More Local Black History: The Poolesville 14

It is too easy to look South when digging up the history of racism and discrimination in our country.  To be sure, many of the most flagrant injustices based on color occurred there.  But just as the grass is always greener on the other side, so too is the mud thicker.  If instead, we care to take a closer look at our own setting we can find plenty to be embarrassed about in our own backyard.

The Little Rock Nine refers to the first nine African American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 after the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court three years earlier in 1954 outlawed school segregation.  The community pushback was so severe that not even the state’s National Guard could be relied upon to physically get these nine Black students in the door; instead, U.S. Troops had to escort them in before they could attend like their White counterparts.

But that was the South.  What about Montgomery County, Maryland?

The transition to racially integrated schools in Montgomery County was smoother than in other places but that didn’t mean there wasn’t resistance.  Today, our Board of Education and Office of the Superintendent are housed at the Carver Educational Services Center in downtown Rockville.  Why this location?  Because at the time of desegregation, this was the one and only Colored high school in Montgomery County.  Plans to use this school for classroom education “fell apart after some parents refused to allow their children to use equipment that had belonged to black students.”  Thus, it became an administrative building.  Meanwhile, some black teachers whose schools were closed found themselves demoted when transferred to an all-white school.  In March, 1956, the Gaithersburg High School PTA passed a resolution against “compulsory integration,” which was being forced on them  “in disregard of traditions, customs and feelings that have prevailed for generations, and still prevail.”

But the most dramatic protest to integration happened at Poolesville High School.  At that time, the white community was so small that all grades, kindergarten through 12, attended the same school.

“When integration came in the fall of 1956, there were letters, meetings, and a demonstration outside the Board of Education by angry white parents.  On the first day of school, some 200 of these parents stood outside the door, hoping to prevent the 14 black students from entering, and threatening to remove their own children from school.  Police and Superintendent Norris were on hand, and they escorted the black students in through a back door.  Some parents did remove their children, but Norris threatened to take them to court, and they backed down.  Although the feelings and fears were already there, many people thought that the actions taken were incited by outside influences, namely segregationists from the South who arrived hoping to stir up trouble.  Within a week or two, the agitation had subsided, and the rest of the year progressed with relative quiet.”

MCPS was officially declared ‘integrated’ by 1961.  But inequality persisted in various forms thereafter.  As it does today.

Justice may be introduced at a Supreme Court building but it actually takes effect – or doesn’t – at school door entrances, PTA meetings, classrooms, and on payrolls.

Pictured: Protesting white parents and students pose for a photo September 6, 1956 on the second day of integration of Montgomery County’s Poolesville school.

All quotes from Montgomery History (https://montgomeryhistory.org/exhibit/the-effects-of-brown-v-board-of-education-in-montgomery-county/)

Comments(2)

  1. Marianne Gordon says

    I think that kind of outrage happened in many places among many groups. It’s the inner attitude of insecurity and self-centeredness that operate behind these injustices or even evils. My professor Terrence Roberts from my UCLA days was one of the Little Rock 9. I was honored to know him, a courageous man.

    • Norm Gordon says

      What an honor to be taught by one of the Little Rock 9. Did he talk much about his experience as a student at that school?

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