Historic Move: Emerson Relocates to Thurgood Marshall Center

Emerson Preparatory School has had several homes over its lifetime, the latest for 50 years at Dupont Circle.   This Fall, Emerson is joining the distinguished residents of the Thurgood Marshall Center, on 12th Street NW, a focal point for the vibrant Logan Circle community.  It seems only fitting that two organizations that came to life in Washington at the same moment in history should find themselves coming together in a shared space.

Emerson Preparatory School began in 1852 as the Emerson Institute, a school to prepare local boys for attendance at Harvard. It was named after George Barrell Emerson, a well-respected educator and cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a Harvard graduate.   It evolved to become a more inclusive college preparatory school, becoming Washington’s  first coed preparatory school in 1920. The sons Buck and Jesse Root Grant of President Ulysses S. Grant attended Emerson during his time in the White House.

Just as Emerson Institute was being established, Anthony Bowen, in 1853, began to hold meetings in his house of the “Colored Young Men’s Christian Association”, which later became the Twelfth Street YMCA. The Thurgood Marshall Center building was initially constructed to house that organization in 1908. The Twelfth Street YMCA provided support and opportunity for the black community of Shaw and Logan Circle during a period of inequality and violence for 70 years. Now The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage is breathing life into that historic building, designed by a local African-American architect, William Sidney Pittman, where President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone and President William Taft participated in a fundraiser. It is appropriately named. Thurgood Marshall was a member of the Y and held Civil Rights planning meetings there. It houses a chapter of the NAACP, where he was on the staff for 25 years, and was chief legal counsel, leading to the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. He became one of the most distinguished and respected members of the Supreme Court.

Other TMC residents include The Washington Literacy Center, National Newspaper Publishers Association, Critical Exposure, Inc., AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corp Washington, DC Chapter, Washington Chapter of Concerned Black Men, Columbia Heights & Shaw Family Support Collaborative, 21st Century School Fund, Project Re-Direct Passport Club,the IKG Cultural resource Center, the Capital Area Reach Program.