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By Raymond McCants, Sr.

Class President, January 1936, and

Retired Teacher of Physics & General Science

31 years of service: 1980


Wendell Phillips is the oldest Black high school in the City of Chicago, although it opened as a predominately white school on September 4, 1904. Phillips had replaced the old South Division High School, established in 1875, which had been located at 26th and Wabash. When the new building was opened at 39th Street and Prairie Avenue, it served the children of the wealthy members of the community and the few African-American children of their servants. Students included the young Armours, Swifts and Cudahys of the meat packing industry as well as the family members of the Peacocks, Stevens, Pullmans and McCormicks.

Our alma mater took its name from the great abolitionist who openly criticized Abraham Lincoln for delaying the emancipation of slaves. Born in 1811, Wendell Phillips spent nearly fifty years of his  life championing the fight against slavery, the ill-treatment of Native Americans, equal pay and  for women and better working conditions for all workers.


In 1907, only 90 African American students were enrolled. Dr. Annabelle C. Prescott, former student and teacher at Phillips, stated that in 1912 there were only four African American students in her graduating class. Racial tension was not an issue at the time. In fact, one of the most popular students was the late David W. Kellum long known as “Bud Billiken” who served as head cheerleader for all teams. The late Archibald Carey, Jr. her younger brother, was among her students. To our knowledge, Ms. Maudelle B. Bousfield was the first Black principal in the City of Chicago.


The four people mentioned above are among the role models whose photographs appear in the school’s main corridor Hall of Fame. Mr. McCants made the dormant idea of a Hall of Fame a reality, as a culmination of the Diamond Jubilee celebration of 1979. Some other notables included are the late Nat

“King” Cole, Dinah Washington, John H. Johnson, George Johnson, Marla “Florence” Gibbs, Claude “Buddy” Young, Attorney James D. Montgomery, Nettie Baldwin Hayden, Dr. Irvin B. Watkins, Alderman Wilson Frost and boxing champion Lee Roy Murphy.


The increase in African American students was due in a large part to the influx of Southern African Americans as they moved North after World War I as part of the Great Migration. The school became the first all-black high school in Chicago. Phillips housed a junior and senior high school at that time. As more African-Americans moved to the area, the school became over-crowded. Two shifts were used to provide services to the youth. Small cottage-like classrooms were added to try to accommodate over 4,000 students —twice the capacity for which the school was designed.


In 1929 the Board of Education voted to build a new Wendell Phillips High School at 49th and Wabash Avenue. The economic conditions of the Great Depression slowed the work on the building; it was finally completed on February 4, 1935. Student morale was low and violence was rampant at Phillips. So nobody cried when our school “mysteriously” burned at 3 o’clock Monday morning, January 28, 1935, making it necessary for the students to move to the new school in February 1935.


The original school colors, red and black, were adopted by the new school. Later in 1935 Phillips was repaired and reopened for freshmen only. Phillips later adopted the school colors of blue and white and addition constructed in 1937 housed Phillips Elementary School.  Another section was added to the elementary school in 1944. This last addition completed the Phillips physical plant.


In the l960’s the school again became overcrowded. The student population exceeded 3,500. Abbott Branch for freshmen was opened and again temporary classrooms were added in the parking lot. The school went to three shifts and three divisions, running a 12 period day in order to cope with the large number of students.


Beginning in the 1970s student population began a gradual but steady decline. The depletion of available housing within the community as well as a change in the Board of Education’s student transfer policy to foster integration contributed to the declining enrollment. Also at this time Phillips underwent a major rehabilitation.


In the late 1980s, like many other schools in the system, Phillips became the victim of neglect. It was not until the middle and late 1990s that major repairs and improvements to the school were begun. The administration, community leaders, parents and political representatives all worked together to lobby for major repairs. As a result, major external repairs and improvements were completed. A Phillips/Mayo campus project added green space and additional sports facilities.


The present administration and community leaders have worked diligently to update computer facilities, improve the library and to provide internet access to students. More improvements are in the planning stage. Like the community in which it stands, Wendell Phillips is striding into the new millennium to meet the needs of the students of the community.section was added to the elementary school in 1944. This last addition completed the Phillips physical plant.

A History of Leadership




Spencer R. Smith                     1904 - 1917

Charles H. Perrine                   1917 - 1921

Albert W. Evans                       1921 - 1926

Chauncey C. Willard                1926 - 1935

William H. Page                        1935 - 1937

William Abrams                        1937 - 1939

Maudelle B. Bousfield             1939 - 1950

Virginia F. Lewis                      1950 - 1961

Robert E. Lewis                        1961 - 1965

Alonzo A. Crim                         1965 - 1968

William Finch                            1968 - 1971

Daniel W. Caldwell                   1971 – 1975

Ernestine D. Curry                    1975 - 1990

Juanita T. Tucker                      1990 - 1997

Beverly LaCoste                       1997 - 2001

Bertha Buchanan                      2001 - 2004

Euel B. Bunton                          2004 - 2010

Terrance A. Little                      2010 - 2011

Devon Q. Horton                      2011 - 2014

Stacie J. Chana                         2014 - 2015

Matthew G. Sullivan              2015 -- Present

Congratulations and Thanks

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