School House Rock: Overtown’s Booker T. Washington High School

Booker T. Washington 1930

Booker T. Washington School Building, February 15, 1930. Photo Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Grab your books, head out the door, and get ready for class at Booker T. Washington Senior High School. The Overtown high school has made recent news with its nationally ranked championship football team. Yet, back during Miami’s 1920s Land Boom Era, the school made South Florida history by becoming the first public high school designed for Blacks.

The original Booker T. Washington High School building, located at Sixth Avenue and Twelfth Street, broke ground in 1926. However, because of the hurricane that hit South Florida in September that year, the almost-completed structure was severely damaged. The school’s grand opening in February 1927 marked a new era for Black students seeking a high school education in South Florida. Prior to the school’s opening Black children only received an education, public or private, through the eighth grade. Parents either sent their older children to Jacksonville, Daytona, or out-of-state boarding schools to receive higher education.

Booker T Washington High 1926 9th Grade Class

1926 Booker T. Washington 9th Grade Class. Photo Courtesy: The Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc.

The original high school building was a fine example of Masonry Vernacular—a term used to describe the three types of masonry construction during Miami’s early years. Structures were built out of hollow clay tiles, concrete block, or oolitic limestone (a material unique and typical to South Florida architecture). The large edifice was of a simple design with few classical details, most seen on the facade. The building had a series of large windows organized in groups. The courtyard was a popular meeting place for community events.

As the singular thriving all-Black high school in South Florida, Booker T. Washington High School produced  future attorneys, doctors, Black educators, and leaders. However the school decided to reclassify as a desegregated junior high school in 1967.

The years to follow saw a decline in the building’s maintenance. In the early 1980s the building was torn down and a new Booker T. Washington Middle School, designed by architect Robert Bradford Browne, opened in 1989. The original entrance, though, was preserved and stands as a reminder of the school’s legacy to the Miami Black community.

Due to overcrowding in the nearby high schools and the lobbying efforts of alumni, the Miami-Dade County Public School Board decided to redesignate the school as a high school again in August 1999.

The new Booker T. Washington High School was part of a $12 million expansion designed by the firm McHarry Architects that began in 1999. The plan included a track and field course, a new gymnasium and auditorium, and more classroom space to accommodate a student population of around 2,700.

Located on the high school’s campus is the Chapman House, the historic home of pioneer Black medical doctor William A. Chapman, Sr., built around 1923. Dr. Chapman was hired by the Florida Department of Health to travel throughout the state and educate individuals on infectious diseases. The elaborate home, also an example of Masonry Vernancular, was designated as a local historic site in 1983 and became The Chapman House Ethnic Heritage Children’s Folklife Educational Center in 1993.


The Chapman House. 219 NW 8th Street.

For a history of Black education in early Miami and Blacks in early South Florida, refer to Marvin Dunn’s Black Miami in the Twentieth Century (1997).

-Marvin Aguilar

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