The 3 R's and segregation Living classroom: Hosanna School, which served black students during the segregation era, offers pupils an opportunity to live history by spending a day there.

September 28, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The students in Janet Adams' fourth-grade class aren't denied a bus ride to school because of the color of their skin. They don't have to fetch a pail of water every school day. They don't get spanked by their teacher for misbehaving.

But when they visited a restored one-room schoolhouse yesterday, the 25 Harford County students got a taste of what school was like for black youngsters who attended the Hosanna School north of Darlington from 1867 to 1946.

After a 12-year restoration effort, the Hosanna School is a tangible lesson for Harford students and residents who might otherwise know little about the days of segregation and the accomplishments of blacks despite hardships.

"This is an important segment of Harford County history, which they would not be able to get any other way, because they won't find it in their textbooks," said Christine Tolbert, a former Hosanna student who worked with other former students and teachers to have the building restored. State grants totaling $150,000 have been used to restore Hosanna and one other school in Harford.

Established in 1867 by the Freedmen's Bureau. a government agency set up to help newly freed slaves, Hosanna was one of several similar schools around Maryland. Even after Hosanna was taken over by Harford County, black teachers were paid less, students used outdated books but were expected to pass the same countywide exams given to whites, and less money was provided for basic supplies such as desks for teachers and paper.

Hosanna offers Harford students an opportunity to live history by spending a day there, hearing from former students and teachers and learning their own lessons in the setting.

The wooden frame building, now painted tan with green shutters and a maroon door, sits on a grassy field next to Hosanna AME Church onCastleton Road. A hurricane blew off the second story of the building in the 1950s.

Three vertical wooden beams bisect the room, and windows on either side overlook a small cemetery and a horse pasture. Original slate chalkboards and a slightly raised stage line one wall of the room. Volunteers are looking for more vintage wood and iron desks to go with the five they have found.

Shirley Dunsen, 61, led the visiting students through much of the morning routine she remembered from attending the school in the 1940s, complete with a pledge of allegiance to an American flag with 48 stars instead of 50.

"We had a big, old pot-bellied stove," said Mrs. Dunsen, pointing toward the center of the room. "So we had to have somebody bring in the firewood."

The old story of walking miles to school in the snow sounded less like a cliche coming from Mrs. Dunsen, now a prekindergarten teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School.

"I lived on a farm not too far down this road. We had to walk out the lane, and then come up this highway and then up to school. I don't ever remember winters being that cold after I grew up. We would stand around the pot-bellied stove to try to warm our hands."

And watching the white students ride by on buses made the cold sting more.

"They passed us on the road, and it didn't matter that our parents were property owners and taxpayers," said Gladys Williams, a former student and teacher.

Mrs. Williams, who would not reveal her age, taught up to 40 first- through seventh-graders in the school's one room in the 1940s -- among them Mrs. Dunsen and Mrs. Tolbert.

"Would you be surprised if I told you, not only was I the teacher, I was the nurse, the head janitor, a baby-sitter, a cook; I was the music teacher and the drama teacher all in one?"

Nine-year-old Stephen Morton was impressed by the stories.

"It seems that it was a lot of work for the kids," he said.

And Taylor Hegeman, also 9, was struck by the reality of life under segregation. "I think that it is not real fair that blacks had to walk and the white children had transportation."

Such reactions make visiting Hosanna worthwhile.

"They don't get the history [in class] that they get coming out here," said Cindy White, who accompanied her son's class. "If anything, these kids need to see that, since they are not exposed to black-and-white issues like other schools are."

Prospect Mill Elementary School, half-way between Bel Air and Churchville, had a 2 percent black population last school year, and none came in the class that visited today. Twelve percent of all Harford students are black.

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