Let’s Pay Tribute to The Frederick Douglass School


Frederick Douglass was an American abolitionist, writer, orator, statesman, and social reformer. Douglass was born in 1818, and died in 1895. Shortly after he had escaped from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. He is well known for his oratory and incisive anti-slavery writings, having an everlasting impact on American history.

Now, what does this have to do with Key West? Oh, I thought you’d never ask. There was a school for African American children in Key West’s Bahama Village neighborhood, called The Frederick Douglass School. The school opened in 1870, and was headed by William Middleton Artrell, who also served on Key West’s city council at the time. Douglass School was one of the greatest historical establishments of the Bahama Village Community, as it is known to have had some of the best Black educators, and for creating some of the outstanding and intelligent students in America.

The Frederick Douglass School closed at the end of the 1965 school year, as it was the beginning of national integration and the ultimate defeat to segregation. A bittersweet close, but optimistic young children had their eyes on bigger and better things, thanks to a hopeful and accepting future. However, the loss of the physical building brought about great disappointment throughout the community. As John Wilson Smith, a Key West local, states, “Douglass School was Bahama Village Community’s biggest and most profound losses, culturally, socially, emotionally, physically and psychologically. Sadly, it was not until the historic building was demolitioned that the community realized its greatest loss.” The destruction of the historical building was a hard pill for the community to swallow, as it is the source of a rich time period, one that is thanked for prompting education and promise to young black children.

So, let’s pay tribute to all that The Frederick Douglass School has done. In reminiscing on how much the school has provided for its community, prior to closing, it is apparent that many young individuals were able to receive a rich education from incredibly dedicated, hardworking teachers. These teachers were from Key West and the Bahamas Islands, and others were recruited from multiple locations throughout the South. The teachers expected a lot from their students, and held high standards with regard to their education. At the same time, they were able to educate with purpose and love in their hearts, and placed heavy emphasis on their desire to shape each child’s future in a positive way. Smith recalls the final words about the loss of the school and its culture, coming from “long time educator”, Mrs. Harriet Chipchase. She said, “Douglass is gone… Closeness is never found again.” Due to the physical destruction of the historical building, it is absolutely necessary that those that can, will continue to pay tribute to and remember the good that The Frederick Douglass School has done for its Black community way back when.

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