Alumni gather to remember Robert Moton School


April 12, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Sidney Sheppard recalls wearing a coat all day in school to stay warm even though the furnace ran full blast, going to the bathroom in outhouses and conducting science labs with candles rather than Bunsen burners.

The former Robert Moton School in Westminster lacked the supplies and resources of other schools in Carroll County, but the dedication of its teachers helped compensate for the shortcomings, said Mr. Sheppard, who attended an annual reunion Friday night for the last all-black school in the county to close its doors.

And though Moton students faced adversity, their school

experiences were in some ways richer than those of black students in integrated schools today, said several alumni.

"It's important to remember the struggle black folks had to go to school," said Mr. Sheppard, a 1939 graduate who returned to teach and coach at the newly built, more modern Moton from 1951 to 1956.

"In the days of segregation, it wasn't easy for blacks to get to school," he said. "Many had to walk long distances or ride longer distances on unheated buses that may or may not break down. We had hand-me-down books and desks. But we had excellent teachers."

Mr. Sheppard, 69, a Baltimore resident and retired city teacher, is vice president of Former Students of Robert Moton School Inc., a 20-year-old committee formed to keep alive a common heritage and to raise college scholarship money for promising black students from Carroll.

The non-profit corporation has awarded $31,300 in scholarships to 59 black county students since 1974. It aims to give a $700 scholarship to one student from each of the county's five high schools every year.

"We need to keep this going for the sake of black students in Carroll County," said Theresa Franklin, a 1947 Moton graduate who has been a teacher in Baltimore City schools since 1968. "So many aren't recognized. This gives us a chance to go into schools to see which students could benefit from higher education."

The last all-black class graduated from Moton in 1965, after which the county took steps to integrate all schools in the predominantly white district. For many years, Moton was the only county high school for blacks, who came from elementary schools in scattered small communities as far as 15 miles away. The school included all grade levels. Even though the county began desegregation in the late 1950s, many blacks chose to stay at Moton.

About 400 former students, relatives and friends attended the fund-raising event at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm in Westminster. Several alumni credited Moton's tight-knit community atmosphere and the commitment of teachers, some of whom drove two-hour bus routes for no pay, with helping to produce graduates who went on to professional careers in education, business, law, corrections, medicine, government service and politics.

"The teachers not only knew the students personally, but they knew the families," said Mr. Sheppard. "It made it easier to teach."

Alumni also worry that black students in today's predominantly white county schools aren't getting the same encouragement and attention that Moton students received.

"I suspect teachers are not making the same demands on them to excel and behave that teachers made on us," Mr. Sheppard said. "My concern is that a white teacher sees a black student sitting in front of her, and she doesn't see a Ben Carson [the renowned pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital]. She sees a Michael Jordan. A lot of Ben Carsons are being lost."

Betty Dotson, a 1945 Moton graduate who later taught there and at other all-black and integrated Carroll schools, said parents of Moton children worked closely with teachers and "insisted that their kids learn.

"Now we find that some black children in integrated schools aren't doing their very best, and in some cases they're not encouraged to do their very best," she said.

Ms. Dotson and William S. Hudson, a food administrator at Springfield Hospital Center and a 1959 Moton graduate, say black students in predominantly white schools would benefit from having more black teachers as role models.

Mr. Hudson said he learned a lot about black history and culture in school, but much of the knowledge was gleaned from teachers, not books.

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