A long life's mission, in longhand Memoirs: A retired Baltimore educator found therapeutic benefit in recording her remembrances. Now, she hopes to share her remarkable story with others.

The Education Beat

April 17, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

When Rebecca Carroll's husband, Jim, died five years ago, she says she felt the need for emotional outlet. She started writing the story of her life, page after page, day after day -- in longhand.

"I guess I was trying to maintain myself emotionally," says Dr. Carroll, 78, in her Morgan Park home. "It was almost like therapy."

Including a number of Dr. Carroll's speeches and papers in a career of nearly half a century in city schools, the memoirs total well over 500 pages. She reached closure recently and sent the package to a publisher.

"People kept asking me why I didn't share it with others as long as I'd gone to the trouble," she says, "so I'm going to."

If they add a library to the new Blaustein City Life Museum, these writings could find a home there.

Tentatively titled "Snapshots: Experiences and Thoughts of an African American Woman," the memoirs provide glimpses of a segment of Baltimore history unknown in many circles.

Named for her grandmother, the former Rebecca Evans grew up in a rowhouse on Dolphin Street. She was raised strictly, attended Catholic schools, was precocious. She "felt rich," she writes, although her parents had to struggle to raise her and her sister.

There are happy snapshots -- of fireworks on the Fourth of July, churning ice cream. Rebecca's father, a non-Catholic, would stand apart from the crowd in an adjacent block to watch her in her church's May procession, "just to display his interest."

The memories are mostly pleasant, but by no means all of them. She was ignored by sales clerks and shocked when, as a little girl, she went with her mom to the Basilica of the Assumption and saw the "Colored Only" sign on the last three pews. "Suppose God was black and wanted to worship in the shrine," she writes. "Where would he be able to sit?"

And later, when she became a supervisor in city schools, book salesmen would give a sample to the white educator, ignoring the black seated at the next desk.

"To them it seemed right and proper for the whites to be in charge," she writes.

But Dr. Carroll is far from bitter. Indeed, she regards with some amusement that Maryland taxpayers treated her to a master's degree at the excellent University of Chicago (where she met her future husband in the early '40s) to avoid mixing races at the University of Maryland.

"The odd or curious thing about me is that I thoroughly enjoyed and was challenged by each assignment," she writes. "Yet when each came I was moved to tears. My forte was my scholarship and knowledge of the educational process and my availability to people."

Dr. Carroll's memoirs aren't those of a famous Baltimorean, but they ring with humanity.

She reached the second-highest rung in city schools, deputy superintendent. She says she was offered the superintendency in the early 1980s, "but by then I was ready to retire."

Retired since 1981, Dr. Carroll has continued her volunteer work as head of a program seeking a reduction in teen pregnancy in Baltimore, but she has resigned board memberships at Maryland Public Television and Morgan State University to spend more time visiting her daughter Constance Carroll, president of San Diego Mesa College in California. "I've changed," she says. "In the memoirs, what I feel as a girl is mostly happiness, support and joy. But then I left the cocoon and, like everyone else, I met the storms."

Among the storms was the racism. "The fault lies with both groups," she says. "You've got hardened isolationists on both sides, some with deep hatred. The schools haven't done nearly enough to work on relationships between the races.

"People don't talk about race in Baltimore, or they don't want to talk about it. So the children in the inner city don't know what it's like in the suburbs, and vice versa. It's a major dilemma."

Rebecca Carroll is of a passing generation of highly educated African-American teachers who passed a grueling three-day examination to be certified. Many, like Dr. Carroll, earned their advanced degrees elsewhere at Maryland public expense, returning home to become the elite of the city's black educators.

But few have written about those experiences. "I found that I developed a far greater knowledge of myself through the act of writing about myself," says Dr. Carroll. Following is from the platform of the Council of the Allied Associations of Public School Teachers of Baltimore, dated May 15, 1918:

"For every child:

"A full day's schooling in a clean, bright room with pure air and proper temperature.

"Light that will not injure the eyes.

"A seat adjusted to his growing body.

"Opportunity to keep clean.

"Protection from the physically diseased, the morally unfit and the mentally defective.

"For the sub-normal child:

"Medical inspection that will detect his physical or mental troubles.

"Medical advice that will remove or alleviate mental or physical trouble whenever such removal or alleviation is possible.

"Removal from classes whose work he cannot follow.

"Special instruction which will give him the maximum development compatible with his sub-normality.

"For the morally sub-normal child:

"Supervision and guidance by those specially qualified to deal with his sub-normality."

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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