Fair talks shine light on Charles County school de­seg­re­ga­tion

First-hand ac­counts at McConchie one-room school­house a part of school board’s 100th an­niver­sary

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

The sec­ond part of a three-part se­ries rec­og­niz­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion will fo­cus on school seg­re­ga­tion, and will be held at the Charles County Fair on Fri­day and Satur­day, Sept. 16 and 17.

The talks will fea­ture first-hand ac­counts of seg­re­ga­tion and de­seg­re­ga­tion of Charles County Pub­lic Schools, and will take place at the McConchie One-Room School­house, which served as a school for African Amer­i­can stu­dents from 1922-1952 and is now lo­cated on the fair­grounds.

“It will hope­fully pro­vide a lit-

tle con­text about Charles County Pub­lic Schools, and will teach a lit­tle bit about our his­tor y, be­cause de­seg­re­ga­tion is part of our his­tory,” school board mem­ber Vicki Kelly said.

A sched­ule of speak­ers will be posted out­side the school­house, Kelly said.

“When we started this project, I thought we’d maybe have two or three speak­ers,” she said, adding that the num­ber has grown to in­clude 10 speak­ers.

The first speaker Fri­day morn­ing will be Anna Kephart, co­or­di­na­tor with the South­ern Mary­land Stud­ies Cen­ter at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land.

Kephart will pro­vide an overview of the his­tory of seg­re­ga­tion and de­seg­re­ga­tion in Charles County.

She has recorded sev­eral first-per­son in­ter­views as well as con­ducted other re­search into de­seg­re­ga­tion in Charles County.

Un­for­tu­nately, Kephart said many of the school board records around de­seg­re­ga­tion in Charles County were lost in a fire at the old Pomon­key El­e­men­tary School in July 1999. The for­mer school was be­ing used for stor­age.

“The board of ed­u­ca­tion be­lieves that they were all burned with Pomon­key,” Kephart said.

The South­ern Mary­land Stud­ies Cen­ter has col­lected and archived oral his­to­ries col­lected in the spring by African-Amer­i­can his­tory and com­mu­ni­ca­tions stu­dents, and those oral his­to­ries are now part of the col­lec­tion at the South­ern Mary­land Stud­ies Cen­ter on the La Plata cam­pus.

De­spite the unan­i­mous U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing in 1954 declar­ing that sep­a­rate fa­cil­i­ties were not equal in the Brown vs. Topeka (Kan.) Board of Ed­u­ca­tion case, Charles County Pub­lic Schools re­mained seg­re­gated for over a decade, un­til the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Un­der the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the at­tor­ney gen­eral was given the author­ity to file school seg­re­ga­tion cases, and pro­hib­ited pro­grams and ac­tiv­i­ties [in­clud­ing schools] that re­ceived fed­eral money from dis­crim­i­nat­ing based on race,” Kephart said. “The 17 South­ern and bor­der state schools re­ceived a to­tal of $164 mil­lion of fed­eral school fund­ing, and it would have been very chal­leng­ing to forego those funds by re­fus­ing to in­te­grate.”

Charles County, like other south­ern school sys­tems, in­sti­tuted a “Free­dom of Choice” plan, which al­lowed par­ents to de­cide which schools their chil­dren would at­tend, but this fre­quently left seg­re­ga­tion in place, Kephart said, cit­ing a 1966 re­port, be­cause few whites elected to at­tend a black school, and many black fam­i­lies were reluc­tant to ex­er­cise their right to send their chil­dren to a white school, for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion.

Mar­lene Jamieson of Pom­fret was one of those who wit­nessed the process of de­seg­re­ga­tion first-hand. Jamieson, whose maiden name is Ran­dall, was one of the first to in­te­grate La Plata High School, and is one of the sched­uled speak­ers dur­ing the fair.

Jamieson ex­pe­ri­enced both worlds. She was born in New York, where she lived and at­tended school with black and white stu­dents, vis­it­ing her mother’s fam­ily in Charles County on oc­ca­sion.

In 1960, when she was 12, Jamieson’s mother died and she came to live with her Charles County grand­par­ents, re­turn­ing to New York in the sum­mer.

She said the de­gree of seg­re­ga­tion in Charles County, in schools and in so­ci­ety, shocked her.

“It was the first time I went to an all-black school,” Jamieson said. “I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘You’ve got to be kid­ding me!’”

Jamieson was pres­i­dent of the NAACP Youth Coun­cil, and was one of the first black stu­dents to at­tend La Plata High School.

“We in­te­grated in 1964, about 50 of us from Bel Al­ton [High School] in­te­grated La Plata,” Jamieson re­called. “There were FBI in the school in ev­ery hall­way.”

Jamieson said that for the first three days, the bus driver re­fused to pick her up.

“He’d open the door, let me put my foot on the step, then shut the door and drive away,” Jamieson said. “That was small, though, com­pared with what other peo­ple went through.”

Dur­ing the 1966-67 school year, the process of de­seg­re­ga­tion be­gan in earnest in the high schools, when stu­dents were ge­o­graph­i­cally zoned. El­e­men­tary schools were ge­o­graph­i­cally zoned the fol­low­ing year, Kephart said.

Kelly said she hopes the talks will en­cour­age more peo­ple to learn and record the his­tory of Charles County.

“I’m ex­cited. I hope this will stim­u­late some con­ver­sa­tions and get some of this in­for­ma­tion out there,” Kelly said.

More about the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s 100th an­niver­sary events can be found on­line.


The Bel Al­ton High School Class of 1957, on the steps of the school. Bel Al­ton was one of the seg­re­gated schools in Charles County, serv­ing the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity from 1938-1965. Photo cour­tesy of the Thomas and Max­ine Headen Col­lec­tion, South­ern Mary­land Stud­ies Cen­ter, Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land.

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