King breakfast stirs alumni's memories

They recall the trials of segregated schooling

January 14, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

As former students of Robert Moton School gathered in Westminster yesterday for their 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial breakfast, they reminisced about their days at what was once the only high school for black students in Carroll County.

The breakfasts started in 1987 to remember King, to raise scholarship money - more than $62,000 to date - for African-American students in Carroll and "because we wanted some action taking place in Carroll County that was sponsored by African-Americans," said Sidney Sheppard, a 77-year-old alumnus who later returned to teach and coach.

The audience of more than 300 heard stirring hymns from the Morgan State University Choir and a rousing sermon from the Rev. Michael Thomas, pastor of Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. Payne preached on the Jews' deliverance from Egypt.

Robert Moton alumni had their own tales of the oppression they said they overcame, often thanks to their teachers.

"The teachers we had are the reason why so many of us are successful today," said Sharon Hammond Jones of Westminster.

The first Moton school, a clapboard building on Church Street in Westminster, lacked indoor plumbing, had sporadic heat in winter, hand-me-down desks and ragged textbooks. But it had great teachers, many of them alumni, the former students said.

Until about 1960, black children attended segregated elementary schools throughout the county, but if they wanted a high school education, they had to find transportation to Moton, a 12-grade school.

When Sheppard started first grade there in the 1930s, he paid 10 cents a day to ride the only available bus - a steep price for many families at the height of the Depression, he said. Many students dropped out before high school. "At that time, the county was not too anxious for black kids to go to high school, and most kids couldn't get there," said Sheppard.

George Crawford, principal at the time, took out a personal loan and bought a bus. His superintendent told him if he missed a payment, he would be fired. "He kept his job because our families kept raising money to pay the loan," said Sheppard.

The alumni group also includes other retired teachers such as Betty Dotson.

"We had books with pages missing, but good, qualified teachers and parents who insisted that we study," said Dotson, who started teaching at Moton in 1949 and worked in the Carroll system until she retired. "I was always aware of discrimination, but still I was blessed."

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