to improve the legacy of Mr. David Tobias Howard and all of those folks who have made this day possible.”
Dr. Herring said she was humbled and honored to represent APS while echoing the historical significance of Howard’s legacy and all the school symbolizes.
“We stand on the shoulders of those that came way before us. The presence of everyone here today is a powerful reminder of the past, present and future,” Dr. Herring said. “And today marks another opportunity to rejuvenate, to reimagine, to co-create, to come together. I’m humbled as your superintendent to stand in this space, and in this place, to help us continue to recognize the importance of this work that’s not tied to the adults, but to the children. Our community and leaders have shown us that when we come together, when we invest, not just in the brick and mortar, but also in our children, we change our entire world. Our alumni are a reminder of that for us today.”
“We remain committed to getting this right for the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and to this world,” Dr. Herring continued. “So, today we celebrate the name – David Tobias Howard – and the legacy, but also the future. I’m extraordinarily proud to celebrate David T. Howard Middle School.”
Completed in fall 2020, the nearly two-year, $52-million middle school makeover now combines almost 114,000 square feet of renovation with 94,179 square feet of new construction to create a modern school for more than 1,000 students in grades six through eight. The school also features an elevator, as well as science, technology and art labs. It has since won several prestigious architecture and design awards.
Godfrey Finch Sr., a 1965 graduate of Howard High School and active alumni association member, praised Howard, calling him a man of “culture, guile, gift, and giving” who was a proud member of the Atlanta community. Finch said he was delighted to celebrate the occasion.
“I love this place,” he said. “This is indescribable because this school represents all kinds of people,” he said.
For Interim Principal Joy Antone, the ceremony represented living history.
“To have alumni here today, and to speak to the past and to share what happened more than 70 years ago, everyone here should feel empowered to work even harder to make sure our students get what they need so they can be just as successful as David T. Howard,” Antone said. “This was a great moment to see everyone come together. It was history in the making.”