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Bronzeville, a musical tour

History of Phillips High School

Wendell Phillips
Wendell Phillips
Wendell Phillips High School was named for the great abolitionist who openly criticized Abraham Lincoln for delaying the emancipation of slaves. Wendell Phillips was born in 1811, and spent fifty years campaigning against the poor treatment of Native Americans, supporting equal pay and wages for women, and fighting for better working conditions for all workers. Wendell Phillips is considered a great humanitarian, educator, abolitionist, and orator.

Over the years Phillips has nurtured and promoted a treasure of talent from the community. Every aspect of society has been impacted by the talents and actions of those graduating from Phillips. The students attending the school have indeed enriched society. The Phillips Hall of fame includes many famous educators, religious leaders, business men, politicians, lawyers and judges entertainers, and sports giants. Along with the notables there have been many hardworking and dedicated men and women who have graduated over the years; these individuals have contributed to improving society and the quality of life. They must be acknowledged. For those unsung, they are the backbone and support of society.

Wendell Phillips Academy High School is the oldest African American high school in the city of Chicago, although it opened as a predominantly white school on September 4, 1904. Phillips had replaced the old South Division High School, established in1875 which had been located at 36th and Wabash. When the new building was opened at 39th Street and Prairie Avenue, it served the children of the wealthy members of the community and a few African American children of their servants. Students included the young Armours, Swifts, and Cudahys of the meat packing industry; the Peacocks, Stevens, Pullman, and McCormicks also attended.

In 1907 only 90 African American students were enrolled. Dr. Anabelle S. Prescott, former student and teacher at Phillips, stated that in 1912 there were only four African American students in her graduating class. By 1921 the school had become forty percent African American. The increase in African American students was due in large part to the influx of Southern African Americans as one part of the "Great Migration" after World War I. The school became the first all-black high school in Chicago. Phillips housed a junior and senior high school. It became over crowded; two shifts were used to provide education to the students. Small cottage like classrooms were added to try to accommodate over 4,000 students - twice the capacity for what it was designed."

Wendell Phillips Academy High School
Wendell Phillips Academy High School
In 1929 the Board of Education voted to build a New Wendell Phillips High School at 49th and Wabash Ave. The Great Depression slowed the work on the new school; it was finally completed in 1935. A fire caused the student body of Phillips to move to the new school on February 4, 1935. The original school colors of red and black were adopted by the new school. Phillips later was repaired and opened again for freshmen only. It adopted the blue and white colors. Student enrolled increased to such an extent that the school at 49th and Wabash was renamed DuSable High School, and Phillips continued its proud heritage of educating the young since that time. A new addition was added in 1937. The addition housed an elementary school. Another addition was built in 1944. The last addition completed the Wendell Phillips High School physical plant.

In the 1960's the school was again overcrowded. providing educational servies to over 3000 students. The school went to three shifts and again built mobile units in the parking lot to try to house the students. IN the early 1970's the school underwent a major internal rehabilitation.

Beginning in the early 70's there began a steady decline in student enrollment due to housing changes within the community and attendance policies adopted by the Chicago Board of Education. Like many olderschools in the city this time was also one of neglect. Repairs were put off and the facilities deteriorated.

Finally in the late 90's major repairs and improvements were began with the help of school administrators, community activists, parents and political representatives. As a result, major external improvements were completed. A Phillips-Mayo campus project added green space and additional sports facilities. The present administration has worked diligently to update computer facilities, the library, and plan to provide internet accessibility to the student body. More improvements are in the planning stage. Like the community in which it stands, Wendell Phillips Academy Hish School is striding into the new millenium seeking innovations to meet the needs of the student commuity.