111 W. Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850
There were always obstacles in place within a segregated school system, yet some strides had been made in education for black children near the beginning of the twentieth century. There were many new school buildings erected for black students in Montgomery County in the 1920s, aided by the Rosenwald Fund: an initiative begun by Julius Rosenwald of the Sears & Roebuck Co., which offered matching funds to black communities throughout the South to build new schoolhouses.
~Nina Honemond Clarke
Some communities (like Scotland, where Geneva Mason lived) had no school at all in their area. Encouraged by the opportunity available through the Rosenwald Fund, the people in the black communities held fundraisers such as chicken dinners, baseball games, and other church events, to raise the requisite money for their school buildings. As a result of their efforts, 17 “Rosenwald schools” were built around the County between 1920 and 1929, including the new Rockville Colored High School.
“And it was about that time that the movement was on, with the colored teachers in the state, for more salary… for equal salary. Some said more and some said equal. Course I was for equal. Because I always said, ‘I just don’t believe that… I mean, if I’ve got to teach children, I deserve the same amount as that teacher over there.’”
In 1936, as the Civil Rights movement was warming up, attorney Thurgood Marshall, working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), brought a suit against the public schools in Montgomery County on behalf of William Gibbs, a young teacher originally from Philadelphia who was willing to demand equal pay for black teachers in the public schools. Until that time, black teachers were paid about half as much as their white counterparts, even when they possessed the same (or better) credentials.
“I had been in the schools long enough to know that children in all-black schools– the teachers were ok, there was nothing wrong with the teachers. Because, at that time, there were more–percentage-wise–of black teachers who had degrees than there were white, in Montgomery County.”
“[But] we had been getting different salaries. The young man who had grown up in Philadelphia came down, you see, and he considered this terribly unfair and so he made noises about that, and the thing got into court because NAACP entered a suit.”
The Montgomery County Schools settled the case out of court in 1937, agreeing to provide equal pay for all teachers commensurate with experience, regardless of race. However, William Gibbs was dismissed from his job the next year.
By the late 1940s, Rockville Colored High School was already overcrowded, and many of the County’s older one-room schoolhouses were in such deplorable condition that the PTA began to petition the County for improved school buildings. Separation was still increasingly unequal as the decade came to a close.