Douglass School, Kokomo
(Embracing Hope of Howard County, IN)
1104 North Bell Street
Kokomo, Indiana 46901
Post Office Box 84
Kokomo, Indiana 46903
History of Douglass School
The Historic Douglass School, which was named after former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass but misspelled the name in an inscription above the front door as “Douglas,” opened in 1920 and had four rooms for elementary students from first to seventh grade, serving 7th grade until 1949. It also sported a small gymnasium and a boiler room.
It opened as a racially-segregated school; all black students that age in Kokomo, in fact, were required to enroll at Douglass School.
In March 1940, then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Douglass School. Rev. Henry Perry, the school’s principal from 1927-1949, is credited with leveraging the publicity generated from Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to start pushing for the creation of the nearby Carver Community Center, which created recreational opportunities for black children in Kokomo facing the day-to-day ramifications of rampant racism, like being denied entry to public pools and gyms, and still stands as a centerpiece of the near east side.
It would later merge in the mid-1950s with the all-white Willard School, before closing in 1968 following a lawsuit by the Kokomo NAACP about school placement in the city and a decision by a United States district judge.
The structure – which served as an employment center and nursing school in the late 1960s and 1970s and fell vacant before being taken over by a local congregation. Later it experienced struggles with vandalism and extensive storm damage. At one point it seemed that this school would need to be demolished. Members of the community were concerned about its welfare and approached the City about the school’s status.
The City of Kokomo, under the guidance of then Mayor Greg Goodnight, in 2019 stepped in and partnered with Indiana Landmarks to restore the building and transfer it to a local nonprofit, Embracing Hope of Howard County, IN that will establish it as a museum and cultural center.
An historical marker is on the campus and now the school is owned by Embracing Hope of Howard County, IN which embraces it as a historical treasure and fulfilling its desire to provide cultural education and experiences to residents of Howard County and beyond.