Thomas Jefferson High School

Opened in 1924, Thomas Jefferson High School was located between Pennsylvania, Blake, Dumont, and Sheffield Avenues. In the Danny Kaye biography Nobody's Fool, it was noted that the school was built on the grounds of a former gypsy encampment. The school-age population quickly exceeded its capacity of 4000, and a number of annexes were utilized, including the former P.S. 63 facing Hinsdale Avenue. The second World War reversed that trend, but Jefferson retained an excellent reputation both for its academics and its sports teams. The hard times which fell on the area after the 1960s left the school battling poor test scores and low graduation rates. Mayor Bloomberg finally closed Jefferson and it will now house 4 smaller specialty schools.

Construction, 1923
I thought it was interesting that in the early New York Times articles this area was always referred to as Brownsville. The area was very heavily Jewish, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia. The construction photo on the right is an "outtake" from our book. Note the billboard advertising the Premiere Theater on the right.
Opening, 1924
Another book outtake, there was a major celebration on October 29, 1924 to mark the opening of the school. A large parade, followed by a number of speeches including New York Mayor Hylan filled the day. On the right, first principal Elias Lieberman, who served until 1940, when he became Associate Superintendant of Schools.
Some memorabilia from the early years; a 1933 graduation program and a 1934 Class Night program.
There are plenty of famous graduates from Jefferson, and I'm still tracking them down. Howard Zinn, pictured on the far left, just passed away recently (2009) and it wasn't until I read his NY Times obituary that I realized he was a Jefferson grad from the class of 1939. Zinn, an iconoclastic teacher and author, wrote "A People's History of the United States." He was well known for his criticisms of the white washing of U.S. history taught in schools, which often drew the wrath of fellow teachers and administrators.
Of course there are a lot of famous NON-graduates as well. These shots are from a 1948 yearbook, and the statue of Jefferson within the lobby is the source of one great story. Allegedly the entertainer Danny Kaye was asked to leave the school after a prank involving horse manure and the statue. Entertainers Steve Lawrence and Shelly Winters also attended Jefferson, but I believe they too did not graduate, but left for show biz.
Athletic Field, 1937
The athletic field was situated two blocks south of he school, on the east side of Pennsylvania Avenue. The field was replaced by P.S. 13 in 1975.
Brooklyn: Pennsylvania Avenue ... Digital ID: 706242F. New York Public Library Athletic Field, 1930
There is a terrific image of he field on the New York Public Library's Digital image collection. NOTE! Clicking on the image will send you to their site.
Thomas Jefferson High School, 1948
Some more interior shots from the 1948 yearbook. There were also some interesting tidbits; it was noted there was no football team during the war years; anyone remember why? The yearbook also celebrated the fact that the cafeteria went 'coed' that year!
Don't ask me how the 1957 basketball team did not win the city championship (I believe Boy's High won.) The team featured Tony Jackson and Leroy Ellis, both of whom would star at St. John's and turn pro. Tony was banned from the NBA for failing to report a bribe attempt and played in the American Basketball Association for a precursor to today's Nets. Leroy Ellis, who graduated a year later in 1958, had a lengthy and successful career in the NBA.
Barbara Griffin, class of 1963, tipped me off that Tony Jackson's younger brother Harvey played for the team during her years there. Barbara worked on the Jeffersonian, the literary publication of TJ High, and she noted in 1962 the advisor was Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon. The movie Charly starring Cliff Robertson was based on this novel. Keyes is pictured with the Jeffersonian staff in 1962, front row, second from left. He passed in 2014.
Evelyn Israel sent over some images from I believe the 1958 yearbook including the cheerleaders and a folk singing group.
There is a terrific resource for Jefferson yearbooks. Hosted by the Museum of Family History, a Jewish genealogical research site, it has a searchable database of yearbooks stretching from 1927 to the 1960s and can be found here . While browsing this archive, I came across this graduate in the 1961 yearbook. Movie star looks? Harvard? Doctor? I googled him and discovered he has had a long, successful acting career on television, including the role as "Operations" on the La Femme Nikita series. Check out the internet movie database for a full list of his credits.
Jim McMillian and John Brockington, 1966
Thanks to Barry Mendelsohn for noting these 2 sports stars. Jim McMillian would attend Columbia (not Cornell as noted) and go on to a successful NBA career with the Lakers. John Brockington's individual picture did not appear in the yearbook but he was the star of the football team and would go on to the NFL and play for the Green Bay Packers.
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs
I don't have his graduation picture, but the current CEO of Goldman Sachs was a 1971 Jefferson grad (and valedictorian.) Born in the Bronx, his family moved to the Linden Houses in the 1950s. He went on to Harvard and a career on Wall Street. Thanks to Ron Gerstein for the corrections.
Jimmy Smits, class of 1973
Shawon Dunston batted .793 (!!) as senior for Jefferson in 1982, and was drafted #1 in the nation by the Chicago Cubs. Dunston experienced mixed success in the majors from 1985 to 1996.