A quiet triumph over segregation

The Education Beat

Administrator: Rebecca Carroll had to leave the state to earn a graduate degree. She returned to help change the system that forced her departure.

October 06, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT'S A SAD IRONY THAT racial segregation changed Rebecca Carroll's life -- for the better.

In a sense, segregation led her to a husband, a graduate degree and a career leading to the second rung of the Baltimore school administration.

Carroll, who died last week at age 81, was one of hundreds of African-American teachers treated by Maryland taxpayers to fine graduate programs in other states lest they sully the lily-white University of Maryland.

After she graduated with honors from then-Coppin Teachers College, Rebecca Evans earned her master's degree at the University of Chicago, all expenses paid by her home state. It was in Chicago that she met her husband, James Carroll. She returned to Baltimore to teach, and the entire sixth grade of her school, No. 116 at Orleans and Aisquith streets, attended their wedding in 1943.

The University of Chicago wasn't the only quality institution that played host to black Marylanders. New York University held weekend classes so city teachers could board a train at Penn Station after school Friday and return Sunday afternoon. Columbia, Oberlin, Howard, the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University and the University of Hawaii also participated in what was called the "Out-of-State Scholarship Program."

By 1949, the program was supporting 400 students. But after the Supreme Court's monumental desegregation decision in 1954, segregation crumbled. The scholarship program did, too.

When she returned from Chicago, a master's degree in hand, Carroll rose quickly in the separate but unequal "colored" system and was ready and willing to make the transition when Baltimore dismantled its dual system in the mid-1950s.

Maryland public officials never expressed shame, and Carroll, whom I knew for three decades and interviewed dozens of times, never expressed bitterness, at least publicly.

In one interview, she chuckled as she told me of the lengths white administrators would go to keep their distance -- and their perquisites -- after she was appointed supervisor and assigned an office at 25th Street headquarters. Book salesmen would give samples to white educators, ignoring the diminutive black woman seated at the next desk.

In 1991, a decade after her retirement, Carroll took up pen and wrote her memoirs in longhand.

Published five years later, they provide glimpses of a Baltimore life unknown in many circles.

The memoirs, "Snapshots: The Thoughts and Experiences of an African-American Woman," are full of large, triumphant moments and small, poignant ones. Among the latter is the memory of her father, a non-Catholic, standing apart from the crowd in an adjacent block, watching his little girl in her church's May procession.

Without rancor, Rebecca Carroll fought quiet battles for those who would come later, and for those in the new millennium: women, African-Americans and the poor of the city where she was born, lived and died.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Pius V Roman Catholic Church, Edmondson Avenue and Schroeder Street.

Coppin's Burnett gets vote for educator of century

Sidney Krome, a professor of English and former vice president at Coppin State College, and Calvin Burnett, Coppin president for almost 30 years, have not always seen eye to eye. But that didn't stop Krome from nominating Burnett as Maryland educator of the century.

"I nominate him for one reason," Krome writes. "Because of him, Coppin State College is still here, still a viable institution of higher education serving its community, the city and the state."

Krome goes on to relate what he calls the most serious threat to Coppin: an attempt in 1991 to merge the college and Morgan State University.

Powerful people and institutions, including The Sun, supported the merger, Krome says, but it took Burnett's "integrity and courage" to save the college from becoming the North Avenue campus of Morgan.

Other possibilities among Maryland college presidents: H. Mebane Turner, who has led the University of Baltimore from private to public and greatly expanded its programs and prestige during a three-decade presidency; and John S. Toll, septuagenarian former president of the University of Maryland who came out of retirement to lend his unrivaled enthusiasm to the presidency of Washington College in Chestertown.

Nominations remain open.

Nation's year 2000 goals for education remain unmet

Half the nation's governors and President Clinton met last weekend in Palisades, N.Y., to discuss the national education goals for the year 2000 established 10 years ago at the first summit in Charlottesville, Va.

With the year 2000 12 1/2 weeks away, not one of the goals has been reached.

"I think the goals were too high. There was no teeth in them," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, the only governor present at the 1989 and 1999 summits.

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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