A commitment to dismantling racial barriers

Equality: A lifelong Guilford resident pursued desegregation in an often reluctant county.

150 Years of Howard History

May 29, 2001

In 1990, Columbia resident M. Hillery Scavo wrote a thesis about Leola May Moore Dorsey for her B. A. degree in Women's Studies in at UMBC. Dorsey, 83, a devout Christian and civil rights activist, was born in Guilford and continues to live there. This is an excerpt from the unpublished thesis.

In May of 1947, Leola Dorsey became president of the newly formed (Howard County) chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP was organized in New York City in 1909, and the first attempt to form a chapter in Howard County in 1944 failed ... [according to "History of Blacks in Howard County, Maryland," by Cornelison, A. H., Craft, S. E., and Price, L., published in 1986 by the NAACP].

In the introductory years, this branch of the NAACP, [which eventually thrived,] was conservative in its efforts to "improve the political, educational, social and economic status of minority groups and to eliminate racial prejudice," [wrote Cornelison, Craft and Price]. As the national civil rights movement became more active in the late 1950s, so did Leola Dorsey and her chapter.

In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down a decision against discrimination in public schools. Howard County was slow to comply with the laws, and [according to an article in the Columbia Times, May 16, 1979,] used several delaying tactics to keep the schools and the rest of the county segregated.

Leola Dorsey was in several organizations that pursued the cause of desegregation of the county. As an active leader, she and other members of the Guilford Baptist Church, the Guilford School P.T.A., the Executive Committee of Guilford, the NAACP, and later the Governor's Commission on Interracial Problems and Relations, tried every possible method, with the exception of violence, to achieve civil rights for the black citizens of Howard County.

By 1956, according to the minutes of the Howard County School Board, progress in desegregation was being made. All teachers (white and colored) were allowed to attend the orientation meeting. A Citizens Committee was appointed to study the problem and a policy was established to hold all conferences and meetings of principals and teachers in a desegregated manner.

However, the board determined that any shift in pupil enrollment would be "impractical."

Further evidence of [the board's] intentions not to desegregate (as white children did not go to colored schools) can be found in [a] list of improvements to be made to the colored school, such as inside toilets, central heating, blackboards, bulletin boards, clothing lockers, tile on floors, acoustical ceilings, new or additional lighting fixtures, grading of play areas, and two doors (for fire code laws) for each classroom.

Until this time, [according to the Columbia Times article,] the value of the property of the [county's] educational [facilities] was $246 per white child, and $35 per black child. What was not noted ... were the efforts made to keep black children from enrolling in a school near their home.

Enrollment had to be done in person (parents and children) at the Board of Education during a limited time period, during working hours, and without prior [public] announcements ... [by the Board, Dorsey said].

Another loophole was the ... position of the Board, [stated in its minutes,] which was unanimously approved: "During this period of transition, the Board reserves the right to postpone or deny the admission of a pupil to any school due to the lack of facilities or for any other justifiable reason."

The transition lasted for eleven years and four months, [according to the Columbia Times]. During this period, the NAACP provided legal services for the parents of the children who were transferred to the first integrated school, Elkridge Elementary School, but denied bus service. They registered protests with the County Commissioners concerning the segregated water fountains and lavatories at the county court house, and the ... amusement park in Ellicott City.

They petitioned for the stay of eviction notices sent to the trailer occupants in the Guilford area [who had no choice but to live in trailers because of] ... the shortage of allowable houses for blacks in Howard County, [Dorsey said]. Whites would not rent or sell to blacks, but didn't want to look at trailers, [she said].[The Howard County Chapter of the NAACP] sent a delegation to Annapolis to petition for the passage of a bill requiring statewide integration of public accommodations, [Dorsey said]. They fought for a bi-racial commission to help accelerate integration on all levels, especially [at] the educational level. This included an all-out campaign for the transfer of black teachers to the previously all-white schools. They tried to desegregate the black high school (Harriet Tubman Junior-Senior), and failed.

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