Everett J. Sherman Jr., 66, helped desegregate Poly

December 06, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Everett J. Sherman Jr., a retired engineer who made history in 1952 as a member of the first group of African-American students to gain admission to the previously racially segregated Polytechnic Institute, died of leukemia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 29, while on a visit to his daughter.

He was 66 and had lived in Reston, Va., for the past 22 years.

Along with 12 others, Mr. Sherman was in the first group of black students to enter what had been a previously segregated school system - two years ahead of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Everett Sherman, a Coast Guard civilian employee, and his wife, Bernice.

"He was a bright student who excelled in math," said his sister Barbara V. Bates, who lives in the Greenspring section of Northwest Baltimore. "He was courageous and smart and was always a positive person. As my only brother, he was the leader of our family."

He attended city public schools and won academic honors while at Booker T. Washington Junior High School. Officials of the Urban League and other civil rights groups argued before the city's school board that promising African-American students should be allowed to attended Poly because there were no comparable engineering courses available at all-black schools.

A 2002 Sun story detailed how, in the summer before he entered Poly, Mr. Sherman and his classmates spent 40 hours a week in tutoring sessions aimed at making up the gap in their education.

"The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was that I was No. 1 in my [junior high] class. I had skipped [grades] twice," Mr. Sherman told a Sun reporter when he was honored at Poly on the 50th anniversary of his entering the school. "I came to [Poly] and was last in my class."

In 1954, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, walking near the school became an ordeal, he said. Angry mobs descended on Poly for several days to vent their rage, though the black students had been enrolled for two years.

After his June 1956 Poly graduation, Mr. Sherman became surveyor for the city's Department of Transit and Traffic.

"He was one of the first black employees there," said his wife of 45 years, the former Gertrude Dixon. "His parents got calls from friends saying how proud they were to see him working."

Mr. Sherman served in the Air Force and furthered his education by enrolling in night classes at what is now Morgan State University. He eventually attended full time, graduated with honors with a mathematics degree and vowed to take a job that paid $10,000 a year - very good pay at the time, family members said.

When Morgan faculty members said they were not paid that much in the late 1960s, he waited until a Massachusetts firm made him an offer. In 1966 he joined General Telephone and Electronics-Sylvania in Needham, Mass., as a senior engineer.

He later moved to Reston and retired in September as a project manager for Sytex, a Pentagon subcontractor.

In his free time, he was a volunteer substance abuse counselor to inmates at the Fairfax County jail. He enjoyed cooking and woodworking.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at First Baptist Church, 450 Orchard St. N.W., Vienna, Va.

In addition to his wife and sister, survivors include a son, Jay Sherman of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a daughter, Janine S. Barrois of Los Angeles; and another sister, Yvonne Archer of Baltimore.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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