NAACP honors educators 3 men fought to teach blacks

June 07, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Before Howard County schools were desegregated, Morris Woodson taught his black students with secondhand books in one-, two- and three-room schoolhouses. When space got too tight, students were taught in empty school buses and in the church chapel at Mount Gregory United Methodist.

Yesterday, the Howard County NAACP Youth Council honored Dr. Woodson and two other pioneers -- Silas E. Craft and Elhart E. Flurry -- who struggled in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s to shape the educational system for blacks in Howard County.

About 150 family and friends, NAACP representatives, former students and colleagues, paid homage to the three men as part of the council's first Appreciation Day.

"They've been very instrumental in paving roads for minority youth in Howard County," said Bessie Bordenave, youth adviser for the NAACP Youth Council.

The Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford, where the ceremony was held, portrayed the men as early civil rights activists.

"These three gentlemen have been on the front lines for a long time, moving in their own forceful way," Mr. Wright said. "They have made a great contribution as pioneers in education."

Under the segregated system, the three men said, they had to fight for up-to-date textbooks and properly functioning equipment.

"The greatest challenge was obtaining teaching materials," said Dr. Craft, who became the first principal of the now defunct Harriet Tubman High School in 1949. The building is next to Atholton High School in Columbia.

Dr. Craft said that when he arrived in Howard County in August 1944, he received a load of used textbooks. He promptly sent them back and was rewarded with a set of brand new books.

The men said they had to be aggressive to get what they needed to teach students.

"It was really a struggle to get what you needed," said Mr. Flurry, who was recurited in 1950 by Dr. Craft to teach history and business at Harriet Tubman.

Book shortages were common.

"It was hard to bring a school up to date all at once because of limited funds," said Dr. Woodson, who came to the county in 1947 as a part-time supervisor of Howard County Colored Elementary Schools and part-time teacher at Cooksville High School, teaching math and physical education.

Although segregation officially ended in Howard County in 1965, many of the challenges facing black students then remain, the men said.

"There's still a need for the Black Student Achievement Program," said Mr. Flurry, referring to the countywide program that seeks to improve minority students' academic achievement.

Dr. Craft agreed.

"Equality of opportunity is still denied blacks," he said. "Discrimination in housing and mortgage practices -- those are vices that keep us from having a really strong America."

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