Stuart-Hobson Middle Students Use Records Found at the School to Learn History

Courtney Thomas, 12, left, Evelyn MacPherson, 12, Maya Rimpsey, 10, and Terrnika Jackson, 11, students at Stuart-Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill, show off some of the old documents -- some from as far back as 1926 -- that were found three years ago in a storage room.
Courtney Thomas, 12, left, Evelyn MacPherson, 12, Maya Rimpsey, 10, and Terrnika Jackson, 11, students at Stuart-Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill, show off some of the old documents -- some from as far back as 1926 -- that were found three years ago in a storage room. (By John Kelly -- The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Running a finger down an 80-year-old attendance book from Stuart Junior High, one is struck by the uncomplicated jobs students' parents had back then. Inked neatly near each student's name is the father's profession: bricklayer, stone mason, butcher, baker . . .

There's nary a "VB/VB.NET programmer with client server application" in sight.

I asked Evelyn MacPherson, 12, a sixth-grader at the Capitol Hill school -- now called Stuart-Hobson Middle School -- what her parents do. "My dad's a freelance journalist," she said. "My mom's a government lawyer with the FAA."

Evelyn thought for a moment. "There's a big gap between bricklayer and lawyer."

If that's one change to happen at Stuart-Hobson in the past four score years -- blue collars turning white -- here's another: In those pre-integration days, the school was closed to African Americans, a fact not lost on students when they gaze at old class photos.

The photos and attendance books are among a treasure trove of old documents -- some from as far back as 1926 -- that were discovered three years ago, moldering away in a storage room at the school. Once forgotten and forlorn, they've reemerged to become those choicest of raw ingredients for learning about history: primary sources.

"History is just so fascinating," said fifth-grader Maya Rimpsey, 10. "You have to find the pieces. It's like a puzzle."

Jan MacKinnon, the school's indefatigable librarian, oversees the collection. One of the parents wrote a grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency. With about $20,000 in grant money, the school hired a pair of part-time archivists to go through the cache and stabilize it. Now the students are working with the archive, which is housed in a part of the library that's fresh from a renovation by Catholic University's architecture department.

"I don't want them to just be old documents sitting there," Jan said.

Seventh-grader Antionette Mathis, 13, looked at what Stuart was like just after integration in 1955. "Some clubs they had back then we don't have now," she said. "Glee club, orchestra . . ."

Seventh-grader Courtney Thomas Jr., 12, studied Julius Hobson Sr., the civil rights activist who was one of the school's eponyms.

"He was basically the Dr. King of D.C.," Courtney told me. Hobson worked to abolish the post-segregation tracking system that consigned most black students to the bottom two tiers.


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