Gone is the oversized fencing topped with barbed wire, the crusty outbuildings of corrugated metal, the moldering classrooms where no child had studied since Jimmy Carter was president.
Following a $50 million renovation and expansion, the decaying intown landmark and civic dead zone that was Howard Elementary School has been spared from ruin for another generation of Atlanta kids—the ones who, for the past few months, have walked the same hallways as the school’s most famous alum, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The main building has stood since 1924, when Atlanta Public Schools opened an elementary for Black children in the district and named it after David Tobias Howard, a freed slave who rose to become one of America’s first Black millionaires. (Howard, a mortician, banker, and philanthropist, had donated the school’s land at 551 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.)
King was born two streets away in Old Fourth Ward and attended the school from 1936 to 1940, beginning when he was about seven years old, according to APS.
But the school, like so many urban academic structures across the city and country, suffered from low attendance as a high school in the 1970s and was closed in 1976, following a consolidation. Throughout the decades it served as APS offices and storage, but more recently it was shuttered and left to crumble.
Faced with a surging intown population and overcrowded schools, APS announced in 2016 the abandoned structure would be revived and expanded as the replacement for Inman Middle School for grades six to eight in the Grady High School cluster. More than $50 million in 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) was used to foot the bill.
Construction began in earnest in spring 2019, with designs led by Atlanta-based architecture firms Lord Aeck Sargent and Stevens & Wilkinson.
Space at the school was nearly tripled to 204,000 square feet, boosting the 825-student capacity at the former middle school to nearly 1,400 students today.
With social distancing and other safety protocol in place, APS welcomed teachers to the rechristened David T. Howard Middle School in August for the first time in nearly 45 years. Students from neighborhoods spanning from Sweet Auburn and Old Fourth Ward to Midtown and the Emory University area have since returned, too.
As a nod to Black History Month, we’ve compiled a photo essay contrasting the changes to King’s alma mater below. (Within two blocks of the school, King’s birth home and nearby tomb, where he’s buried in a black suit next to wife Coretta Scott King, are popular tourist destinations.)
King isn’t the school’s only prominent Black alumnus. Others include NBA Hall of Famer Walt Frazier, groundbreaking Atlanta real estate titan Herman J. Russel, the city’s first Black mayor Maynard Jackson, and former city police chief Eldrin Bell.
Thanks to the wonders of Google Maps imagery, let’s revisit site between 2010 and 2016 for the “before” images below, contrasted by photos of the modernized but still historic property now, beginning from the northwest corner of the block: