Designated to the National Register in 1983, Stanton is recognized as Florida’s first official school for African Americans. Opened in 1869, the school was named in honor of General Edwin McMasters Stanton, an outspoken abolitionist, and Secretary of War under President Lincoln during the Civil War. In 1877, President Ulysses Grant visited the school during a tour of Florida. During the visit, a six-year-old student named James Weldon Johnson raised his hand from the crowd and Grant shook it. Johnson would go on to become the school’s principal in 1894 and expanded it to become the only high school for African Americans in the city. While serving as the principal, Johnson wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which his brother Rosamond put to music. This song would later become known as the Negro National Anthem. The Johnson brothers relocated to New York City in 1902. James Weldon Johnson becoming a nationally famous songwriter, author, poet, diplomat, and civil rights orator. As a result of one of the first civil-rights litigation cases in Jacksonville and the South, this historic three story brick building was constructed in 1917.
Designated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and included on the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2021 11 to Save list, the future vision of Historic Stanton, Inc. is to see the structure renovated into a cultural facility that will inspire, educate and empower future generations.
James Weldon Johnson as a student at Stanton Institute. (Yale University Library)
After Emancipation, a group of former slaves organized as the Colored Education Society with the intention of building a school to educate their children. The Freedman’s Bureau donated $16,000 to build Stanton Institute with the purpose of training African-American women from the ages of 16 to 25 as educators. The first two-story wooden structure was built in December 1868 on the corner of Bridge (later Broad) and Ashley Streets and dedicated as Stanton Normal School on April 10, 1869 by the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. The building was built on land purchased for $850 by the Colored Education Society from Ossian B. Hart and his wife with the express purpose of educating Blacks and training teachers. The property was deeded to C.F. Chase, I.L.F. Garvin and Edwin Randall, trustees of The Florida Institute, which was Florida’s first official school for African-Americans.
The Duval County Board of Public Instruction (“the School Board”) leased the property for fifty years to provide a “free school therein for colored children”. In addition to operating a teacher training program, the new building also facilitated a grammar (elementary) school with six grades under the administration of J.C. Waters as the first principal. The first class at Stanton was comprised of 348 black students, six white teachers and a number of black staff. The principal that followed was D.W. Gulp. The eighth grade was added while W.M. Artrell was principal. The school was destroyed by fire in 1882.
James Weldon Johnson, Principal, with students at Stanton Institute, circa 1900 (Yale University Library)
After the first building was destroyed by fire in 1882, a two-story replacement building was built the same year. The Stanton School, sometimes referred to as the Stanton Institute, provided a grammar school education and had been incorporated into the Duval County Schools in 1870. Helen Dillet Johnson, mother of James Weldon Johnson and John Rosemond Johnson taught at the school for two decades. During this time, they also attended the school.
On February 12, 1900, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing was first performed at Historic Stanton. Then Principal James Weldon Johnson and 500 schoolchildren performed the song for Booker T. Washington in celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday.
The second building was also destroyed on May 3, 1901 in a fire that destroyed most of Jacksonville. ?The School Board built another “huge, crude” three-story wooden building in 1902. This temporary structure was described by then principal, James Weldon Johnson as “hideous…. it looked more like a mill or granary than a school house”. In the 1910s, as the poorly constructed structure deteriorated, Mr Johnson and the community protested and fought to halt the Board’s attempt to eradicate the school’s location and replace it with smaller “more accessible” schools. The Old Stanton School trustees and interested citizens demanded a new structure from the Board of Public Education on the existing site.
In 1914, after years of neglect from poor resources, the building was declared a fire hazard and unsafe for the 1200 students who were schooled there on a daily basis. After a legal battle, the School Board agreed to demolish the existing structure and rebuild a new Stanton School on the original site. In 1915, a $1,000,000 public bond issue to improve all Duval County schools included construction of a three story fire-proof brick building. The wooden structure remained in operation until the new building, complete with modern equipment and facilities, opened in September 1917.
Mr. Johnson added grades 9-12 to the new 23-classroom building. With that addition, Stanton operated as an elementary, junior and senior high school. It continued as a school for all grades through the administration of I.A. Blocker, G.M. Sampson, and J.N. Wilson. In the 1940s, under Principal F.J. Anderson, the school became a senior high school exclusively, which later became accredited as Stanton Senior High School.
Eartha White, founder of the Clara White Mission, with Stanton students. (Eartha MM White Collection - University of North Florida)
In 1953, the Stanton name was transferred to a new facility in the LaVilla area (on Thirteenth Street) and was renamed New Stanton Senior High School. Charles D. Brooks was the first principal of the ‘new” school. Under his leadership, Stanton continued to foster the same traditionally high academic standards as it has always ascribed to, becoming the oldest and most important high school for African Americans in Jacksonville.
The facility on Broad and Ashley Streets became known as “Old” Stanton, becoming a junior high school for a short time before being converted into Stanton Vocational High School.
A group of community leaders on the steps of Stanton. Row one: L.M. Argrett, W.H. Lee, Lawton Pratt, Mrs. Boyd, John Simms, A.B. Coleman, J.H. James, Daniel Perkins. Row two: Joe Higdon, J.I.E. Scott, S.A. Austin, Dr. A.W. Smith, B.C. Vanderhorst. Row three: William Robinson, Ralph Lee, Ed Vaughn, R.T. Thomas, Dr. W. Redmond. Row four: Portia Taylor, Ed Rodriguez, Al Joyner, Dr. I.E. Williams. Row five: Dr. Waters, Joe McClain, Dr. Flipper, Mr. White. (Eartha MM White Collection - University of North Florida)
Stanton Vocational High School, which was converted from “Old” Stanton, focused on a vocational training curriculum for secondary students, adults, and veterans in both day and night programs.
From 1969 to 1971, the focus of New Stanton Senior High also began to change from academic to vocational under the leadership of Principal Ben Durham, former principal of Stanton Vocational High School.
In 1971, the Duval County School Board vacated the Old Stanton/Stanton Vocational building and placed control back in the Stanton Board of Trustees. The student body was transferred to New Stanton Senior High School to become Stanton Senior High School. The revised curriculum provided for both the academic and the vocational interests of the students.
It operated as Stanton Senior High High until the early 1980s when it became Stanton College Preparatory School.
A game of girl’s basketball at Stanton. (Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections)
In 1981, Stanton College Preparatory School became the Duval County School System’s first magnet school with a focus on academic achievement. It began with grades 7-10 and added one grade level each succeeding year. Carol Walker was the first principal and the first senior class of 54 students graduated in 1984.
Stanton College Preparatory school strives to identify promising students, raise their aspirations, and support their efforts to do well in school and prepare for college. Administrators, teachers, parents and students work together to set goals and implement programs to enhance the learning atmosphere. The instructional staff of professional educators has the ability to foster genuine creativity; teachers concentrate on inspiring, coaching, guiding, and motivating students.
The mission of Stanton College Preparatory School is to provide a highly advanced academic program for students in grades 9-12 with an average enrollment of over 1500 students. The course offerings include only honors-level, Advanced Placement (AP), dual enrollment and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.
Stanton now serves a diverse enrollment of high school students living with the 841 square miles of the Duval County School District and leads the Duval County Public Schools in academic achievement. It consistently ranks first in the county and in the top three in the state for the number of National Merit semi-finalists. US News and World Report ranked Stanton at ninth place on its 2008 list of America’s Best High Schools. In 2016, it ranked Stanton as fifth out of Florida’s 889 public high schools and 33rd of all public schools in the nation. Stanton also has frequently ranked first in the United States in the number of International Baccalaureate diplomas awarded.
A look at the intersection of West Beaver and Clay streets behind Stanton. (Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections)