In 1868, the Trustees of Florida Institute, a group that included two Florida Chief Justices, a justice of the peace and a member of the Duval County Board of Public Instruction was founded after the Civil War to provide educational opportunities for former slaves and free blacks. They purchased a 1.5-acre city block from Ossian B. Hart with financing from the Freedman’s Bureau to open the Stanton Normal School, named in honor of General Edwin M. Stanton, an outspoken abolitionist and Secretary of War under Lincoln.
The school, opened on April 10, 1869, was destroyed by fire in 1882 and a new brick building was constructed. This second school was burned in the Great Fire of 1901 and again, rebuilt. This third Stanton was much inferior to Stanton’s previous structures, revealing the diminished opportunities for blacks under “Jim Crow” laws which sanctioned strict segregation, according to one of the city’s most celebrated natives, James Weldon Johnson, a graduate of the school.
After receiving a degree from Atlanta University, Johnson returned home to become the principal of Stanton in 1894. He served as principal for nearly eight years, at which time he expanded the school from eight to twelve grades, making it the only high school for blacks in Jacksonville.
In 1914, the Trustees of the Florida Institute embarked on a campaign to improve the education for black children in Jacksonville and to replace the poorly constructed 1902 school. Instead of building a better building, the school board proposed selling the property and building three other buildings throughout the city. Stanton supporters, led by the trustees, sued the school board to prevent this action and a settlement was reach in 1915. “This was the first example of civil-rights litigation in Jacksonville and one of the earliest cases in the South,” according to Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage.
The school board agreed to construct a three-story building, pictured above, on the original Stanton site. The new school opened in 1917 and closed in 1971. Today, the building is typically referred to as Old Stanton High School. In 1983, the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Old Stanton High School was closed in 1971 and in 1983, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.