111 W. Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850
This is a past exhibit which was displayed at the Beall-Dawson Museum between Aug. 17, 2004 and Mar. 6, 2005.
The Effects of Brown vs. The Board of Education in Montgomery County
Students and staff of the Sharp Street School, Sandy Spring, c. 1912.
From the Rural Survey, 1912.
For nearly a century, schools for black students in Montgomery County (and indeed most of the country) were denied the benefits provided to their entirely separate, but supposedly “equal,” white counterparts. In facilities, supplies, monetary support, wages, term length, and academic standards, black schools lagged far behind, despite the stringent efforts of their communities to achieve equal educational rights.
From 1872, when Maryland law provided for the construction of public schools for black students, up until the 1940s, the Montgomery County school board resisted the construction and maintenance of black schools. Communities that requested schools were often stalled, and land for schools had to be conveyed to, rather than purchased by, the county. Repairs to crumbling and inadequate buildings were refused, and schools that burned down altogether were ignored for years, with teachers forced to find some other place to hold class. Churches that hosted neighborhood schools were denied rent. Staff wages were halted, and classes suspended, with little notice and no other excuse than ‘funds were low.’ The academic calendar was months shorter than that of the white schools; teacher qualifications were ignored, and the official wage scale was much lower.
Conditions began to improve somewhat in the 20th century, with Rosenwald Fund money used to construct better schools in several places around the county. In the late 1940s four larger, central elementary schools, known as “consolidated schools,” were built, leaving just a few of the old one- and two-room schools down-county. Such improvements, however, were only a fraction of what had been provided the white schools.
For many years, it was illegal for teachers in a black school to instruct pupils in subjects over elementary grade level. Prior to 1927, those students who could afford it went to high schools in DC or Frederick, or even further afield. The first high school (grades 8-11) for black students was built in Montgomery County in 1927, but 12th grade wasn’t added until the 1943-44 school year, some 12 years after the rest of the high schools in the county.
In 1954, the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas changed the face of MCPS forever. Segregated public schools were now illegal, and every school system in the country was to proceed with integration at “deliberate speed.” After much investigation and discussion, the Board of Education began a gradual process of integration, beginning with a few schools in September of 1955. Only two schools, one up-county and one down-county, registered any official protest. For the most part, integration happened smoothly, if slowly, and the school system was declared fully integrated in 1961.
Montgomery County’s population continued to grow and change, however, and issues of integration and diversity have remained central to our school system ever since. A number of solutions have been implemented, such as the Magnet programs, with varying degrees of success. The effects of Brown vs. the Board of Ed are still being felt today, fifty years later.