On May 27, 1955, on the stage of Robinson Auditorium, the Dunbar High School senior class graduated. This academic year marked not only the 25th anniversary of Dunbar’s opening, but it was the last year that the school building would offer junior high through junior college classes.
In the fall of 1955, the new Horace Mann High School would open. Dunbar would continue to be open, but only as a junior high. (Though no reason was ever publicly given, the junior college component ended in May 1955.)
The new Mann High School was constructed, in part, as a way to delay any integration plans for the Little Rock School District. With a new second all-white high school in the works for Little Rock, it was thought that a new African American school would placate the African-American community by not only giving them a new building, but relieving the overcrowding at Dunbar.
But on May 27, 1955, and the days leading up to it, the focus was on celebrating the final graduation class and the 25th anniversary of Dunbar High School. On May 25, teachers who had taught for 25 years at the school, and original teachers who retired from the school were honored.
The school’s original principal, Dr. John H. Lewis, was the commencement speaker. The current principal, Dr. L. W. Christophe presided over the awarding of the diplomas and announcements of scholarships. Among the higher education institutions to which they received scholarships were the University of Michigan, Wiley College, Tennessee State, Arkansas AM&N, Talladega College, and Philander Smith College.
While the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat both DID run stories on the graduation, it was hardly equal to the coverage they gave Central High School. In fact, on the day after Dunbar’s graduation, the Democrat ran a photo of two Central graduates huddled under an umbrella in the rain – three days after the ceremony took place.
In 1971, Mann ceased its status as a high school as well. Today, both Mann and Dunbar serve as middle schools within the Little Rock School District.