DeKalb’s First Black Public School: The Bruce Street Story
Did you know that you can see the remnants of DeKalb County’s first public school for Black students in Lithonia, Georgia? Located on Bruce Street, the ruins of the Bruce Street School (also called the Lithonia Colored School, Lithonia Negro School, and the Old School Building) sit next to the under-construction East DeKalb Community and Senior Center. While the new community and senior center is underway, the Arabia Alliance, community members, and elected officials are working to conserve the school ruins and determine the future of the site.
The Bruce Street School dates back to the 1930s, when the trustees of what was then the Yellow River School, the local school for Black students, bought land on Bruce Street and began raising money to build a new school. The current school structure dates back to 1938. The school was built by quarry workers and features local granite. In fact, the granite walls still stand today.
Renamed the Lithonia Negro School, the school began to receive support from the DeKalb County government. The first graduating high school class (around 1943) included three pupils. By 1968, when the Bruce Street School was closed, there were over a dozen elementary and eight high school classrooms. Former school principal C. E. Flagg is honored at the historic gateway to the National Heritage Area, located at the Lithonia Woman’s Club.
Today, the Bruce Street School is in ruins, but a variety of government, nonprofit and private partners are working to return the school to its status as a central hub for Lithonians. DeKalb County and City of Lithonia, as well as the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance (the nonprofit management entity of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area), continue to work collaboratively to ensure the community-focused historic preservation of the Bruce Street School ruins. The partners have contracted the visioning services of Martin Rickles Studio, an Atlanta-based design studio, and have held two community engagement sessions thus far. The next one will occur in late February – details to come soon!