The Remarkable Journey of Robert Louis Durrah, Jr.:

Category: History, You Are History, You Are History Project

Robert Louis Durrah, Jr., originally named Paul Washington, was born in the District of Columbia on August 4, 1957. His adoptive parents, Daisy Mae and Louis Durrah, renamed him to better integrate him into their family. Robert Sr. was a mathematician for the National Bureau of Standards, collaborating with NASA on space missions. Daisy worked at the Gillespie-Selden Institute in Cordele, GA, a boarding school dedicated to providing quality education to African American students. She secured this position shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Post-adoption, Daisy became a librarian at the Caswell County Training School in Yanceyville, NC, and the family relocated there. During the weekdays, Bobby stayed with his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Teamer Barber, while Daisy worked in a different county. He spent his weekends at his parents’ home. He attended Jack and Jill Kindergarten on Gray Avenue, close to his grandmother’s house on Camel Ave. His kindergarten teacher, Evelin Sellers, also offered piano lessons after school.

In 1963, Daisy joined the Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools and stopped commuting to Yanceyville, NC. That same year, President John F Kennedy was assassinated, and Robert Jr began his education at St Benedict the Moor Catholic School. He recalls the nuns urging the students to return home following the president’s assassination. Upon reaching his grandmother’s house, he discovered she was unaware of the president’s death. After graduating from 8th grade in 1971, he attended George Washington Carver High School for 9th grade. Following his father’s dissatisfaction with the nuns, he enrolled at The Asheville School, a formerly all-white private boarding school in Asheville, NC.

The Anne C Stouffer Foundation provided substantial funds for African American students to attend previously segregated Southern boarding schools. The sponsor of the funds believed that if integration was possible at Phillips Exeter and Andover Academies in New Hampshire, it should be achievable at Southern boarding schools. Anne Cannon Reynolds made this a reality.

After Asheville School, Bobby Durrah chose Duke University over the University of Pennsylvania, despite being accepted everywhere he applied. At Duke, Durrah played basketball for a year and served as Head Cheerleader for three consecutive years. He graduated in 1979 and joined the US Air Force (USAF) as a Nuclear Missile Launch Officer with the 381st Strategic Missile Wing, Wichita, KS. Four years, five months, and 22 days later, he honorably separated from the USAF. After a brief stint with Boeing Military Airplane Company, Durrah joined the Wichita Public Schools as a Special Education Instructor at Jardine Middle School and Wichita High School East. He later transitioned to a Social Studies position at Wichita East.

In 1989, after earning a Master’s Degree in Education from The Wichita State University, Durrah became an Assistant Principal at Wichita High School Northwest. In 1992, after assisting with the opening of the North East Magnet High School, he decided to pursue other opportunities. He moved to Chicago to join the PhD program at the University of Chicago. While living in Hyde Park and working for the Center for School Improvement, a group of investors recruited him away from the University of Chicago. They succeeded as two of their former administrators at the North Lawndale College Prep Charter High School had been dismissed in consecutive incidents.

Durrah purchased a new condo on the west side, leaving Hyde Park, and settled near the school.

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