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 v. Board of Education in Montgomery County
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.
The 1872 Law
An 1872 Maryland law provided that one free (public) school for black students, aged six to twenty, should be constructed in each election district, with the same curricula as white schools. State money was set aside for these schools, and the counties were supposed to help make up the difference. However, Montgomery County’s school board did not use its own money for these “colored schools,” instead relying solely on state funds and the taxes from black communities.
This led to frequent shortages and abrupt terminations of the school year, often as early as March, while the white schools continued on for the full nine-month term. It was left to the communities themselves to prove a need for a school, scout out a potential site, and present themselves to the board. Out of their meager salaries – which were far lower than those of white teachers – teachers at the colored schools had to pay for their transportation and/or room and board. Teachers and parents gave much of their own time and money, to provide as quality an education as was possible under these restrictive circumstances.
Gibbs vs. Board of Education
In 1936, with the backing of the local chapter of the NAACP and Maryland State Colored Teachers Association, a man named William Gibbs brought suit against the Board of Education in an effort to equalize white and black teacher salaries. Gibbs was a teaching principal at Rockville Elementary School. One of his lawyers, sent by the NAACP, was Thurgood Marshall.
This was not the first attempt to achieve equal salaries. Black teachers, who were often better qualified than white teachers, were denied both additional training opportunities and higher salaries because of their race. At the time of Gibbs’ suit, black teachers were making about half of what white teachers with the same qualifications were taking home.
Dr. Edwin Broome, School Superintendent, settled the case out of court. For the next year, black teachers would receive “50% of the difference between what salary they now receive and the salary provided for under the schedule for white teachers.” Beginning in August, 1938, the MCPS teacher salary schedule would make no distinction by race, creed or color. Although this was a victory for county teachers, the out-of-court settlement set no legal precedent, and it took several more years to achieve state-wide equal salaries for teachers. Gibbs lost his job, ostensibly because of certification problems; but the Teachers Association, anticipating this response, had set up a fund to assist him. He moved out of the state, and continued teaching.
The Need for Education
Since the era of slavery, African Americans understood the need for literacy and education as a key part of advancement. Illiteracy was used as a way to disenfranchise black voters. Education would lead to a better quality of life, and the struggle to obtain it made it prized all the higher. Many Montgomery County teachers and students recall the emphasis put on schooling by their parents, and much was sacrificed to meet that goal.
White attitudes toward black education varied by region, religion, and time period. Quakers believe in equal education for everyone, and the free black community in Sandy Spring benefitted from their efforts. Many white benefactors (including the respected Brookings Institute, in the 1940s) took a paternalistic view, and encouraged a vocational, as opposed to academic, curriculum, assuming that such jobs were the highest African Americans could aspire to. In general, however, the prevailing attitude was one of a mixture of contempt for blacks’ intellectual abilities, and fear that a real education would disrupt the status quo.
The Rosenwald Fund
In 1917, Julius Rosenwald, a director with Sears, Roebuck & Co., started a foundation to match funds raised for black schools in Southern states. Montgomery County’s Board of Education still did not contribute, but with the help of the Rosenwald Fund, black communities had to raise only half the money. Rosenwald schools – which were painted yellow, with brown trim – conformed to a standard of construction that was considerably higher than that of many existing schools. The fifteen elementary schools built in Montgomery County with Rosenwald funds were a far cry from the spacious brick buildings that housed white elementary schools, but were still an improvement over the one room shacks where so many African American children were taught.
Under Superintendent Edwin Broome, MCPS began to consolidate the colored elementary schools into larger, more central schools. For example Longview, in Emory Grove, opened in 1950 and took children from the Cloppers, Germantown, Laytonsville and Stewardtown schools, which then closed. Four such consolidated schools had been finished by 1954: Longview, Rock Terrace in Rockville (both used as special education schools since 1961), Sandy Spring (closed since 1961), and Edward U. Taylor in Boyds (closed in 1979 due to low enrollment, now the Edward U. Taylor Science Materials Center).
This left only four of the old one-room schools, all in the down-county area: River Road, Linden, Ken Gar, and Takoma Park. The plan was to construct one final consolidated school to serve these children, but instead these schools were closed altogether, and the students were among the first to be integrated into previously all-white schools.
Consolidation was in most ways an improvement. Modern, maintained buildings provided sufficient room for each grade, and better equipment and supplies. Dr. Monk, a teacher at Lincoln High School during and after consolidation, was quoted as saying that students from the new schools were of a noticeably higher caliber, academically, than those who had been forced to learn in cramped and ill-equipped environments. On the other hand, however, pupils from the consolidated communities had to travel even farther to get to school, and they were still paying for their buses.
Prior to 1927, when the first high school for black students was built in Montgomery County, African Americans who sought secondary level education had limited options. Most students were working to help support their families, often working outside jobs as well as helping at home. The shorter school years imposed on the black elementary schools, combined with the demands of family and employment that kept many older children away from class even when schools were open, meant that some students took extra years to graduate from primary education. Yet education was understood to be a vital step in the road to advancement. Teachers often stayed late to instruct those who were willing and ready to learn higher subjects, although a 1904 law prohibited black schools from teaching higher than a 5th grade level. Those who could afford the transportation and/or room and board attended high school in the District of Columbia, or moved even further afield.
A group of elementary school trustees went to the Board with plans for a high school in Rockville. These United Trustees, with the help of Supervisor Edward U. Taylor, were able to prove that their plans were viable, despite the somewhat willful skepticism expressed by the Board, who didn’t believe that there was any community interest in secondary education. After half the money was raised (the rest came from the Rosenwald Fund, not the county) and Taylor had found forty students, the Board approved construction. The Rockville Colored High School, on North Washington Street, opened in 1927 with Taylor as teacher principal, and forty eighth graders.
The first year, classes were only half day, there were no new textbooks, and Taylor drove six of the students to school himself. Although the first class lost pupils to family and work needs, each succeeding class was larger. Students came from all over the county to take advantage of the school’s relative proximity, and soon the two-room school was far too small. They used the bathrooms, and eventually a basement science lab, in the elementary school across the street. After a few years they began renting room at the Fisherman’s Hall. One school bus, purchased by the trustees, soon gave way to three, two of which were given by the Board (although students, unlike whites, had to pay to ride).
The United Trustees began asking for a larger building, on a new site. The Board found an abandoned building in Takoma Park, moved it to Lincoln Park, and gave it a brick facade. The new Lincoln High School opened in September, 1935, with 236 students in grades 8-11 (unlike the white schools, there was still no twelfth grade, until it was added in 1943). Lincoln had six classrooms, an office, and two lavatories. Additions and temporary buildings were added throughout Lincoln’s tenure as the sole black county high school. Students came from all over the county, still paying for their bus ride, which was often several hours each way. Some pupils came from Howard County, because Lincoln was closer than Howard’s sole black high school.
By 1950, enrollment at Lincoln had tripled. It was decided to build yet another, larger high school, and turn Lincoln into a junior high. George Washington Carver High School and Junior College, on Rockville Pike, opened in the fall of 1950. The Junior College, founded by Parlett Moore, was a companion to the segregated Montgomery Junior College across the street. After 1954, some Carver students began transferring to their home schools. Carver closed for good in the spring of 1960.
Integration actually began in the summer of 1955, when a few black students enrolled in summer school at B-CC High School. The process began in earnest that September, with the closing of the four down-county substandard black elementary schools – Linden, Ken Gar, Takoma Park, and River Road – which had not yet been consolidated into a modern school. Students and teachers were sent to the closest all-white schools that had room to accept them (six of the ten black teachers went to white schools, while the other four were transferred to black consolidated schools up-county). In addition, secondary students living in the Wheaton, Blair and B-CC High School districts were allowed to transfer to their nearest white school, if they chose. One hundred and sixty junior and high school students availed themselves of this opportunity. Adult and special education classes were officially desegregated in October of 1955.
The next year, more schools were added to the list of open schools, again depending on the capacity of the existing building. The school system issued numerous reports on the present and projected enrollments, and improvements and additions were planned for those schools that were over capacity. Originally the intent was to turn the consolidated black schools into integrated schools, although only one black school was ever used as such.
Black students were offered the opportunity to transfer to their nearest school upon recommendations to the Superintendent, based on their grades and their perceived ability to handle an integrated situation. The final decision was left to the parents. A stumbling block was the capacity issue at the white schools; parents were often unwilling to split up siblings based on whether or not there was room for each child at the new school. Edith Throckmorton, principal at Longview, was able to convince the principals at the white schools in her district that making room for a black student was no different than making room for a white student who had moved here from another county.
It wasn’t until 1961 that the Montgomery County Public School System was declared fully integrated. Even then – as the School Board admitted – there were still a number of all-white schools, and some schools considered “integrated” only by the black faculty assigned to them. Although schools were now desegregated, housing and most other public services were not. School districts remained segregated for several years, and even after Maryland’s Fair Housing law was passed in 1971, neighborhood integration is a problem that our schools face today.
Headlines dating from the post-Supreme Court decision, pre-integration time period show the division within the county. School Board files contain petitions, dating from March, 1955 and signed by almost 300 up-county residents, opposing any action taken on integration “at this time.” Another petition, cited by the Sentinel, called for gradual rather than immediate integration; 3,000 people, mostly up-county, signed it.
In 1954, the population of Montgomery County was only 6% black, with the majority living in long-established communities up-county. While World War II had brought a large influx of new residents, there was still a Southern sensibility in the rural areas. Although tempered by common sense and a reluctance to go against the laws of the land, there appears to have been a general feeling against integration among much of the county’s white population. Yet on the whole, Montgomery County’s school integration was felt to have gone fairly smoothly, particularly when compared with many school districts in the south, where protests, demonstrations and even violence were a problem.
In our county, while feelings were decidedly mixed on the part of white and black students, parents and teachers alike, only a few schools registered official complaint with the Board. However, racism was in some instances strong enough to change Board policy. The original plan to integrate the black schools, as well as the white, was never realized; only Taylor, one of the consolidated elementary schools, was ever used as an integrated school. Plans to use Carver, a large and modern high school built in 1950, fell apart after some parents refused to allow their children to use equipment that had belonged to black students. Carver and the rest of the modern black schools were turned into special education centers, offices or storage.
As in everything, the experiences of students and teachers varied from individual to individual, and from school to school. In some cases, a cautious transition period was all that was needed to calm tensions and fears (on everyone’s part). Some black students recall being asked strange and even insulting questions by their white classmates, but they feel also that these were asked out of genuine curiosity and ignorance, not maliciousness. On the other hand, some students knew exactly what they were doing; Poolesville High School, in particular, was the scene of many pranks and fights that first year, although the administrators and teachers did what they could to calm things down.
Adults weren’t always much better. Some teachers felt welcomed into their new schools, but others had problems adjusting to an initially hostile environment. The continued segregation of the rest of Montgomery County caused problems outside of school. Integrated faculties couldn’t necessarily have meetings in restaurants, and student hangout spots – swimming pools, for example, or Glen Echo Amusement Park – were off-limits to new, mixed groups of friends.
Some black teachers found themselves demoted when transferred to an all-white school. The NAACP protested the Board’s vague policy on personnel, and many teachers were concerned about losing their jobs. However, most teachers appear to have kept employment with MCPS.
In March, 1956, the Gaithersburg PTA passed a resolution against “compulsory integration,” which was being forced on them “in disregard of traditions, customs and feelings that have prevailed for generations, and still prevail.” The document stated that the PTA was “firmly opposed to the compulsory and forced integration of races [in the Montgomery County Public Schools] and to the assignment of Negro teachers to white children whose parents object,” claiming, among other objections, that “county-wide tests of children in the public schools disclosed that approximately 90% of the Negro pupils were below normal,” and that “except for a small group of agitators, the great majority” of blacks in the county “have no desire to become the supposed beneficiaries, or victims, of compulsory integration” and are “seriously disturbed and fearful of the adverse effects that hasty and compulsory integration could have upon the emotional and psychological well-being of their children and upon the good relations presently existing between the races in this county.” Apparently no further action was taken in this case, as Gaithersburg schools later integrated with few reported problems.
The PTA at Rollingwood Elementary School, in Chevy Chase, wrote to the Board in 1955 protesting the proposed transfer of students from the black Linden School, in Forest Glen. The white schools nearest Linden could not take additional students until building expansions were completed; Rollingwood had room. Claiming that a switch from Linden to Rollingwood and then to yet another school would be too confusing for the Linden students, the PTA also expressed their unwillingness to mix their own children with students from another race or economic class. They suggested that Linden remain open for another year while nearby white schools completed their additions. Superintendent Norris refused this suggestion, pointing out that the Linden building had in fact been condemned. Parents from Rollingwood protested at the State Board of Education, which ruled in favor of Norris.
The school district that faced the most opposition to integration was Poolesville. At that time, the white community was so small that all grades, kindergarten through 12, attended the same school. When integration came in the fall of 1956, there were letters, meetings, and a demonstration outside the Board of Education by angry white parents. On the first day of school, some 200 of these parents stood outside the door, hoping to prevent the 14 black students from entering, and threatening to remove their own children from school. Police and Superintendent Norris were on hand, and they escorted the black students in through a back door. Some parents did remove their children, but Norris threatened to take them to court, and they backed down. Although the feelings and fears were already there, many people thought that the actions taken were incited by outside influences, namely segregationists from the South who arrived hoping to stir up trouble. Within a week or two, the agitation had subsided, and the rest of the year progressed with relative quiet.
One Year Later
When the River Road black school was closed in the fall of 1955, Clara Barton Elementary School, in Cabin John, took in the highest percentage of new black students of any elementary in the county. An evaluation of the year, made in the spring of 1956, showed that the process had taken place with relative ease. The teachers cited many reasons for this smooth transition. Both teachers from River Road were transferred to Clara Barton along with their students, and the high number of new pupils meant that at least two River Road students were in each class, preventing too many feelings of isolation. As in many other newly integrated schools, the modern teaching environment allowed the black students to quickly catch up academically with their white peers. In addition, the principal reported, “economically, Clara Barton was integrated for a considerable length of time” before 1955. Many people felt that the problems and misunderstandings of integration stemmed as much from economic segregation as it did from separation of races.
Waleski’s articles address, from a white point of view, the issues faced by MCPS during the first year of integration. She notes that the fears of anti-integrationists (and many cautious pro-integrationists) did not come true: scholastic standards were not compromised, diseases did not spread through the student body, and violence did not erupt. Although she did find instances of reluctance and resistance, she concluded that most of these arose from misunderstanding, and were soon resolved. Perhaps most tellingly, the author points out the surprise with which some white residents greeted the discovery of the poverty many African American communities lived in.
The public school system was declared desegregated in 1961, although admittedly there were still several all-white schools. Black teachers and administrators were assigned to some of these schools, but the county’s segregated housing situation was out of the Board of Education’s hands. School diversity has continued to be a puzzling problem ever since.
Today’s statistics for MCPS on the whole show that there is no majority population, but taken school by school, a different picture emerges. Our communities grow, change, and decline, and the schools reflect this constant flux in the diversity – or lack thereof – in their student body. Each attempt at integration has its advocates and denouncers.
Magnet schools bring in new groups and new money – but often the advantages are only enjoyed by the Magnet students, not the rest of the school. Busing and paired schools please some and outrage others. It’s not always a question of racism or classism; practical factors – siblings in different schools, long bus rides, too-frequent school transfers – are also an issue. The question is, at what point does the arbitrary creation of a student body defeat its own purpose?
The 1970s were a turbulent time in MCPS history. A generally declining school-age population resulted in the closure of many schools, and a rising minority population changed the make-up of school populations, especially down-county. Various mandatory closure and bussing plans were suggested to help maintain a balanced student body. Some schools, such as Westbrook Elementary, fought closure successfully. Other schools attempted a more voluntary kind of bussing: Whitman High School and Bannockburn Elementary School, for example, held exchange programs with Washington DC schools.
Rosemary Hills Elementary School, in Silver Spring, was a diverse school with several progressive educational programs in place. In the early 1970s, with apparently no prior communication with the community, Superintendent Elseroad announced that the next year Rosemary Hills would be closed, and turned into “model school” which only 10% of the children in the school district would attend; the rest would be bussed to other schools, including Rollingwood in Chevy Chase. A group of both white and black parents, angered by the plan and the way in which it was announced, quickly organized parents and teachers against the proposal, which was seen as a racially motivated maneuver, as Rosemary Hills had the potential to become a majority black school.
The original model school plan was abandoned, and for several years the school continued on its progressive track. Community involvement in the school rose; the crisis at Rosemary Hills, as one participating parent said, “forced us in the community to look at ourselves and really to begin to examine very closely and very carefully where we are going.”
In 1976, Rosemary Hills was once again affected by integration issues, as were many other schools. A plan was devised whereby all students aged Kindergarten through 2nd grade in the Rosemary Hills and Chevy Chase Elementary School districts would attend Rosemary Hills; all children aged 3rd through 6th grades in the same areas would attend Chevy Chase. The plan was hotly debated at its initial inception, and by 1981, the complaints were increasing. As it was during the initial integration of schools, the issue was portrayed by some as an economic, not racial, problem, with the divide between wealthy Chevy Chase and less affluent Silver Spring highlighted by the split school. In 1982, more elementary schools were closed, and students were returned to “consolidated, integrated K-6 schools,” according to a 1983 article in the Montgomery Journal.
Today, Rosemary Hills – nicknamed The Rainbow School, because of its diverse student body – is once again a K-2 school, with an instructional program focused on math, science and computers. Students go on to Chevy Chase Elementary or North Chevy Chase Elementary for 3-5, and are part of the Westland Middle School/Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cluster.
Montgomery Blair High School
Montgomery Blair High School, originally the Takoma Park-Silver Spring High School, opened its Wayne Avenue building in 1934. Twenty-five black students enrolled at Blair in the fall of 1955. In 1960, the Washington Star used Blair’s first desegregated graduating class as an example of integration’s success.
By 1971, along with many schools around the country, Blair was suffering a number of ills. High school students across the nation were questioning authority, exploring students’ rights, and refusing to attend classes. Several down-county schools, the Washington Post reported, were suffering from this kind of rebellion, but Blair was also in the throes of “growing racial unrest.” “Though Blair is still almost 90 per cent white,” the Post stated, “the number of black students has more than tripled over the past two years,” going from 80 (out of 2,300) pupils in September of 1968 to over 260 at the start of the 1971 school year. The population of the lower part of the county was beginning to change; the white residents were getting older, with fewer children in school, and younger African American, Latino and Asian families were moving in.
By 1982, Blair’s enrollment was down, but the percentage of minority students had exceeded the School Board’s “acceptable” level of 60%. Rather than close the school altogether, in 1985 a math and science Magnet program was put into the school, which would draw gifted-and-talented students from all over the county, and hopefully thus redress the “racial imbalance.”
By the early 1990s, Blair was considered the most ethnically diverse school in Montgomery County. For many students, this was considered a point of pride. Although some educational theories discredit the effectiveness of Magnet programs, and indeed the new system of consortium programs in MCPS down-county schools supersedes the Magnet to a certain extent, Blair is still one of the most diverse (and largest) schools in the county.
Preserving School History
Only a few of the old Rosenwald schools, and even fewer of the smaller one-room buildings, from the days of segregation are still standing. The four consolidated elementary schools still exist, in use by the school system as special education centers, offices and storage. The old Rockville Colored High School is long gone. Lincoln, which has weathered various demolition threats, is occupied by a church; it has been a Rockville Historic District since 1990. Carver, which has been used as the Board of Education office since 1961, was recently part of a controversial plan to tear down and construct a new, more efficient building (since, after all, Carver was designed as a high school, not offices). Many strong voices opposed such a plan, and Carver is still standing; it was given Rockville Historic District status in 2002. The name of George Washington Carver, which had been removed in 1961 with the conversion, was eventually restored to the building after historians, alumni and the local NAACP protested.