Theodore Roosevelt High School was named after Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of the United States. The earliest school for African American children in Gary was built in 1908 as a one-room building on Twelfth Avenue and Massachusetts Street the same year that the city’s school board made the decision to segregate its public schools. Students at the Twelfth Avenue school and those attending another school at Fourteenth Avenue and Connecticut Street were moved to Friedrich Froebel School at Fifteenth and Madison Street.
Beginning in 1915, as Gary’s population grew, some African American students transferred to portable classrooms on Twenty-first Avenue and Adams Street, as well as other segregated schools. The portable classrooms were moved in 1921 to Roosevelt High School’s present-day site at Twenty-fifth Avenue and Harrison Street. The portable classrooms were renamed the Roosevelt Annex, a result of their location near Roosevelt School, also located on Twenty-fifth Avenue. In 1923, James Stanley, assumed duties as the principal of Roosevelt School, as well as the Annex. In 1925, the Annex began offering secondary school courses. In 1929, Frederick C. McFarlane succeeded Stanley as principal and a year later the school was accredited, graduating its first high school class in June 1930.
Although the city’s continued to maintain segregated schools, some black students were enrolled in schools designated for white students on a space-available basis. In September 1927, after eighteen black high school students were transferred to Emerson School, the school’s white students walked out in protest, beginning what was called the Emerson School Strike. The four-day strike ended when a settlement was reached that called on the Gary city council to appropriate funds to construct what became known as Roosevelt High School, as well as a temporary school to help alleviate school overcrowding. Emerson’s African American students were transferred to the temporary school after the resolution and funding appropriation for the school buildings were passed. Gary’s mayor, Floyd E. Williams, assured the city’s African American community that the new high school would have facilities “equal to existing high schools in the city, as well as having qualified teachers and staff. ” This concept of Jim Crow segregation in education become nationally known as the Gary System. William Wirt, the city’s first Superintendent of Schools, developed the Gary System during the early decades of the twentieth century. It offered vocational training and college preparatory classes in the city’s high schools, as well as extracurricular activities and athletic programs, an innovative idea the influenced the development of modern education. The Gary System was adopted by other school districts across the United States. Roosevelt was admitted to the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges in 1931. The first graduation ceremonies were held in the new high school building in 1933 for a senior graduating class of thirty students.
Roosevelt High School remains the first and only school built exclusively for the African American community in the city of Gary. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 19, 2012. Effective at the beginning of 2012–2013 school year, the Indiana Department of Education, under the authority of Public Law 221, took away control of Roosevelt High School from the Gary Community School Corporation. It was under the leadership of Edison Learning until June 2020 when the Gary Community School Corporation announced that the high school would be closing indefinitely, and students would be merged with the one remaining opened school, West Side Leadership Academy.
(Excerpts of this information are courtesy of the “Indiana Landmarks” and “Wikipedia” websites accessed on June 9, 2021, www.indianalandmarks.org and https://en.wikipedia.org)