Built in 1877, this historic school on Division Street originally served only white students until 1910 when the building was first used for black students from Public School No. 112. In March 1911, the school was officially designated Public School 103 and later named in honor of abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet. The building contained twelve classrooms; the spaces separated by sliding doors that could open and combine two or three classrooms into an auditorium.
While the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson had held that racial segregation, such as in Baltimore's public school system, was legal when the public facilities were "separate but equal", schools for black students in Baltimore were anything but. The academic year for black children was one month shorter than the school year for white students, with the expectation that children would leave school to find agricultural work. The prejudice and racist beliefs that undlie this approach is evident in a 1913 remark by Baltimore school commissioner Richard Biggs: “Stop at once the so-called high education that unfits Negroes for the lives that they are to lead and which makes them desire things they will never be able to reach.”
Public School 103 is best known for its' most famous student, Thurgood Marshall (1908- 1993), who attended the school from 1914 to 1920. It was at this school that Thurgood shortened his name from the original Thoroughgood. Thurgood sat in the first row, as his classmate Agnes Peterson later recalled, “he was always playing, and so they had to keep right on top of him.”
When he began attending PS 103 at age six, Thurgood's family lived with his Uncle Fearless Mentor (or Uncle Fee) at 1632 Division Street. Mentor worked as the personal attendant to the president of the B&O Railroad, wearing a suit and a bowtie to work daily, and was home nearly every afternoon to talk with Thurgood and his brother Aubrey. Marshall later attended the Colored High School which opened in January 1901 at the northeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Dolphin Street occupying a building erected in 1891 for the English-German School No. 1 previously located on Druid Hill Avenue.