School recommended for National Register

July 24, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

The red-brick architecture of Wiley H. Bates High School is not distinguished, and tourists do not visit it when they come seeking history in the Colonial city of Annapolis. But a state advisory panel says that as a monument to social history, the shell of the once-segregated school rates a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Governor's Consulting Committee on the National Register recommended Wednesday that the vacant school -- restricted to only black students from 1932 to 1966 -- be put on the list.

In presenting the application to the committee, Ron Andrews of the Maryland Historical Trust said the applicants noted that the school represented an effort to create a "separate but equal" school for black students. That concept was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision outlawing school segregation.

Despite its ordinary architecture and relatively recent construction, committee member Robert M. Vogel of Washington said the school was recognized for its "cultural significance." The recommendation, he said, is part of an effort by state and federal governments to recognize more places that are relevant to African-American history.

The recommendation will be passed to the state historic preservation officer, J. Rodney Little, then to the National Register, a division of the Department of the Interior. The listing does not restrict use or renovation of the building, which was constructed in stages between 1932 and the 1950s.

Although the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in 1954, the practice did not end at Bates until 1966, after which the school was used as an integrated junior high school. The building has been vacant for about 10 years, said Jean Creek, president of the Wiley H. Bates Foundation. Ms. Creek, who holds a doctoral degree in education, graduated from Bates in 1963.

The historic application was made by the foundation, one of three groups working to renovate the school as a community center and apartments for elderly people. Ms. Creek, president of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said if the listing is approved, it could help local groups get loans or grants for the renovation, estimated at $10 million.

"But more importantly, it validates the fact that our experiences there were historically relevant," Ms. Creek said. "It has been finally placed in the annals of the history of our county and our country."

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