The Story of Our Schools and Eastern High School (1700 East Capitol St. NE) are proud to present “100 Years of Eastern High School” as part of the school’s 100th anniversary celebration beginning 6 p.m. Friday, March 31.
It marks the 100th anniversary of the building, which opened March 6, 1923. The school itself dates back to 1890, making it one of the oldest high schools in the District.
The museum-grade exhibit features a replica of the Greensboro Four lunch counter, where civil rights activist and Eastern Alum Franklin McCain was part of the group that staged the famous sit-in, as well as a photographic timeline that honors Eastern’s academic, athletic and creative accomplishments over the last 100 years.
Attendees will experience a performance by the Eastern marching band and the Lady Gems dance team, a raising of the centennial flag, a short speaking program, refreshments and donation opportunities. The assembled will then have the time to visit the exhibit itself before the alumni hall of fame event begins at 7 p.m.
Eastern is a school with a storied past and to this day, an extremely strong brand. Alumni John Gibson entered Eastern in 1989, coming from Eliot Hine. “There was just this energy around Eastern,” he said. He remembers walking to the school everyday and hearing school announcements, which always ended with the tagline, “Eastern is indeed proud.”
“So we had this almost swagger about attending the school,” he said.
“Looking back Eastern really prepared me,” Gibson said. “It’s just this sense of wonderment, this sense of it’s always “another achievement,” this sense of “conquer the world”, if you will.” Gibson is now the Vice President, External and Multicultural Affairs for the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the pre-eminent trade association for the movie industry, where he createdthe diversity equity inclusion program.
“It’s a hundred years of history,” said Story of Our Schools Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Harris. “How could there not be interesting facts?”
Harris said the most obvious thread throughout that 100 years is advocacy, the way students have spoken out against wrongs and used their voices to create change and a better school environment.
Eastern High School established a tradition of advocacy for equity, both in education an society. That includes McCain, who participated in the Greensboro protests that helped change America.
But Eastern students also focused on expanding knowledge of inequity in the District. In the 1960s, a group of 20 to 40 Eastern High School students formed the Modern Strivers when they saw a need for coursework that reflected the Black experience and Black culture. “Many groups were formed to bring awareness of the racial inequality in this country during my time at Eastern,” said Sheila Stevens, of the class of 1970 and a member of the Modern Strivers.
They created the Freedom School in 1968 with money raised by the community. Full-time teachers were hired, and Eastern students were permitted to leave school and attend classes that focused on Black history and culture.
Each of the Story of Our Schools partnerships looks a bit different, Harris said. But Eastern is the first high school to participate in the program. Unlike elementary or middle school students, who participate over a year, high school students work on the project for a term, working with the Executive Director of the DCPS Charles Sumter Archives. Kids responded to the history of the school, researching, writing, filming and creating mini-documentaries about aspects of the school’s history. “These are high school kids,” Harris said “They can do really cool stuff.” Rodney Red Grant of Don’t Shoot Guns, Shoot Cameras, came in to give students an overview of making films on smart phones.
Those films are integrated in the digital component of the exhibit, playing in a loop on 50-inch screens. QR codes nearby will allow visitors to the exhibitor to upload their own photos to the digital archives, to be included in the loop. “The idea is that we get alumni photos, parent photos; and our kids films will be in the exhibit.” It’s a living exhibit, and keeps the display fresh, renewing at every opportunity.
The school remains strong and self-renewing. Alumni Mark Roy said it’s hard to believe its been 100 years. But the native Washingtonian and still active school supporter says its harder to believe that since he is now in his 60s he has been part of the history for so long.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor to be an integral part of the history seen and recorded at the Pride of Capitol Hill,” Roy said.
Witness some of that history yourself Friday and be part of the next chapter.
Learn more about Story of Our Schools and donate to the exhibit at https://www.storyofourschools.org/schools-exhibitions/eastern/. Learn more about Eastern High School by visiting easternhighschooldcps.org/