Sylvia Mendez says the only reason she wanted to go to an all-white school in California's Westminster District in the 1940s was because of its beautiful playground. The school that she and other Latino students were forced to attend didn't have monkey bars or swings.
"I was 9 years old," she says. "I just thought my parents wanted us to go to the nice-looking school."
The nation's first black public high school, Paul Laurence Dunbar High, opened its doors in Washington, D.C., in 1870. But more than 140 years later, Dunbar — like many urban schools — has fallen on hard times. The crumbling, brutalist-style building is often described as a prison, and graduation rates hover around 60 percent.
But it wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, the yearbook read like a Who's Who of black America.