CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL was established on 13 July 1846, ten years after Cleveland was incorporated and 15 years before the CIVIL WAR began. Central High was the first public high school in Cleveland and the first free public high school west of the Allegheny Mountains to provide free secondary education at public expense. At the time, the prevailing belief was that education beyond the elementary level was a private responsibility, and funding the school out of public funds was illegal under Ohio statutes. The issue was resolved in 1848 by state legislation that made provisions for Central's funding.

The major proponents for changing state laws to fund public secondary education were GEORGE HOADLEY, mayor of Cleveland at the time, CHARLES BRADBURN, merchant and school board member, and attorney George Willey. The school’s first principal was ANDREW FREESE. When Ohio City was annexed to Cleveland in 1852, WEST HIGH SCHOOL was established as a division of Central High School since state law allowed only one public high school in Cleveland.

At first, Central High operated out of the basement of a Universalist Church on Prospect Avenue. In 1856 Central High moved to a brick and stone building at Erie Street (later East 9th) and Euclid Avenue. When enrollment exceeded 300 students, officials decided to build a new high school, a Victorian Gothic structure completed in 1878 at 2201 Willson Avenue (later East 55th Street) at Central Avenue. The new building’s ornate clock tower was donated by a graduate, Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. 

The Gothic style Central High School building, ca. 1888
The Gothic style Central High School building, ca. 1888


The early curriculum of Central High included courses in English, mathematics, natural science, bookkeeping, rhetoric, and philosophy. By 1928 the curriculum included courses in English, foreign languages, mathematics, social science, physical science, commercial education, technical education, art, home economics, and music. 

By the late 1930s, the great majority of all of Cleveland’s Black high school students attended Central, and school officials decided to switch the educational emphasis away from liberal arts to training Black students as domestics and laborers. Central High also had a “vocational music department” designed to prepare students for careers teaching and performing music. 

The Central High marching band became legendary, and many notable musicians graduated from Central included Andy Anderson, CARMAN NEWSOME, Harold Arnold, “BULL MOOSE” JACKSON, The Evelyn Freeman Ensemble, Bernard Simms, ERNIE FREEMAN, Evelyn Freeman, Shep Shepherd, Chink McKinney, Howard Roberts, Fats Heard, Erroll Garner, Willie Smith, Gat Crosse, trumpeter Freddie Webster, Harry "Pee Wee" Jackson, and trombonist George Early, and the Johnny Powel Orchestra.

In 1940 a “new” Central High School was constructed on East 40th between Central and Cedar. When the school celebrated its centennial in 1946, it had graduated over 10,000 pupils. 

In 1952, Central High School merged with EAST TECHNICAL HIGH, and the old building was used as a junior high school for several years before being torn down. The new Central High School building on East 40th Street is now an elementary school named for CARL and LOUIS STOKES


Notable Central High students: 

BRUSH, CHARLES FRANCIS (1849-1929), inventor and industrialist, devised an electric arc lamp and a generator that produced a variable voltage controlled by the load and a constant current.
CHESNUTT, HELEN MARIA (1880-1969) among the earliest women of color in American classical education. 
Davis Jr., Benjamin Oliver (1912-2002), a U.S. Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen. He was the first African-American brigadier general in the USAF. In 1998, he was advanced to four-star general by President Clinton.
DAMERON, TADD (1917-1965) one of the most notable jazz musicians and arrangers in the 1940s and 50s. 
GREEN, JOHN PATTERSON (1845-1940), the "Father of Labor Day."
GREVE, LOUIS WILLIAM (1882-1942) industrial designer and pioneer in the aerospace industry.
HANNA, MARCUS ALONZO (1837-1904) businessman and Republican politician who served as a United States Senator from Ohio as well as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
HUGHES, (JAMES) LANGSTON (1902-1967) poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist, he is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.
JOSEPH, HELEN HAIMAN (1888-1978) the "grandmother of American puppetry" because of her practical and scholarly knowledge of marionettes.
KATZ, MEYER MYRON "MlCKEY" (1909-1985) American-Yiddish parodist and dialect performer who brought bilingual humor to English-speaking Jewish communities throughout the United States.
KULAS, ELROY JOHN (1880-1952), prominent in the steel and railroad industries, founded the Midland Steel Products Co. and was director of several railroads. 
MARTIN, MARY BROWN (1877-1939), the first African-American woman elected to the Cleveland Board of Education
MATHER, SAMUEL (1851-1931), industrialist and philanthropist.
ROBESON, LILA PAULINE (1880-1960) an international opera star and the first Cleveland-born artist to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
ROCKEFELLER SR., JOHN D. (1939-1937) widely considered the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history through his efforts in developing the STANDARD OIL CO
SEVERANCE, JOHN LONG (1863-1936) industrialist and philanthropist.
SISSLE, NOBLE (1889-1975) African-American composer, bandleader, and vocalist.
STOKES, LOUIS (1925-2015) attorney, civil rights pioneer, and politician served 15 terms in the United States House of Representatives representing the east side of Cleveland. He was the first African American congressman elected in the state of Ohio.
TURNER, RACHEL WALKER (1868-1943) African-American soprano who toured the U.S. and Europe singing classical selections as well as songs such as "The Last Rose of Summer" and "Swanee River."
WEINBERG, JOSEPH LEWIS (1890-1977) architect who pioneered urban-renewal and slum-clearance efforts with his design of LAKEVIEW TERRACE 
WEINBERGER, ADOLPH (1891-1977) founder of GRAY DRUG STORES, INC., one of the largest drug store chains in the nation.

Jim Culley

Chapter 8. Central High School, Joe Mosbrook, Cleveland’s Jazz History, 2nd Edition, pp. 87- 100

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