114. Frederic Douglas School

You are at Historic Marker #114 located at 111 Olivia Street on the corner of Olivia and Thomas Streets. Frederic Douglass was a national American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman.

After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement gaining notoriety for his oratory and incisive antislavery writing.

During his life he was described by abolitionists as a living counter example to slaveholder’s arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

Like Key West, black schools throughout the country were named in honor of Douglass. He was a symbol of excellence in black communities that could be held high during the decades of Jim Crow segregation.

The Frederic Douglass School in Key West has been in four locations. The first school was constructed in 1884 on land behind the Monroe County Courthouse and the County Jail. The exact location was at the corner of Southard and Thomas Streets. The second school location had to be removed from Truman Annex when the Navy annexed the land at the onset of World War II.

The school was moved to Bahama Village as classroom size increased.

Even with the weight of segregation during the Jim Crow era, the school was a defining structure of solidarity offering a high level of education for generations of Key West’s black students.

In 1965 segregation became the law of the land. Students were assigned to attend Key West High School on Flagler Avenue. 

The building you are looking at is the remains of the fourth Douglas High School. A few years after the student transfer, classrooms were demolished leaving a music room, some office space, and the gymnasium.

Generations of Bahama Village children have spent their summer and after school hours meeting and playing games in this building. It has also been a place where previous Douglass school teachers and community elders mentor the children and assist them in the path to continued education.

In 2018, the City of Key West finished a complete renovation of the gymnasium structure. Future uses of the adjoining office space and separate music room are being planned for use by the residents of Bahama Village.