The Fayette County Public Schools board voted Monday to name a new high school on Winchester Road after Frederick Douglass. With a total cost of $81.4 million, including land and equipment, the state-of-the art school is set to open in fall 2017.
The name is intended to honor the segregated high school in Fayette County that closed 53 years ago and to honor the abolitionist.
The old Frederick Douglass High School on Price Road served black Fayette County children living outside the Lexington city limits during the segregation era. Although the high school closed in 1963, an elementary school was on the site until 1971.
Douglass was a leader in the anti-slavery movement and was the first black citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank, serving in several diplomatic positions, according to the website Biography.com.
Alva Mitchell Clark, a member of the Douglass High Alumni Association, which had advocated for the name, said, “It’s a way to restore, preserve, and reclaim a rich part of Lexington and Fayette County Public Schools history.”
“It’s also a wonderful way to complete the integration process 53 years later,” Clark said. “Our Alumni Association so looks forward to working with the new school.”
She said naming the new school after the old one “is a great way to keep the spirit of Douglass alive.”
At a school board meeting earlier this month, Lester Diaz, principal of the new school, said the Douglass name “not only honors an American leader and a historical figure, it brings back the legacy of a Fayette County school that educated children.”
“We identify with the strong alumni base. We understand the service that they do by providing annual scholarships” for high schools in Fayette County, Diaz said. He provided some details about the old Douglass school. He said he thinks it was the first school in Fayette County to provide free lunch for all students. It was one of the first schools to establish a parent-teacher association in Lexington. It also was an institution that valued and emphasized highly qualified teachers, he said.
When Paul Laurence Dunbar High School opened about 26 years ago, it was named for Dunbar High, the segregated black Lexington high school that also closed in the 1960s. Paul Dunbar was an American poet, novelist and playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in Ohio to parents who had been slaves in Kentucky before the Civil War.
“We’d like to bring back the athletic rivalry between Dunbar and Douglass, which at one point was fierce,” Diaz said.
A committee charged with recommending a name for Fayette County’s sixth traditional public high school chose Frederick Douglass, according to Diaz. The committee received letters of support from the local NAACP and various legislators, Diaz said.
The University of Kentucky Libraries website said that in 1888, Frederick Douglass received one vote from the Kentucky delegation at the Republican convention in Chicago, making him the first black nominated to be a U.S. presidential candidate. This was the second time that Frederick Douglass had received a single vote to be a U.S. presidential candidate; his first vote came during the National Liberty Party Convention, in 1848. Also, Douglass was nominated as a candidate for vice president during the Equal Rights Party convention in June 1872; he was to run with Victoria Woodhull, who was nominated as the presidential candidate for the Equal Rights Party. Frederick Douglass declined the nomination, the website said.
The other proposed names for the Winchester Road high school made public so far by various groups and individuals included the late basketball coach S.T. Roach; Brenda Cowan, Lexington’s first black female firefighter, who was slain in the line of duty; the late school board chairman John Price; and Muhammad Ali.
Former Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac and retired Fire Chief Gary McComas were among those who at the meeting advocated for the new school to be named after Cowan.
Janella Price, the sister of the late school board chair John Price asked that the school be named for John Price.
There were 672 submissions from the public. School board policy requires that the name reflect the geographic significance of the area, or a person who contributed in a significant way on a local, state or national level.
In response to people who advocated for other names, school board chairman Melissa Bacon said the decision was a difficult one. She noted there would be more new schools built.
As of Monday, the school was 75 percent complete, said Bill Wallace, the school district’s director of facility design and construction. The main academic building will be 285,790 square feet and will have a capacity of 1,800 students.
The Carter G. Woodson Academy, which is now housed at Crawford Middle School, will move to the new high school. Carter G. Woodson Academy provides an advanced and rigorous curriculum through the lens of black history, culture and culturally responsive teaching and learning strategies. The traditional college preparatory program serves males in grades six to 12.