In Stanton School, black history lessons

March 11, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Philip L. Brown had to be there yesterday when the county handed over ownership of the old Stanton School to the city of Annapolis.

"I came here to this school, for elementary through high school," he said, proudly displaying a yellowed diploma from his 1922 grade school graduation. "I had the experience of coming back and teaching here, teaching in the same fifth-grade room that I sat as a student."

The school, now known as the Stanton Community Center, has been a part of the city's black community since just after the Civil War. Community and city leaders hope the center will anchor the revitalization of the Clay Street neighborhood.

As a start, Annapolis will spend $227,000 to repair the center's windows and leaky roof.

The center sits in what used to be the heart of the 4th Ward, a thriving community of homes, businesses, hotels, churches and a movie theater.

Most accounts say the Stanton School was founded in 1867 in Parole by the Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency developed to help the newly freed slaves.

It was named in honor of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who helped secure lumber from an old prison barracks in Parole. The school moved to West Washington Street in 1869, after President Andrew Johnson disbanded the Freedmen's Bureau.

Mr. Brown, who has written two books on the history of Annapolis' black community, said his research indicates there was an earlier school in Parole, but the building known as the Stanton School was not built until near the turn of the century.

Mr. Brown also said that while he taught at the school he used his experiences as a student "to try to stimulate some of the boys who seemed to need a little bit more motivation and stimulation to learn. . . . And I told them, 'Where you are sitting is where I once sat,' and now here I was occupying the teacher's desk.

Some of them, I think, got the point."

The school closed in 1964, when county schools were integrated; the building was reopened as a community center in 1968. The neighborhood around the school remained vital until the arrival of urban renewal in the early 1970s.

The center already houses several community service and recreation programs, as well as a gym.

Annapolis Councilwoman Maureen Lamb said yesterday's ceremony was "long overdue." The transfer, in which the county sold the building to Annapolis for $1, was approved by the County Council in January.

"This building to me is a tribute to the people in Annapolis after the Civil War who worked very, very hard to make sure that the less fortunate people, the black people . . . received an education, learned to read and write," Ms. Lamb said.

She said she would help start a foundation that would make sure the Stanton Center continues to receive sufficient funding "to make sure it becomes a memorial to and a tribute to the black people of this area."

Alderman Dean Johnson of the 2nd Ward noted that the building is all that is left, besides the churches, of the once-thriving 4th Ward.

"The stores are gone. The theater is gone. The hotels are gone," he said.

But it is the people who attended Stanton School, he said, who have been the stable presence in the community.

"It's up to us . . . to ensure that future dreams are generated here," he said. "That the people who walk through the door are better when they walk a out."

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