Integration's Pioneers Remember When Barriers Fell

BLACK HISTORY a celebration

February 28, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Brenda Bowen Carter can still see herself, a little girl of 12, squeezed into a school bus seat with two other black children, wide-eyed and afraid.

Surrounded by white children for the first time, "We didn't move or talk," Carter remembers. "All the other kids knew each other and were having a good time. We were scared to death."

It was the first day of school in 1959, and integration had just begun.

Carter had spent six years -- happy ones -- at Pumphrey Elementary, where being black didn't matter because everyone was. But during the sixth grade, the realization began to dawn that color mattered, though in some way she couldn't quite fathom.

"I could just feel it," Carter says. The endless rounds of meetings her parents started attending, the tours of different schools, the concerned whispers all hinted at some important, impending change.

In 1965, Carter graduated with the first Brooklyn Park High School class to include blacks.

For African-Americans like Carter, who worked or grew up in Anne Arundel before the dawn of civil rights, black history is more than an academic discipline; it is something they have lived.

Orion Jones, 43, remembers going out of his way to avoid passing a restaurant at West and Calvert streets in Annapolis, where the owner used to throw hot water at blacks who crossed his path.

Leslie Stanton, 40, of Annapolis, recalls being called into the guidance office at Bates Middle School and accused of "touching" a white girl.

He remembers, too, the day Martin Luther King was shot, when former Annapolis Mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer and black leaders Zastrow Simms and George Phelps raced into the black communities to quell unrest before it exploded.

An earlier generation -- the generation that still calls blacks "coloreds" -- has memories of its own.

Walter Mills, a former Parole Elementary principal still living in Annapolis, was the plaintiff in a 1938 lawsuit against the Anne Arundel Board of Education. The result was a court order ending the long-standing policy whereby black teachers were paid less than their white counterparts. Thurgood Marshall, who later was appointed to the Supreme Court, represented Mills and his fellow teachers.

"I always felt, as a young man coming up as a teacher, and a principal, that we deserved the same thing as everyone else," Mills says. "That's why I volunteered (to be the plaintiff)."

Morris Blum is white, but in 1947 he founded WANN radio and reached out to a black audience with gospel music and offers of employment to any man who could do the job.

"I used to get it good inthe early days," he says. "How would you like to get a phone call saying, 'Why must you play that nigger music?' We were very courteous. We said, 'Fine, there are other dials. Turn them.' "

Philip L. Brown, 83, author of the book, "A Century of 'Separate but Equal': Education in Anne Arundel County," was teaching when black students had nobus transportation, a single high school and a shorter school year than whites.

Not all his memories are bad.

"There was almost a colored Annapolis and a white Annapolis," recalls Brown. "That didn't bother us. That was the way it was."

Mirroring the national civil rights movement, local black history revolved around schools. Though blacks did see some advances during the 1930s and 1940s -- the court victory giving black teachers equal pay was most significant -- substantive changes did not begin until after the Supreme Court's landmarkBrown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

Reaction in Anne Arundel was mixed, says Philip Brown. Blacks were pleased, but apprehensive about how their children would be treated in a white school.

Some whites joined the new National Association for the Advancement ofWhite People. A group of West River parents issued a proclamation demanding a referendum on integration and insisting that no child be compelled to be taught by someone of another race, "to prevent development of an inferiority complex."

From the Brown decision until 1966, when all local schools were desegregated, black students had a choice of enrolling at the white school in their local district or of remaining in an all-black school. For high school students, that meant Wiley H. Bates High School in Annapolis.

"Most were content to go to Bates," said Jones. "Our friends were there, we'd gone there all our lives. Let's face it, most of us knew we weren't really wanted at the white school. There were fights, taunts, comments on the bathroom walls. Who wants to go through that?"

Jones went through it, graduating from Annapolis High School in 1966. He was the first black student to play in the school band.

"There was one little black face in it, and that was mine," he said. "I'd get comments from the blacks,like, 'Why are you there?' "

Carter looks back with a tinge of regret at all the things she missed because she was different.

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