Carver High School & Junior College

The Heart of a Community 1951-1960 | Montgomery County, Maryland

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 their education.

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 Trustees.

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 facilities.

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

Video

segregation videoSegregation in American Society: Interview with Faith Davis Ruffins, Curator, African American History and Culture, Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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