Old Dillard Museum
Built 1924, listed in National Register of Historic Places 1991
1001 N.W. Fourth Street, Fort Lauderdale
Early Image of Old Dillard Museum as a School
Image Courtesy of the Broward County Historical Commission
Old Dillard Museum
Image Courtesy of Broward County Libraries Division
The Old Dillard Museum was built as a school of masonry construction in the Mediterranean Revival style with mission style elements. It was designed by prominent local architect John Morris Peterman and constructed by the firm of Cayot & Hart on land donated by civic leaders Frank and Ivy Stranahan.
The Old Dillard Museum was the first public school built for black children in Fort Lauderdale.
Prior to that time “colored schools” held classes in private buildings provided by members of the community. In Fort Lauderdale, Colored School No. 11 began in 1907 in a structure built on land owned by Tom Bryan. It was a one-room wood-frame structure on the west side of what is now Northwest Third Avenue between present-day Broward Boulevard and Northwest Second Street.
On Sundays the building was used for church services. That structure was torn down in 1910. For several years, the classes were moved to several buildings in the community, including churches
and teachers' homes, until it moved to the Knights of Pythias Hall at Northwest Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue where it remained until March 1923. When the public school was constructed in 1924, the 10-room two-story building had an inscription over the front door that read “Colored School.” In 1930, the school’s principal, Dr. Joseph A. Ely, named the school in honor of James H. Dillard, a philanthropist, educator and promoter of education for black children.
Clarence C. Walker, Sr. served as principal from 1937 until his death in 1942. Prior to Walker’s tenure in office, the School Board had ordered a reduced split term for black schools in the county to provide low cost child labor to local farmers. Black students were expected to work in the fields harvesting the crops. The board decision was challenged in 1942 after Walker led an unsuccessful
boycott. Walker died of natural causes after arguing with the School Board to change the schedule in honor of the boycott. Walker’s death inspired the community to continue the fight for a full school term for black students. Community efforts led to a federal court ruling ordering the change in 1946.
Due to an expanding community, the high school grades were moved to a new facility at 2501 N.W. 11th Street in 1950. For a while the old building became Dillard Elementary. Further growth in the black community led to building a new elementary school near the new high school. It was decided to name the new elementary school Dillard Elementary and change the name of the old school. In June 1954 a citizens committee requested that the old school be named Walker Elementary, in honor of Clarence C. Walker for his untiring efforts and civic prestige in retaining a full and continuous school term for black students.
By the mid-1970s, most of the school's administrative offices and classrooms had been moved to the adjacent building as Walker Elementary continued to grow. In the late 1980s the building was boarded up and slated for demolition, but was saved through community activism. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1991 and developed into a museum and cultural center in 1995. Broward County Historical Commissioner Mary Smith, president of the Black Historical Society and a 1952 graduate of the new Dillard High School two years after it opened, said: “The preservation of the school is important for Fort Lauderdale because it means that this building will stand as a monument to the struggles we’ve had to go through in segregation and upgrading curriculum for blacks.”
The old school is now home to exhibitions, art displays, and historical/cultural artifacts, representing the rich and proud African-American heritage. For more information, call 754-322-8828 or visit www.broward.k12.fl.us/olddillardmuseum.