Edna B. Jackson and Vincent E. Reed

Emily Mulderig and Leah Carrier

Edna B. Jackson

1955 was an important year in Wilson High School’s history. Not just for the twentieth anniversary of its opening, but for the arrival of one of the most impactful teachers to set foot in the building: Edna Burke Jackson.

Jackson was the first Black, female teacher at Wilson and spent over two decades dedicating her extraordinary talent to teaching history here. Heralded as a trailblazer by former students and current advocates alike, her legacy on Wilson is profound. 

Her niece, Paula Duckett, is an avid proponent for renaming our school after Jackson. I spoke with her on a Zoom call last week; even through a screen, I could sense her enthusiasm.

Many of Jackson’s former students, now in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, have reached out to her expressing their support. “You wouldn’t believe the comments I have received,” Duckett gushed. “She really touched them.” 

Born in DC, Jackson attended Dunbar High School, graduated as class valedictorian, and won a scholarship to Howard University.

She taught in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and at Cardozo High School before being selected to teach at Wilson in response to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. 

While living in Tulsa, Jackson was a columnist for the Oklahoma Eagle. In one piece, she touched on her passion for education and working with kids. “I like to see the sparkle that shows idea and determination to do something that may too soon be crushed by an ungrateful adult world,” Jackson wrote.

“I get a thrill out of watching them grow, many of them, into what I should like my children to be,—good, honest, citizens. I teach because I love children.” 

Born and raised in DC, one of the first Black teachers to integrate an all-white Wilson, and a dedicated educator who imparted knowledge and wisdom on generations of students, Jackson is deeply connected to the school’s history. 

“I remember wanting to reach out and touch the clouds,” Duckett recalled. “And she picked me up and opened the window so that I could [try].” •

Vincent Reed

Vincent E. Reed was Wilson’s principal for just one year, albeit one of the most tumultuous years in the school’s history.

 DCPS had redrawn Wilson’s boundaries after a 1967 court case ruled that the system was discriminating against students of color. Previously, the school had been almost completely white, but in the 1968-69 school year, 40 percent of the students were Black. 

Valerie Bell Youmans was one of those students. In an interview last spring, she recalled crying for weeks when she found out she would be integrating Wilson instead of attending Roosevelt, her neighborhood school. 

“We faced a lot of racism, initially, going into Wilson—a group of Black kids coming from Roosevelt—and just having Vincent Reed there just made us feel a lot more comfortable,” Youmans said.

Reed was a competent force during this time and is remembered as a kind and dedicated principal who was truly invested in his students’ futures. “Freedom with maturity; that’s my philosophy of education,” he said in a 1968 interview with The Beacon. 

Sally Schwartz graduated from Wilson in 1968. “The thing that was most consistent and what endeared him to so many people was he genuinely was all about the students,” she said in an interview last year. 

Reed was appointed acting superintendent of DCPS in 1975 and superintendent in 1976. He established a “competency-based curriculum,” which put emphasis on mastery of basic skills. The new system worked; District-wide test scores rose for the first time in several years. 

In 1980, after a 5-year incumbency as superintendent and a series of disputes with the elected school board, Reed resigned. Soon after, the board approved a longtime vision of Reed’s for a college-prep public high school, and Benjamin Banneker High School was created. 

He then became the Assistant Secretary of Education and in so doing, one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the Reagan administration. In 1982, he became the Washington Post’s Vice President of Communications, a position he held for 16 years. He died in 2017 at the age of 89. •