With a twist of irony, Beulah Buckner and her colleagues at the Central Maryland Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and GenealogicalSociety are turning a contemporary beacon of "separate but equal" into a place where black Americans can discover their own past.
The society plans to turn the one-room, tin-roof Ellicott City Colored School into a research center complete with tools such as vertical files, card catalog, a computer, microfilm and microfiche. Even the two outhouses on the west side are slated to be restored to functioning restrooms.
What stands between them and a dream realized is an estimated $400,000. The money will go toward restoring the school to how it lookedwhen built in 1880, landscaping, making the center handicapped accessible and installing temperature controlled rooms for the protection of historical documents.
The school was closed because of its unstable condition one year before the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. In Howard County, schools were not fully integrated until more than a decade after the Supreme Court decision.
Students who would have been taught at the school were sent down Main Street to the new Ellicott City Colored School on Fel's Lane.
The society recently received $28,000 in grants -- $14,000 each from the county and the state -- that is earmarked for retaining an architect who will draw up restoration and landscaping plans.
According to Buckner, by early this year, the society will have decided on the fund-raiser to garner the $400,000. The group hopes to complete the project in two years.
One artifact on display in the center is an 1860 Martinett map of Howard County. It is of special interest to blacks with ancestors who lived in the county because the mapmakers designatedblack property owners with "Col,d" -- for colored, an unsettling racial distinction that aids genealogists today.
The Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society is an organization dedicated to theresearch and publication of information on the black experience in the United States. Based in Washington, the 13-year-old organization claims 20 chapters nationwide, with the Central Maryland chapter as its oldest. Its origins were in the efforts of people researching theirgenealogy.