Educating Harlem
A Century of Schooling and Resistance in a Black Community

Chapter 3. Wadleigh High School: The Price of Segregation

by Kimberley Johnson

Chapter 3 Map

Map design by Rachael Dottle and customized for chapter by Rachel Klepper. Map research by Rachel Klepper. Map layers from: Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Urban Planning, City of New York; Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Manhattan. From actual surveys and official plans / by George W. and Walter S. Bromley New York Public Library Map Warper; Manhattan Land book of the City of New York. Desk and Library ed. [1956]; New York Public Library Map Warper; and State of New Jersey GIS. Point locations from: School Directories, New York City Board of Education, New York Amsterdam News via ProQuest Historical Newspapers, and multiple archival sources cited in relevant chapters.

[The] price of segregation that we pay . . . is already too great without adding the humiliation of “all-Negro” schools. . . . New York City is cosmopolitan in character, despite Harlem, the Lower East Side, and Yorkville. Here there should exist the intermingling of the races aspect of democracy at its best.1

In 1954, the New York City Board of Education (BOE) closed Wadleigh High School due to its deteriorated physical condition, declining enrollment, and poor academic performance. But the route to closure spanned decades. Although originally an elite all-white girls’ high school when it opened in 1897, by 1940 Wadleigh appeared to many to be a failing school. White student enrollment had fallen gradually and, by the start of World War II, the student body reflected the Harlem of the first Great Migration: native Black New Yorkers, migrants from the U.S. South and Puerto Rico, and West Indian immigrants. As Wadleigh’s student population came to align with the demographics of its surrounding Harlem streets, the New York City Board of Education proved unwilling to support a well-resourced majority-Black school, or to desegregate the school. With Wadleigh’s closure, Central Harlem lost the first and only high school located within its boundaries.

By tracing Wadleigh’s transformation over time, we can better understand the educational history of Harlem in the Great Migration era. Wadleigh High School revealed the multiple forms of segregation at work in Harlem and the high price of that segregation. Debates over what Harlem students should learn in school, such as those outlined by Thomas Harbison in chapter 2 of this volume, were visible in both constructing and contesting segregation at Wadleigh.

The struggle over Wadleigh also illuminates the unfolding of the “long Civil Rights movement” in the urban North, particularly during the less-explored decades of the pre–Brown v. Board of Education era: the 1920s through the 1940s.2 The Harlem riots of 1935 and 1943 revealed the growing anger and frustration that resulted when the promise of the Great Migration had stalled and economic and educational inequality had become institutionalized. Then, as now, Harlem parents, educators, and community members imagined different pathways to address this inequality. Two choices dominated the debate: whether Wadleigh should become a flagship high school for the new Black Harlem; or Wadleigh should be an integrated school that just happened to be located in Harlem? Were either possible in the context of unequal staffing and curricular policies and segregating zoning decisions by the Board of Education?

The growing reluctance of white parents to send their daughters to Harlem would eventually negate the possibility of Wadleigh developing a stably integrated student body. At the same time, the possibility of embracing an identity for Wadleigh as an all-Black high school ran aground over sharp debates about whether acknowledging the segregation of Harlem’s housing and education meant acceding to “Jim Crow in the North” with its many inequalities. These two polarities created a long-standing stalemate, which New York City Board of Education policies exacerbated.

This chapter focuses on key moments in Wadleigh’s transformation as a way to explore broader struggles over education in Harlem during the pre–Brown era.3 One struggle was caused by tensions arising out of class, race, and ethnicity as Harlem’s diverse residents all struggled to shape education in Harlem. Parents, educators, and community leaders struggled over the school curriculum and expectations, most notably in the debates over differentiated curricula and vocational training. By the late 1930s these tensions were overlaid by debates about integration versus strengthening Wadleigh as an all-Black school. By the 1940s, issues of curricular equity and integration shaped debates in Harlem over the future of Wadleigh. As Black New Yorkers gained real political power; and, as the first stirrings of the civil rights movement began to emerge, they struggled over how to conceptualize Wadleigh’s identity and place in the segregated and unequal city.

Gender was also an important historical force at Wadleigh. The school was a site for the construction and expression of the troubled category of Black urban girlhood. Girls there navigated racialized ideas of age, maturity, obligation, and sexuality that, as Marcia Chatelain has shown, closed off spaces and modes of protection that white girls enjoyed.4 An inquiry that centered gender in Wadleigh’s history could draw on the nascent field of Black girlhood studies in history as well as the established examinations of gendered experiences in Harlem’s pre–World War II landscape.5 Rather than an incomplete investigation in this direction, given the constraints on space here, this important topic remains to be explored in future work.

Wadleigh Before African American Harlem

Wadleigh High School’s Harlem building, which followed the original 1897 location downtown on East Twelfth Street, was one of the first schools constructed after New York City’s consolidation in 1898. In a report on its opening, the New York Times declared the Wadleigh building the “finest high school building in the world.” Now a New York City landmark, the school was the epitome of Collegiate Gothic architecture, a “massive five story building [that] housed eighty classrooms, over a dozen laboratories, executive offices, two elevators, three gymnasia, and auditorium (with 1500 seats) a library, a large boiler and engine room, two study halls, and numerous lavatories and ventilated cloakrooms.”6 Architectural ambition matched the aspirations of its neighborhood. In 1902, as Gilbert Osofsky recounts, Harlem was a “fashionable middle- and upper-middle class, mostly white neighborhood.”7

In keeping with its architectural form, the Wadleigh High School that opened in 1902 on West 114th Street in Harlem was an academically rigorous all-girl school primarily for the white daughters of Harlem and the Upper West Side. The school’s self-portrayal emphasized gentility, even as students from various class backgrounds attended. As Irving Louis Horowitz recounts in his reminiscences, although his sister’s time at Wadleigh retained its “well-mannered Victorian atmosphere,” the school had mostly become a “relief from immigrant drudgery rather than inflated expectations.”8 In 1925, the bulk of the advertisements in The Owl (the school yearbook) were for secretarial and business training institutes, suggesting that the curriculum was no longer strictly focused on academics. Many students who completed their studies in the school’s academic program continued on to the City University’s Hunter College, to train to be teachers.

The student body at least as pictured in the yearbook in the 1920s appeared almost exclusively white, and community members spoke of ways the school made entry difficult for Black students.9 Among the small but growing population of Black students in the late 1920s was the future Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, who graduated in 1931. The scholar Sara Lawrence Lightfoot traces the childhood and adolescence of her mother and describes a supportive academic environment at Wadleigh. When Margaret Morgan was a teenager, she fled the constant fear of violence in intensely segregated Vicksburg, Mississippi, to live in Harlem with family and continue her education. She later told her daughter that at Wadleigh she felt encouraged and challenged academically. With extensive coaching from her mentors on the Wadleigh faculty, she obtained a scholarship from the National Council of the Episcopal Church that enabled her to pursue higher education at Cornell University and later to launch a career in psychology.10

Colored Schools to “Mixed Schools” to Jim Crow Schools

For Black New Yorkers in the late 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s, before the Great Migration swelled their number dramatically, city schools brought an awkward mix of inclusion and segregation, as was the case in other northern cities during that era.11 Due to their small numbers, African Americans had some access to integrated—or in the nomenclature of the time “mixed”—public schools. Even with limited integration, segregation still structured city life. African American leaders and educators struggled for inclusion of students into existing schools as well as for the hiring of African American teachers for both segregated Black schools and white schools.12 Throughout the late nineteenth century, the condition of the city’s segregated or “colored” schools such as Colored School No. 1 was dire. Charles B. Ray, a leading figure in the city’s African American community, complained that the city’s Black school facilities were essentially “caste schools,” which were “‘painfully neglected . . . old and dilapidated.”13

New York City’s outlawing of legal segregation in 1883 led to the start of a nominally integrated public school system that stood in contrast to other northern cities that had quickly instituted segregated school systems when faced with the beginning of the Great Migration. Nonetheless, despite the city’s formal integration of its school system, the residential segregation of Manhattan’s Black population into two enclaves (San Juan Hill in the West Fifties and Harlem around 135th Street at the time) meant that the schools in these areas were effectively segregated. The segregation of public schools had little effect on many of the city’s Black elites during the late nineteenth century, as they often sent their children to private “colored” institutions.14 Thus by the start of the first Great Migration, Black New Yorkers were both celebrating their inclusion into the city’s “mixed” schools and facing the realities of segregation.

As the Great Migration began and as a greater Black Harlem took shape, critics began to challenge this romanticized history of New York’s “mixed schools.” Harlem parents noted that “mixed” schooling could impose psychological harm on Black children who were faced with teachers and fellow students who treated them with indifference, neglect, or outright racist abuse.15 Entering previously all-white schools was no panacea either, with critics noting that the schools’ all-white staffs and inappropriate curricula could push students out of school rather than keep them in. Critics of both “mixed schools” and segregated schools argued that segregated school enrollment without explicit segregation produced fewer employment opportunities for Black teachers, administrators, and staff than a formally segregated system would have created (as it did in the South).16 Compared to other northern districts, New York also employed fewer Black teachers.17 White control of majority Black schools also created schools with an atmosphere and a curriculum that did not lead to the educational success of Black children. Given the pervasiveness of racial discrimination, these critiques resonated with Black New Yorkers who faced enormous difficulties in securing teaching jobs in the city’s school system and with parents who saw a system in which Black children found varied and often lower levels of success compared to their European immigrant peers.

Prominent figures such as the African American journalist George S. Schuyler vocally opposed practices by administrators and teachers who contributed to perpetuating social stratification in Harlem. He pressed Black Harlemites to contest the unequal conditions of education for their children and to “be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get down in the valley to fight to [the] end for full, absolute equality in everything.’”18

In contrast, editors at Harlem’s main newspaper, the Amsterdam News, largely dismissed attacks on mixed schooling as well as calls for strong all-Black schools; suggesting that these introduced a negative southern viewpoint into a more tolerant atmosphere.19 Indeed, Dr. Willis N. Huggins, invited by the Amsterdam News to write about the status of Black teachers in New York, lauded Black teachers who “refused to spinelessly ask for separate schools” and “refused to fawningly ask that discrimination be made ‘for’ him.” Huggins added: “His methods are slow and patient, but they will attain for him full equality in appointments, in the long run, without regard to creed or color.”20 The support for New York’s “mixed” or integrated schools also fit with a strong belief that these schools bestowed upon all students the benefits of a “cosmopolitan” education. For integrationists such as Lucile Spence, a Black Wadleigh teacher, the answer was simple: “If the races are to live together after maturity, they should as children go to school together.”21

Integrationists varied in the degree to which they believed that integration could or should happen outside of or within Harlem’s boundaries. Was integration meaningful if it occurred only outside of Harlem? Or was integration meaningful if it occurred only within Harlem’s boundaries? Although integration within spaces like Wadleigh was preferable, integrationists did not want Harlem’s children’s to be solely confined within Harlem’s boundaries and thus miss out on the benefits of New York’s “cosmopolitan” character.22

When Wadleigh’s Harlem building opened in 1902, the school sat about a mile south of the Black residential center developing around 135th Street and Lenox Avenue. By the Great Depression, Wadleigh was now within an area with a significant and growing Black presence. Residents faced heightened overcrowding and absentee landlord exploitation, products of continued migration into segregated spaces. The school’s demographics changed more slowly than, but in parallel with, the neighborhood’s. From its opening in Harlem in 1902 to the 1930s, Wadleigh saw increasing enrollment from African American and West Indian students. Given the growing resistance of white parents to sending their daughters to Harlem, the question was whether Harlem residents would have to send their children out of the neighborhood to access integrated schooling. From about one-quarter Black in 1931, the school’s student body was 98 percent African American by the end of World War II.23

Harlem’s increasing educational and spatial marginalization also reflected the limits of Black Harlem’s political power. Since African Americans were still largely faithful to the Republican Party, as voters they had no influence or power within Tammany Hall. Although this loyalty to the Republican Party would fade by the 1920s, Harlem’s political power was weak due to the area’s gerrymandering into different city council and state assembly districts. Thus although the switch to the Democratic Party created some patronage opportunities, for the community as a whole Harlem’s division meant that actual political representation did not occur until 1929 when the first Black official was elected. Unlike Chicago’s Bronzeville, which elected Oscar DePriest to Congress in 1928, Harlem did not get the chance to elect its own congressional representative until 1944 when the district lines were redrawn.24 Limited political representation and economic crisis sharpened the debates over the nature of schooling for African American children as the promise of the first Great Migration seemed to be unfulfilled.

Within this context of marginalization, support grew for the strengthening of Harlem’s schools as Black institutions. For newly emerging advocates of this idea, given Wadleigh’s past reputation for excellence, a possible future for Wadleigh could be as a flagship Black high school for the community, similar to Chicago’s DuSable High School or Washington, D.C.’s Dunbar High School. The existence of a high school within Central Harlem was an asset, whether integrated or all-Black. The institution had played an important role for some of the few Black students that had attended during the 1920s and early 1930s, such as Ruth Dorothea Ellington, the sister of Duke Ellington, who graduated from Wadleigh in the 1930s and pursued higher education at Columbia University, or Margaret Morgan who was described above.25

Wadleigh’s segregation was not only a product of white families’ resistance to sending their daughters to Harlem or to a majority-Black school. The Board of Education zoning rules as of the early 1930s limited Harlem girls to three high schools: Haaren (Tenth Avenue and Fifty-Eighth Street), Morris (East 166th Street in the Bronx) and Wadleigh, the only high school located in the heart of Black Harlem. Two other schools, Julia Richman (East Sixty-Seventh Street and Second Avenue) and George Washington (on Audubon Avenue), were closer to most of Harlem, but in the years around World War II had much smaller numbers of Black students.26 In the late 1930s, school officials drew attendance zones for these two high schools to include students living in white neighborhoods and ensured an all-Black student population at Wadleigh.27 Wadleigh’s resulting attendance zone was enclosed between Edgecombe Avenue to the west, Fifth Avenue to the east, Central Park to the south, and 155th Street to the north.28 Wadleigh’s zone nearly matched the boundaries of Black Harlem, defined by processes of residential segregation, by World War II. In this same time, boys living within that zone had no local high school available to them.

Debates roiled within Harlem about whether or not to accept the increasingly rigid lines of segregation that were transforming Harlem from a Black mecca to segregated ghetto with shrinking opportunities. For some migrants, accepting segregation meant accepting what they believed they had left in the South. Establishing Wadleigh as an all-Black high school (regardless of its academic status) would be a “humiliation” and a concession to “Jim Crow.”29 The potential closing of Wadleigh High School, threatened by the board as of 1937, was better than formally accepting its status as a segregated school—no matter how academically excellent.

As in earlier phases of debates over schooling in Harlem, questions of curriculum soon became central. The fall of 1934 brought into the open the simmering frustrations and debates over the integration of schools. One particularly sharp debate, described in detail in chapter 2 of this volume, pitted Harlem activists against the BOE over a proposal for “differentiated curriculum” for Harlem students.30 The proposal submitted by assistant superintendent Oswald Schlockow argued that “upper Harlem,” designating areas of African American settlement, had “special educational, social, ethical, academic and vocational needs, and these must receive special attention in terms of those needs. Fond hopes, speculation, theorizing must yield to the light of reason and the dictates of common sense.”31

Schlockow’s report met broad condemnation among Harlem leaders and journalists. They rejected his curricular prescriptions on their face, but saw also that this was the “entering wedge of segregation,” a “quiet conspiracy to segregate.”32 The journalist George Schuyler called for a “standard curriculum, standard faculties, and standard administration.”33 Anything else was a tool to keep Harlem children locked into a prison of lowered expectations.

Schlockow’s plan was not formally adopted. Yet several aspects, including its extreme focus on vocational training for Black students and its belief that many were mentally deficient in some way were increasingly and openly supported by many white educators in Harlem including Wadleigh’s principals. Since the Board of Education’s structure placed almost all of Harlem into four districts overseen by one administrator, the adoption of a differentiated curriculum there would affect the majority of the city’s Black children. Black Harlem faced the realization that despite the hopes of the Great Migration, Black migrant parents were essentially sending their children to Jim Crow schools.

Segregation could figure even within the school. The Great Depression—which limited options for youth employment—brought dramatically expanded enrollment at Wadleigh. Wadleigh and the BOE partially solved the overcrowding issue while trying to maintain the school’s white racial identity with the opening of annexes. In 1933, under pressure to add more seats but faced with drastic budget cuts, the BOE opened up the second of Wadleigh’s two annexes (with the first established in 1915 at Public School 179 on 102nd Street). The new annex located on 135th Street and Convent Avenue was the former site of the New York Training School for Teachers. The annexes had higher rates of white enrollment than did the main building and housed the school’s academic curriculum.34

The First Harlem Riot and the Decline of Wadleigh

In the 1930s, Wadleigh’s constituents struggled not only over the curriculum, but over whether the school would persist. They faced contradictory realities: a desire to maintain the school’s reputation of academic excellence, administrators’ desires to maintain a predominately white student body, and growing demand from students within Harlem as Black Harlem expanded south to 114th Street and beyond. The class composition of the white students also began to change: white students were more like Horowitz’s sister, members of families in the lower-middle class, or upper-working class. For these students and their families, Wadleigh was becoming an “isolated institution in the heart of Negro Harlem.”35

The Harlem riot of 1935 was a pivotal moment for Wadleigh and for education in Harlem. In addition to bringing long-simmering tensions into the open, the riot catalyzed investigations and official engagement with Harlem much beyond the previous decade. In addition to systematically neglected school facilities, Harlem activists cited the low expectations and sometimes hostile attitudes of Wadleigh’s almost all-white teaching and administrative staff toward their African American students. This perception of hostility was revealed in government testimony. For example, as Osofsky recounts in his history of Harlem, “In 1937 an educator bluntly told an investigating commission of the state legislature: ‘Let’s not mince words; let’s be practical about this matter—the Negro is not employed in certain trades, so why permit him to waste his time taking such courses.’”36 This remark echoed the early controversy over the differentiated curriculum proposed in 1934.

A number of groups such as the Permanent Committee for Better Schools in Harlem and the Harlem Parents Association sprang up in the aftermath of the riot to press for changes in Harlem’s schools. Representatives of the Communist Party, Black churches, and the New York Urban League could agree to condemn the conditions of the schools and the hostility of white educators toward Harlem’s schoolchildren, expressing their concerns at a mock trial of the Board of Education described in chapter 6 in this volume.37 Many Black Harlemites had come to believe that the “unhealthful and inadequate school buildings in Harlem had much to do with the unrest which led to the disorders of March 19.”38 Nearly forty years of hard use at Wadleigh, as well as changing educational standards, made the current building obsolete and dangerous. Some described the school as a “firetrap and in such a dilapidated condition that it is unfit for the safety of human lives.”39

White Wadleigh community members emphasized the surrounding neighborhood. In their view it had experienced a rapid decline with “pool halls and jook joints” visible.40 Dr. John L. Tildsley, a retired associate superintendent, complained that students going to Wadleigh had “to pass through a neighborhood where gentlewomen do not like to pass.”41 He lamented the fact that Wadleigh had “adhered to cultural influences” in its surrounding area.

Coming two years after the Harlem riot, the celebration of Wadleigh’s fortieth anniversary in 1937 was the beginning of a short-lived battle, this time led by white people, to preserve Wadleigh’s status as what they called “a gentlewomen’s school.”42 As of 1938 (the nearest year for which data are available), Wadleigh’s combined population of students was about one-third African American and West Indian students. If previous patterns held, the proportion of Black students was larger in the main building than in the school’s two annexes.43 Although students, teachers, and families likely were responding to the school’s increasing Black enrollment, much of the discussion emphasized the school’s location in a racialized Black space. Tildsley spoke to gathered alumna and others at a celebratory luncheon at the Hotel Astor, declaring that there was an “urgent need” for a gentlewomen’s school as none now existed on the West Side west of Wadleigh and up to 160th street.” One proposed site for the school was located on 168th Street and Broadway, a transitional area between white Harlem and Washington Heights. However, a medical center (now part of Columbia University) took the site instead. He recognized that his desire to relocate Wadleigh was that of a “small voice in our high school education” suggesting that this perception was not in the majority. Parents, Tilsdey argued, needed to “bring pressure to bear” on the BOE for a new site for Wadleigh or its replacements, “a new site . . . where they can send their girls in confidence and security.”44

Tilsdey’s characterization of Wadleigh’s neighborhood as an unsafe one and his call for a new location were contested by some. The speech was criticized in the Women’s section of Amsterdam News for exaggerating the dangers of Wadleigh’s surrounding area and for the way the new location would be segregated. The columnist of the “feminist viewpoint” called for renovations of the existing building instead of relocation.45

Yet administrators largely echoed Tilsdey’s depiction of the school. Wadleigh’s acting principal argued that the campaign to relocate the school was not based on “prejudices,” but rather, it was based simply on the issue of safety.46 Relocating the school would protect girls “from annoyance by hoodlums who lurk in the subways, or who boldly pull on them, throw stones, or otherwise insult them.” The principal noted that near the school, “police raids of disorderly houses are almost a daily occurrence.”47

The school’s anniversary coupled with upcoming BOE budget talks spurred an organized letter-writing campaign among white Wadleigh parents.48 Although many were similar in form and content, the letters provide some insight into how some Wadleigh parents viewed the changing environment and identity of Wadleigh. In making the case for a relocated or modernized school, some parents directed their criticism at the aging building declaring it “drafty,” with “overcrowded classrooms and lunchroom,” overall an “unsafe” building. For many parent letter writers, however, the building’s location in an “unsafe” and “immoral” neighborhood was the most important reason for the school to be relocated.49 One parent wrote that the “neighborhood surrounding the school is most unsafe not only for young girls but also adults.”50 Still another wrote that “many days when my daughter has returned at a later hour than usual because of a play rehearsal or a club meeting, I have been terrified knowing how unsafe the neighborhood is for an adolescent girl.”51 Another was even more direct about how she equated Black residents with danger: “Many times, while going to school, [her daughter] has had fearful experiences with the negroes in the neighborhood.”52 As the “only girls school on the West Side from 59th to 192nd St., it was unfortunate and now dangerous that it was located in such a dangerous area.”53

For some parents, one key element of their campaign for a new Wadleigh was that they no longer saw the school as one belonging to the “upper West Side.” Some parents called for a new “modern high school for girls to serve the needs of the West Side of Manhattan.”54 White parents who participated in this campaign felt that they had, inexplicably, lost Wadleigh. One parent wrote, “I can find no justification for this long-standing un-just discrimination against the children of our neighborhood.”55 White parents deployed language that referred to paying high taxes to claim their rights to the school they imagined. As one parent wrote, “We who pay high rents and taxes, feel we are entitled to one of the most essential features of a residential section, an adequate high school.”56 In their view, Wadleigh’s location and student population made it less than adequate.

Anxiety of decline enveloped the school, and Black students pointed to tensions regarding racial discrimination within the school itself. Black students’ experiences at Wadleigh provide complex, varied accounts that point at times to a supportive environment, one in which discrimination still held sway in both open and subtle ways.57 Although students like Margaret Morgan had found Wadleigh encouraging, a group of Black students at Wadleigh High School testified regarding racial discrimination at the school in a mass trial of the Board of Education at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. According to these Wadleigh students, although the school was over 40 percent Black in 1937, no Black girl had ever had a part in the senior play until “a militant Parent’s Association won this concession.”58 Despite the school’s claims to vaunted academic status, reports of dubious student behavior continued to circulate and tarnished the school’s reputation. In one newspaper account, the principal denied charges that “whiskey bottles were removed from the basement . . . and that students smoked reefer.”59

White flight (or rather the very end of the process) lay at the heart of the final shifts in Wadleigh’s student population. One newspaper article charged that “white families abetted by agitation by an organization of realtors and community leaders are sending their children to schools as far away as George Washington and Julia Richman to escape association with colored children at Wadleigh.”60 Harlem’s Amsterdam News and community leaders roundly condemned Tilsdey’s anniversary speech as a “Black eye” given to Harlem, but Tilsdey’s speech also touched a nerve.61 What should happen to Wadleigh now that many both in and outside of Harlem now believed it to be a “Negro school?”

Superintendent Tilsdey, like many educators before him, approached the idea of a “Negro” Wadleigh by turning to the curriculum. Tilsdey stated what was commonly believed by some white educators about the educational as well as social prospects of African Americans: that “Negroes would be happier” especially in certain occupations—domestic, industrial and cafeteria. Tilsdey’s belief in what made for African American happiness was also buttressed by a clear belief in social inequality: “You don’t expect a Negro doctor to practice among whites?” According to this racial logic, the market for Black professionals was small, thus Black New Yorkers (and by extension Harlem) did not need Wadleigh as an academic school.62 Given its location and rapidly changing student body, nothing could maintain Wadleigh as a “gentlewomen’s” school, as it stood “on the edge of Harlem.” The proposed solution for the school would be for it to become a “vocational school for Negroes, although colored and white would be allowed to attend the new building.”63

Losing a School, Winning the War? “The Humiliation of All-Negro Schools”

Although white parents agitated for a new Wadleigh located farther north in Manhattan, other parents continued the fight for a better Wadleigh in its current location. In 1938, a new parent’s group emerged. This group was a coalition of parents representing the school’s three main racial or ethnic groups: African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Italians.64 The parent’s group presented a petition to the BOE demanding a new school to replace the aging school building. Unlike the white parents who pressed for a location farther north, this new group began pushing for a new building that would be located “between 100th and 110th Street west of Central Park West.”65 Another group led by notable alums such as Ruth D. Ellington, pushed for keeping Wadleigh in its 114th Street location, albeit accompanied by extensive modernization.66 Zoning restrictions meant that girls who desired an academic curriculum (and were unable to falsify their address) were restricted to attending Wadleigh. If the school closed, how would Harlem girls access an academic curriculum?67

With so many contending voices and with no clear political consequences to face, the BOE did nothing. In the late 1930s and 1940s a period of drift occurred. Wadleigh’s growing identification as a “Negro school” held implications for its reputation in a racist context. By the early 1940s, the student body had grown smaller and had become almost exclusively African American and Puerto Rican. The total register was 70 percent black in 1943, and 98 percent by 1945. In that year, the school’s total enrollment was less than half what it had been only five years earlier.68

Photographs from *The Owl*

Figure 3.1 Student photographs in The Owl, the Wadleigh High School yearbook, June 1943.

Part of the enrollment decline was due to the Depression-Era baby bust; most of the city’s schools faced declining enrollments during the 1940s.69 White withdrawal from the school was almost complete, and so was the withdrawal of Black students whose parents feared the consequence of sending their daughters to a school with a reputation for weak academics and lack of safety. Thus, civic and religious leaders such as Reverend Robeson, pastor at Mother Zion in Harlem, as well as Margaret Byrne, the principal of the school, fretted that Harlem parents “either knowingly or unknowingly” were creating the conditions for a Jim Crow school to emerge because of their unwillingness to send their daughters to Wadleigh.70

Photographs from *The Owl*

Figure 3.2 Margaret Byrne in The Owl, the Wadleigh High School yearbook, June 1943.

Margaret Byrne charged that underenrollment would lead the BOE to discontinue the school as an academic institution. Dr. Rankin, a teacher at the Wadleigh evening school, argued that “the people of the community owe it to themselves to rescue their heritage and restore Wadleigh to its former glory.”71

Nonetheless, in the midst of this change and declining enrollment and reputation, Wadleigh presented two faces. For some Black students, the few Black teachers at Wadleigh such as Lucile Spence were invaluable. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, a former student at Wadleigh recalled that teachers such as Spence “were learned, with a concern for you as a person. . . . Being a dedicated teacher in Harlem was a life, not a job. . . . These women were mothering Harlem.”72 Other educators increasingly viewed Wadleigh’s students through a lens of deprivation and hopelessness. Virginia Snitow, a white liberal teacher at Wadleigh, described her experience teaching Negro girls as teaching “minds and personalities warped and distorted like trees exposed to the wind.”73 Faced with the extreme deprivations of poverty, hunger, and homelessness, she found students were resentful of and unengaged in a curriculum based on Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Milton, and Burns that was “not only distant in time and place but fantastically unreal and even meaningless.” Schlockow believed that a special Negro history curriculum compensated for a reduced academic curriculum as the relevant solution, but Snitow argued that a relevant curriculum engaged with current events and writers such as Richard Wright energized and motivated these students toward engaging in academic work.74

This call to rescue Wadleigh as an academic institution points to the complexity of Harlemites’ understanding of Wadleigh’s history. Some parents and administrators attached the school’s previous reputation to white enrollment.75 Some, such as Mrs. William Lloyd Imes, the mother of a Wadleigh graduate, lamented underenrollment and changes in the curriculum as the remediable sources of decline.76 The students of color who did attend present varied accounts of a supportive environment as well as experiences with discrimination, thus reflecting the ambiguous history of Wadleigh as an elite institution for Black students. This was especially true in the school’s annex locations, which the BOE and school administrators treated as academic dumping grounds for students of color; and, which offered students no academic preparation at all.77 Those who wanted a stronger Wadleigh in Harlem had to negotiate this complex history.

The call to reembrace and improve Wadleigh was complicated by the growing fear that it was essentially a Jim Crow school. Although white students were free to attend, very few did. Meanwhile, most Harlem students had no other option but Wadleigh.78 By the winter of 1945, Wadleigh’s school leadership came to publicly acknowledge the school’s transformation. Margaret C. Byrne, the school’s principal, convened a community meeting “to settle the matter for the good of the community” as to what the future of the school should be.79 In convening the meeting, Byrne stated her “inference . . . that the school approaches the condition of segregation and does not have a curriculum commensurate with other schools.”80 For the Mayor’s Committee on Unity, formed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia after the riot of 1943, the combination of segregation of Black students and low academic expectations meant that the school needed to be closed.81 At a 1946 community meeting held by the committee, parents and education activists admitted that it was “difficult to now change the situation” of underenrollment and increased segregation that they attributed to Wadleigh’s labeling as a “Negro school.”82

Several interrelated problems faced Wadleigh: (1) declining overall enrollment, (2) an identity as “Negro school,” produced both by changing neighborhood demographics in the context of residential segregation and BOE zoning policies that reinforced segregation, and (3) an inadequate and unappealing curriculum. One solution was the adoption of a new curriculum that would attract a more diverse student body and thus reverse Wadleigh’s “Negro school” status. The associate superintendent relayed that although he had been in favor of closing Wadleigh “for the past five years,” the board hesitated to close the school because they were not sure of [the] community reaction.”83 The BOE was correct in being unsure of the community reaction because the community had in fact been split for years. A 1945 editorial in the Amsterdam News reported on a meeting at Wadleigh that had attracted more than 250 parents, teachers, and community members, and remarked on this split regarding the future of the school: Cecelia Violenes, an alumna of Wadleigh called for the maintenance of the school as a “fort or frontier” of excellence within Harlem, regardless of white enrollment, whereas Mrs. Johns, a consultant for the Child Guidance Bureau, advised Black parents in Harlem to send their children to schools where they could have “interracial contacts for their girls.”84 For the author of the editorial, opposing attitudes toward the school were difficult to reconcile: “Either Harlem is asleep to the fate of their oldest institution of culture or they want it to die. If the latter, it is a cowardly procedure.”85

The Permanent Committee for Better Schools in Harlem set forth the two alternatives to Wadleigh for Harlem residents to consider. The first recommendation was to rebuild Wadleigh and “bring into being a new building . . . so situated that the cosmopolitan character of the school may be maintained.”86 In short, a school that would be accessible to Harlem, but not necessarily located in Harlem so that it would not become a “Negro school” via the resistance of white people to schooling in Black spaces. The second alternative was a qualified one. The Permanent Committee endorsed the continuation of Wadleigh under the following conditions: (1) that the school would be thoroughly modernized; and (2) that changes in zoning take place so that not all the students from Harlem would be zoned for the school. Unless those conditions were met, the committee argued that it would be “better that the school be closed than to become a ‘Negro’ high school.”87

In the minds of many, where Wadleigh would be located was inextricably tied to who would attend the school, and thus linked to the racial identity of the school. Segregation had left Black people to “live in old neighborhoods” and forced them to “use old school buildings.”88 To escape these conditions, there had to be a “general rule that would allow any high school student to go to any high school in New York City and not just to a neighborhood or zoned school.”89 This meant that escaping segregation meant letting go of neighborhood schools. As one parent argued, “If the whites can’t come to us, we can go to them.”90 Others felt that integration ought to be a two-way street. With the exception of Wadleigh, Black high schoolers, especially boys, had always had to leave Harlem for high school. As Cecelia Violenes, stated, “There is no reason why we should go to anyone. Let them come to us.”91

The Price of Segregation: Closing Wadleigh

In the Harlem Riot of 1943, Black Harlemites again rebelled against the harsh conditions of northern urban Jim Crow. The issues of substandard housing, lack of employment opportunities, and the neighborhood’s overcrowded and abysmal segregated educational system, remained unaddressed by the New York City government. Although for white New Yorkers the riot may have confirmed resistance to sending students to a Harlem-located school, the uprising may also have facilitated the school’s continuation despite previous calls for closure.

The tense community environment in the aftermath of the Harlem riot of 1943 may have played a role in the announcement in December 1946 that the BOE would keep Wadleigh open.92 This decision was connected to a broader issue over the development of two other “Black” high schools in New York City: Girls’ High School in Brooklyn and Morris High School in the Bronx (the latter was one of the three zoned high schools for Harlem). Both of these schools, like Wadleigh, were “undergoing a rapid increase in the percentage of Negro students and an attendant drop in the enrollment of pupils.”93 Local activists rejoiced in the move, but qualified their applause by calling again for the BOE to ensure that “Wadleigh becomes what it now is not, a school which represents a fair cross-section of the school population of the city.”94

This commitment to resuscitate Wadleigh was followed by the retirement of Principal Margaret Byrne and the appointment of a new principal, Mary C. Graham, in August 1947.95 Graham set about trying to raise Wadleigh’s enrollment numbers by developing curricula in areas such as education, nursing, and home economics that would entice not only more students but also hopefully a broader “cross-section” of students back to Wadleigh.96 In 1950, the school established a Demonstration Nursery for students interested in future careers in nursing or child development, or for their future as homemakers. Graham emphasized that this course of study was not vocational. It was for “girls working for a general Regents diploma.”97 In 1952, Wadleigh was one of five schools and several city hospitals that established an “Earning while Learning” prenursing program as a part of a citywide effort to address a nursing shortage.98 The effort to fill Wadleigh’s seats came at a time when every other school in the city was overcrowded.

These efforts to create Wadleigh as a school of choice rather than a school of last resort proved to be too little too late. By 1953, high school enrollment in older and poorer areas of the city had dropped and elementary and junior high school enrollment had increased.99 In areas such as Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, overcrowding at the elementary and junior high school level rapidly increased due to the continued migration of African Americans and Puerto Ricans to the city. Meanwhile old housing stock and old school facilities were pushing white families and Black families with means to newer areas of the city such as Queens, or to the suburbs. The newly developing areas of the city such as northern and eastern Queens faced severe overcrowding. The city confronted two issues: the growing concentration of students in poor areas with inadequate and aging facilities that faced a $75 million repair backlog as well as population shifts within the city. These new areas also needed new schools. The BOE put forward an ambitious capital campaign of half a billion dollars for the building of 312 schools over six years.100

Wadleigh closed at the end of the 1954 school year, part of a long-range, five-year plan for “more and better school facilities” in Harlem; and, also as result of the now two-decade-old resistance to a “Negro” high school to be located in the community.101 Taking Wadleigh’s space would be Julia Ward Howe Junior High School, a coed school. (Although this was the school’s formal name, internally and sometimes externally the school continued to go by Wadleigh.) The closure of Wadleigh High School made the New York Times because it was the “first time in [the] history of the school system” that a city high school was “dropped from the rolls.” According to the Times, with “two-thirds of its space unoccupied,” which the newspaper attributed to “population shifts and the changing times, coupled with the lowered birth rate of the depression years,” Wadleigh was regarded as “an unprofitable operation.”102

The last Wadleigh High School graduating class was only eighty-five students, produced from a total enrollment of six hundred students. The closure brought to light conflicted feelings. Some Wadleigh students were saddened by the closure. Alumnae reactions to the school’s closing reveal the profound ambivalence of the community’s vision of what Wadleigh had represented. Some testified about how hard it had been to gain entry into the school. For example, the women’s editor of the Amsterdam News recalled that she was “one of three Negro girls ‘allowed’ to attend.”103 With this historical struggle for access in mind, critics remarked it was “ironic that the people who had such a hard time to get into the school [Negroes], should be the ones who years later, by refusing to use it, caused its closing.”104 As had been the case at many points across the school’s history, the mention of academically strong students in the last cohort sat alongside references to the school’s negative reputation cited by many as a reason for its closure. Dorothy Michael, the honor graduate of the class of 1954, had been awarded scholarships to attend Hunter College, Barnard College, and Howard University.

In 1956, after a $1.4 million renovation, Wadleigh reopened as a coed neighborhood junior high school. Although still housed in the Collegiate Gothic grandeur of its early twentieth-century building, Wadleigh’s academic identity as a rigorous all-girl high school was stripped away. That identity, however, had always been intertwined with New York City’s segregated school system.105

The closure of Wadleigh occurred just as the struggle against New York’s City’s school segregation accelerated after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Many of the issues raised by Harlem education activists, including in and around Wadleigh over the preceding fifty years, would be taken up again by citywide civil rights and school integration activists.106 In Harlem, as in Black communities around the country, parents, community members, and their allies would continue to struggle to choose the most favorable of a limited set of options in their efforts to secure quality schooling for their children. In the school building, over the next five decades, educators and the Harlem community continued to strive to realize the promise embodied in Wadleigh’s grand collegiate halls.107

Previous: Chapter 2 Next: Chapter 4

  1. “The Situation at Wadleigh High,” New York Amsterdam News, February 10, 1945. ↩︎

  2. See Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003); Jeanne F. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940–1980 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); and Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2009). ↩︎

  3. On urban high schooling in the pre–World War II decades, see Kathryn Neckerman, Schools Betrayed: The Roots of Failure in Inner City Education (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); David Angus and Jeffrey Mirel, The Failed Promise of the American High School, 1890–1995 (New York: Teachers College Press, 1999); and David Labaree, The Making of an American High School: The Credentials Market at Central High School of Philadelphia, 1838–1939 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992). On urban school systems more generally, the classic work is David Tyack, The One Best System (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974). On New York City’s schools, see Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools (New York: Basic Books, 1974). ↩︎

  4. Marcia Chatelain, South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015). ↩︎

  5. See, for example, LaKisha Michelle Simmons, Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2015). On women in the Harlem landscape, recent works include Farah Jasmine Griffin, Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (New York: Civitas, 2013); LaShawn Harris, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016); and Ashley Farmer, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). ↩︎

  6. Wadleigh High School for Girls (Now) Wadleigh School, 215 West 114th Street, Aka 203–249 West 114th Street and 226–250 West 115th Street, Manhattan: Built 1901–02: C. B. J. Snyder, Supt. of School Buildings, New York City Board of Education, Architect [Report], (New York: The Commission, 1994). ↩︎

  7. Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890–1930, 1st ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 5 ↩︎

  8. Irving Louis Horowitz, “The Yearbook: Harlem School Days in the Depression,” Antioch Review 68, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 629–35. ↩︎

  9. Lauri Johnson, “A Generation of Women Activists: African American Female Educators in Harlem, 1930–1950,” Journal of African American History 89 (2004): 223–40; and “85 Girls Graduate, Other Students Are Transferred,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1954. ↩︎

  10. Sara Lawrence, Balm in Gilead: The Journey of a Healer (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1988). ↩︎

  11. See Mary White Ovington, Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York (New York: Longmans, Green, 1911); James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (New York: Atheneum, 1969 [1930]); Davison M. Douglas, Jim Crow Moves North: The Battle Over Northern School Segregation, 1865–1954 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Vincent P. Franklin, The Education of Black Philadelphia: The Social and Educational History of a Minority Community, 1900–1950 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979). ↩︎

  12. See Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890–1930 (New York: Ivan R. Dee, 1966); Franklin, Education of Black Philadelphia; and Douglas, Jim Crow Moves North↩︎

  13. See Osofsky, Harlem, 199. ↩︎

  14. George S. Schuyler, “N.Y. School Jim Crow Menace Arouses Parents: Resent Hint of Educators for Low Standards,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 22, 1934. ↩︎

  15. For discussion of costs of “mixed” schooling, see “School Children’s Needs,” New York Age, December 25, 1920. Cited in Claude Julien Mangum, “Afro-American Thought on the New York City Public School System, 1905–1954: An Analysis of New York City Afro-American Newspaper Editorials (Volumes I and II)” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1976). ↩︎

  16. Christina Collins, “Ethnically Qualified”: Race, Merit, and the Selection of Urban Teachers, 1920–1980 (New York: Teachers College Press, 2011), 37. ↩︎

  17. Collins, “Ethnically Qualified.” ↩︎

  18. Schuyler, “N.Y. School Jim Crow Menace.” ↩︎

  19. Mangum, “Afro-American Thought,” 86, citing “Prejudice in New York Schools,” New York Age, April 5, 1905. ↩︎

  20. Dr. Willis N. Huggins, “The Negro Teacher and Student Go to School,” New York Amsterdam News, December 22, 1934. Cited in Mangum, “Afro-American Thought,” 203–8. ↩︎

  21. “Wadleigh Still ‘Melting Pot,’” New York Amsterdam News, December 12, 1937. ↩︎

  22. “The Situation at Wadleigh High,” New York Amsterdam News, February 10, 1945. ↩︎

  23. Data drawn from Nationalities Statistics Surveys, 1931-1947, Series 763, Box 1 and Box 3, Board of Education of the City of New York Collection (hereafter National Statistics Surveys). ↩︎

  24. Charles Green and Basil Wilson, The Struggle for Black Empowerment in New York City: Beyond the Politics of Pigmentation (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992). ↩︎

  25. On creation of a “flagship” Black high school, see Julia E. R. Clark, “Race Should Demand First-Class Separate Schools to Gain Best Education for Youth,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 7, 1934; “Remembering a Giant,” Ebony, April 1999, 92; and Mark Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 56. ↩︎

  26. “New School in Harlem to Halt Overcrowding,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 9, 1936; and “Jim Crow Move Laid to School Official: Dr. Tildsley Opposes Any Zone Change,” New York Amsterdam News, June 20, 1936. ↩︎

  27. “By 1933, geographical zones for Wadleigh and Julia Richman had been set, with Fifth Avenue serving as the boundary between the two zones. . . . As of 1938, the state survey found a pattern of zoning that effectively restricted access to the newer high schools, Julia Richman, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, to students living in white neighborhoods, while Black students from Harlem could generally attend only the unzoned, older buildings of Wadleigh and Haaren (as well as the various vocational annexes).” David M. Ment, “Racial Segregation in the Public Schools of New England and New York, 1840–1940” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1975), 255. ↩︎

  28. Ment, “Racial Segregation,” 256. ↩︎

  29. See William Pickens, “The Central Aim of Jim Crow Is Humiliation,” Cleveland Call and Post, January 13, 1938. ↩︎

  30. The report submitted by Oswald Schlockow in the fall 1934 brought back an old, discredited idea from the 1910s, the “Gary Plan.” According to Schlockow, much as he and others had advocated for Jewish and other Eastern European immigrants a generation earlier, these new migrants to New York City also needed a new differentiated curriculum. See Melissa F. Weiner, Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2010). ↩︎

  31. “The Schlockow Report,” New York Amsterdam News, September 22, 1934; and for Schuyler, see Schuyler, “N.Y. School Jim Crow Menace.” ↩︎

  32. “Letter Box: Segregated Schools?,” New York Amsterdam News, September 29, 1934; and “Special School Needs,” New York Amsterdam News, October 13, 1934. ↩︎

  33. See Schuyler, “N.Y. School Jim Crow Menace.” ↩︎

  34. “Nationality of Pupils, P.S. 102 St. Annex, Wadleigh H.S.” March 1933; and, “Nationality of Pupils, P.S. 102 St. Annex, Wadleigh H.S.” January 1, 1937”, Nationalities Statistics Surveys, BOE. ↩︎

  35. “Wadleigh Hi May Lose by Zoning Laws,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1937. ↩︎

  36. Osofsky, Harlem, 200. ↩︎

  37. On Harlem during the Great Depression, see Cheryl L. Greenberg, “Or Does It Explode?” Black Harlem in the Great Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 222; and “People of Harlem ‘Indict’ School Board: Charge Overcrowding Segregation in High Schools at Big Mass Trial Next Wednesday,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 23, 1937. ↩︎

  38. Osofsky, Harlem, 200. ↩︎

  39. “Wadleigh Hi May Lose by Zoning Laws,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1937. Many accounts refer to schools in Harlem as fire hazards; see, for example, “5 Harlem Public Schools Firetraps,” New York Amsterdam News, April 14, 1934; and “Among the Worst,” New York Amsterdam News, April 14. 1934. ↩︎

  40. “The Feminist Viewpoint: This Time It Is Wadleigh,” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  41. “Wadleigh Presses New School Plea,” New York Times, December 12, 1937. ↩︎

  42. “Wadleigh Hi May Lose by Zoning Laws,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1937. ↩︎

  43. “Nationality of Pupils, Wadleigh H.S.,” March 31, 1938, Nationalities Statistics Surveys, BOE. ↩︎

  44. “Wadleigh Presses New School Plea,” New York Times, December 12, 1937 ↩︎

  45. “The Feminist Viewpoint: This Time It Is Wadleigh,” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  46. “Wadleigh Still ‘Melting Pot,’” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  47. “Wadleigh Still ‘Melting Pot,’” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  48. Letters quoted in this section are from “Board of Education—Wadleigh High School,” box 3187, folder #05, LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York (hereafter LaGuardia). ↩︎

  49. Kyroska to LaGuardia, April 4, 1927, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  50. Lyon to LaGuardia, March 23, 1937, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  51. Milton to LaGuardia, March 25, 1937, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  52. Frisina to LaGuardia, March 25, 1937, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  53. Lyon to LaGuardia, March 23, 1937, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  54. Henry to LaGuardia, March 25, 1937, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  55. Letter to LaGuardia (NA), April 10, 1937, LaGuardia. ↩︎

  56. Letter to LaGuardia (NA), April 10, 1937, LaGuardia. See also Camille Walsh, “White Backlash, the ‘Taxpaying’ Public, and Educational Citizenship,” Critical Sociology 43, no. 2: 237–47. ↩︎

  57. Sara Lawrence, Balm in Gilead: The Journey of a Healer (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1988). ↩︎

  58. This 40 percent figure likely describes the main building, exclusive of the annexes at the time. “People of Harlem ‘Indict’ School Board: Charge Overcrowding Segregation in High Schools at Big Mass Trial Next Wednesday,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 23, 1937. ↩︎

  59. “Jim Crow Move Laid to School Official: Dr. Tildsley Opposes Any Zone Change,” New York Amsterdam News, June 20, 1937. ↩︎

  60. “Wadleigh Still ‘Melting Pot,’” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  61. “Wadleigh Still ‘Melting Pot,’” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  62. “Wadleigh Hi May Lose by Zoning Laws,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1937 ↩︎

  63. “Wadleigh Still ‘Melting Pot,’” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937. ↩︎

  64. “Ask New School for Wadleigh: Three Racial Groups Unite in Demands,” New York Amsterdam News, February 26 1938. ↩︎

  65. “Ask New School for Wadleigh: Three Racial Groups Unite in Demands,” New York Amsterdam News, February 26 1938. ↩︎

  66. “Place Wadleigh Building Drive Before Harlem: Circulate Petitions in Community,” New York Amsterdam News, April 23, 1938. ↩︎

  67. “Both Races Need New Wadleigh High School, Audience Is Told,” New York Amsterdam News, April 15, 1939. ↩︎

  68. “ Nationality of Pupils, P.S. Wadleigh High School,” May 1943, Nationalities Statistics Surveys, BOE. ↩︎

  69. “What Lies Ahead—Wadleigh? High School Faces End of Academic Career,” New York Amsterdam News, February 1, 1941. ↩︎

  70. See Carrie G. Miller, “Former Wadleighite Feels That Plight of School Is Harlem’s Responsibility,” New York Amsterdam Star-News, February 22, 1941. ↩︎

  71. Miller, “Former Wadleighite.” ↩︎

  72. Johnson, “Generation of Women Activists,” 235–36. ↩︎

  73. Virginia L. Snitow, “I Teach Negro Girls,” New Republic, November 9, 1942, 603-605. ↩︎

  74. Snitow, “I Teach,” 604. ↩︎

  75. “Wadleigh Presses New School Plea,” New York Times, December 12, 1937. ↩︎

  76. “What Lies Ahead—Wadleigh? High School Faces End of Academic Career,” New York Amsterdam News, February 1, 1941. ↩︎

  77. “Harlem’s Schools”, New York Amsterdam News, November 23, 1946. ↩︎

  78. “Race Segregation in Schools Scored: Citizens’ Group Issues Report on Distribution of Pupils,” New York Times, May 31, 1944. See also “Want Wadleigh Built Outside Harlem Locale: Committee Demands Probe on Turning School into All Negro Institution,” New York Amsterdam News, January 20, 1945; and “Wadleigh High Future Viewed as a Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, January 20, 1945. ↩︎

  79. “To Discuss the Future of Wadleigh: Famous High School in Harlem Losing Attendance; and “Important Meet Is Planned,” New York Amsterdam News, January 6, 1945. ↩︎

  80. “To Discuss the Future of Wadleigh: Famous High School in Harlem Losing Attendance; Important Meet Is Planned,” New York Amsterdam News, January 6, 1945. ↩︎

  81. “Air Wadleigh Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, November 23, 1946. The Mayor’s Committee on Unity of New York City was created following the riots of 1943. Mayor LaGuardia named Charles Evans Hughes Jr. as chairman. The committee included “four Catholics, four Negroes, four Jews, representative each of the A.F. of L. and C.I.O., and four other members.” Dan W. Dodson, “The Mayor’s Committee on Unity of New York City,” Journal of Educational Sociology 19, no. 5 (January 1946): 289–98. ↩︎

  82. “Air Wadleigh Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, November 23, 1946. ↩︎

  83. “Air Wadleigh Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, November 23, 1946. ↩︎

  84. “Wadleigh High Future Viewed as a Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, January 20, 1945. ↩︎

  85. “Wadleigh High Future Viewed as a Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, January 20, 1945. ↩︎

  86. “The Situation at Wadleigh High,” New York Amsterdam News, February 10, 1945. ↩︎

  87. “The Situation at Wadleigh High,” New York Amsterdam News, February 10, 1945. ↩︎

  88. “Place Wadleigh Building Drive Before Harlem: Circulate Petitions in Community,” New York Amsterdam News, April 23, 1938. ↩︎

  89. “May Build New Wadleigh High,” The Chicago Defender, March 25, 1939; and “Both Races Need New Wadleigh High School, Audience Is Told,” New York Amsterdam News, April 15, 1939. ↩︎

  90. “Wadleigh High Future Viewed as a Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, January 20, 1945. ↩︎

  91. “Wadleigh High Future Viewed as a Problem,” New York Amsterdam News, January 20, 1945. ↩︎

  92. “Wishing Wadleigh Well,” New York Amsterdam News, December 21, 1946. ↩︎

  93. “NY Vocational High Attendance in Drop: Has Problems Like Wadleigh,” New York Amsterdam News, November 2, 1946 . ↩︎

  94. “Wishing Wadleigh Well,” New York Amsterdam News, December 21, 1946; and “School Bd. May Close Wadleigh,” New York Amsterdam News, November 9, 1946. ↩︎

  95. “Board Approves School Building: $500,771 for 3 Structures at Meeting. Planned-Wade Retiring,” New York Times, August 29, 1947. ↩︎

  96. “New Principal and Wadleigh,” New York Amsterdam News, September 20, 1947. ↩︎

  97. “New Child Agency Aided by Students,” New York Times, April 5, 1950; see also “Wadleigh High School Provides Parents Opportunity to See Activities at School,” New York Amsterdam News, April 29, 1950. ↩︎

  98. “New Plans for Wadleigh Hi: Program for Girls Shows School’s Ills; Nursing, Homemaking Seen as Inadequate,” New York Amsterdam News, May 13, 1950; “City Plan to Recruit Nurses: Hospital Work-Study Scheme for Girl Seniors of High Schools Is the Basis,” New York Times, June 24, 1952; and “Wadleigh Girls Earn at Nursing While Learning,” New York Amsterdam News, February 14, 1953. ↩︎

  99. “Exodus from City Linked to Schools,” New York Times, August 10, 1953. ↩︎

  100. “Old and New in the City’s Schools: Century-Old Classroom and a Modern Counterpart,” New York Times, August 10, 1953. ↩︎

  101. “Wadleigh School Faces New Status: Institution in Harlem to Be the First Secondary Center to Be Discontinued by City,” New York Times, June 16, 1953. ↩︎

  102. “Wadleigh Faces New Status: Institution in Harlem to Be the First Secondary Center to Be Discontinued by City,” New York Times, June 16, 1953,” and; “Tells Why Wadleigh Hi Went Down,” New York Amsterdam News, July 11, 1953. ↩︎

  103. “85 Girls Graduate, Other Students Are Transferred,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1954. ↩︎

  104. “85 Girls Graduate, Other Students Are Transferred,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1954. ↩︎

  105. For more on Wadleigh Junior High School, see ↩︎

  106. On the quickening of the northern civil rights movements and northern school desegregation see Biondi, To Stand and Fight; and Brian Purnell, Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013). ↩︎

  107. See Mary Anne Raywid, “The Wadleigh Complex: A Dream That Soured,” Journal of Education Policy 10, no. 5 (1995): 101–14. ↩︎