Segregation: Opportunities and Obstacles
1866 to 1927
Change came slowly.
Yet for many African Americans, born into segregation, the glimmer of new
opportunities was unmistakeable.
Since the first elementary school for African
American children opened in Montgomery County in 1866, at least 40 more had
opened by 1927, the result of sheer determination and hard work on the part
of a community to which education was once denied. Now, more than 60 years
after the end of slavery, the dream of having a high school would become a
reality. For the first time, African American students would not have to leave
Montgomery County to complete their education.
1927: Rockville Colored High School
Scarce resources meant that the new Rockville Colored High School would be a
modest facility. Another 25 years would have to pass before a high school equal
to the ones for White students would be built, a school that would inspire
students as much as did its namesake, George Washington Carver.
Rockville Colored High opened in the fall of 1927
with 40 students — 22 girls and 18 boys in Grade 8
— in a long yellow three-room building. Some
people thought the school, with all its windows on
one side, looked like a "chicken house," according
to the records of Professor Noah Clarke, chairman
of the United Trustees of Montgomery County,
the group of African American community leaders
who lobbied the county Board of Education for
permission to establish the school. But, to its
founders and students, Rockville Colored High
School looked like something entirely different: it
looked like opportunity.
Each year, the school added a grade so that
by 1931, Rockville served students in
Grades 8-11, the highest grade available to
students at that time.
Opportunities and obstacles at Rockville Colored High
Though the promise embodied in the new
school was real, so too were the obstacles.
Irregular attendance was not uncommon, as
students stayed out to fulfill farm chores in
the then-agrarian county. Money was a
persistent problem. In fact, the community
itself raised a good part of the funds to
build the school, and additional funds were
provided by the Rosenwald Fund, created
by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald of Sears,
Roebuck and Company to improve opportunities
for African Americans. Scant funds
and no standard school terms also meant
that the African American schools often
closed earlier in the spring and opened later
in the fall than the White schools.
But the biggest discouragement may have
been the long and arduous commute for many students. Passing by White high
schools much closer to their homes, some students traveled well over 20 miles
to reach the Rockville school, located near what is now the intersection of
North Washington and Beall streets, in the midst of a thriving business and
residential neighborhood for African Americans. Once again the community, led
by the United Trustees, dug into its pockets and bought a used Model T bus.
The seller of the bus was the county Board of Education. A year later, the
community purchased a second bus from a Baltimore company, and later yet
the Board gave the school a third bus. The United Trustees continued to pay for
the drivers and the maintenance, however, and students paid a monthly fee to
ride the bus. Depending on how far
they lived from the school, students
paid up to $6 a month for bus
service, a hardship for many students
and another deterrent to continuing
The Great Depression hits Rockville High
The problems for the schools intensified
during the Great Depression as
businesses shuttered their doors and
jobs vanished. In 1930 the Board agreed to provide a $2 monthly allowance to offset
the cost for each student who rode the bus. In 1933,
the Board took over the costs of the maintenance of
the buses and the salaries of drivers from the United
Despite the deepening shadow of the Depression, the
Rockville school showed steady progress during its
early years. By 1931, it had expanded its curriculum,
hired more staff, and added some sports. However,
the seemingly contradictory challenges of student
retention and rapidly increasing enrollment remained.
Of the 40 eighth graders who entered Rockville in
1927, only nine completed Grade 11. At the same
time, the growing enrollment burdened the alreadyminimal
By 1931, the Board rented additional space in a nearby
building from the Order of Galilean Fisherman, an organization dedicated to
community service, to supplement classroom space. The high school also started
holding chemistry classes in the basement of Rockville Colored Elementary
School next door. Finally, in 1932, under community
pressure, the Board approved the establishment of a new
high school to replace Rockville Colored High. This time,
the Board would pay for the school, though the United
Trustees were instrumental in getting the project approved.
1935: Lincoln High School
Lincoln High School opened in 1935 on an 8-1/2-acre
lot on Stonestreet Avenue in the African American
community of Lincoln Park in Rockville. Although the
much larger building resolved, at least temporarily, the
space problems of the old school, it was not quite the "brick building" that the United Trustees had requested.
Piece by piece, an old abandoned wooden building in
Takoma Park was dismantled and reassembled on the Lincoln Park site and
reclad in red bricks. Nonetheless, the "new" school was still cause for celebration.
The six classrooms allowed a broadening of the academic offerings and
accommodated more students and staff. That first year, 236 students in Grades
8-11 could choose from three curricula — academic, general and vocational — and
a wide variety of extracurricular activities.
Next: Segregation: Strides to Equality