Experienced Black Women Share Insights with MTH Staff

On Dec. 17, teachers from Mt. Hebron invited two women, Reverend Gertie Williams and Montia Gardner to sit on a panel at the Ellicott City Colored School and explain the function of segregation in schools and its effects on our society today. They were given the opportunity to voice their own experiences and opinions on the matter.

The first school for colored students in Howard County, the Ellicott City Colored School was built in 1880 to satisfy a new law in Maryland to build education facilities for colored students. Despite complaints from parents about poor lighting as well as overcrowded and hazardous conditions, the school was able to stay open until 1953.

Though schools have become integrated and laws have been mandated, there are still similarities between segregated schools from the past and the integrated schools of the present. The struggle for equality for African-American students has always existed. There is still a sense of mistrust and miscommunication between students, teachers and parents, as discussed by these two guests.

“Races are misrepresented in schools, and tensions between students coming from different backgrounds and races continue to exist,” Montia Gardner explained.

Reverend Williams spoke about her experiences attending a colored school in the 1950s. She mentioned the “lack of supervision” and overall support given to the students within the black community, stating that their communities had to “stick together and look after one another because no one else did,” she said.

She recalled getting to the one-room schoolhouse a couple of hours before school was supposed to start and mentioned that those in the community would take them into their homes until the teachers arrived.

There were multiple grades clustered together in one classroom, with only a partition separating the grades. There were no playgrounds and the school systems did not provide accommodations, such as electricity, so the teachers and students brought items from home to make do.

Students relied on a single cup of water per day, and sometimes had to walk up to a mile outside of the school to retrieve it. Additionally, the only heat source the one-roomed schoolhouse had was a single coal fire stove, which was used to make stew with vegetables for lunches.

Williams also talked about how the curriculum of the colored school was very similar to the curriculum of the white schools, but the difference between the two were the class materials. Textbooks and other school-related items were all hand-me-downs, which were scribbled in, written all over, and even torn apart.

Gardner talked about the progress that has been made since then. Aside from integration, schools have gone a step further to include students of different races and minority groups through clubs and other activities.

Renowned figures who have contributed their share in integration efforts include Booker T. Washington, who helped empower African Americans through acceptance, and Julius Rosenwald, who encouraged moving forward through equal and higher opportunities.

From segregation to integration, thousands of people have been impacted by the changes being made to school systems everywhere. People like Reverend Williams and Gardner continue to educate and voice their experiences and insights in relation to the need for equality and acceptance today.

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