Up until 1919, Black students in Kokomo attended various integrated schools in the city. In that year, the superintendent of Kokomo Schools, C.V. Haworth, made the decision to adhere to Indiana segregation laws and refused to allow enrollment of Black students in white schools. In order to have separate schools, construction of Douglass School began, opening the fall semester of 1920. At this point, all Black students in Kokomo up to 7th grade were required to attend Douglass. After grade 7, Black students were allowed to attend Central School and Kokomo High School. Opening enrollment consisted of 94 students from all parts of Kokomo. A small number of parents refused to enroll their children in Douglass, due to the distance their children would have to walk and the proximity of white schools. However, the majority of Black students were restricted to Douglass.
By the 1921 school year, Douglass had 130 students. In 1940, at the invitation of its principal, Rev. Henry Perry, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the school, and the resulting publicity was used to gain funding to build the Carver Community Center. In 1953, Douglass School and the nearby “white” Willard School were put under the same principal as a first step toward integration. In the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, the United States. Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools are otherwise equal in quality. By 1954, the integration of the two schools was complete, with Willard housing grades 1 to 3 and Douglass housing grades 4 to 6.
In 1968, as growing enrollment in Kokomo Schools led to construction of new schools, Willard and Douglass Schools were closed. Currently, Embracing Hope of Howard County, a non-profit organization, has organized to raise funds and awareness in order to restore the Douglass School building into a community center and museum highlighting the building’s history.