In the early 1950s, the Harford County Board of Education opened two K-12 schools to separately educate the county’s African American children. These two schools would take students from the numerous black-only elementary schools dotting the county along with the two black high schools in Bel Air and Havre de Grace. They replaced numerous segregated primary schools around Harford, some operating since Civil War Reconstruction.
In the decades that they operated, many had developed tight-knit communities of students, faculty, and parents such as the Hosanna School in Darlington and the Havre de Grace Colored School. However, the fact that they had to operate at all and were often not given the same supplies, current textbooks, curriculum choices, and transportation access as white schools. The consolidated schools also had an all-African American faculty and staff: employees who were barred at the time from teaching in the district’s whites-only schools. One school was located outside of Havre de Grace (Havre de Grace Consolidated), and one was located outside Bel Air (Central Consolidated).
The Havre de Grace school opened less than a year before the Supreme Court ruled that “separate was unequal” in K-12 education, (Brown vs. Board of Education) just as momentum was building across the United States and Maryland for desegregation in public schools. As borne out in legal proceedings and later oral history accounts, separate was very unequal in Harford County when it came to curriculum offerings and facilities. The district’s slow desegregation process unfolded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In this context, the consolidated schools found themselves dealing with two competing themes: 1 - the closeness of the educational communities they established, and 2 - the growing desire and legal prerogatives of students and staff to integrate white schools. The district’s selective process for desegregation included recommendations from the two consolidated school principals based on academic suitability, a policy never applied to white students seeking school transfers.
Harford's desegregation practices put the Havre de Grace principal - Leon Roye (Havre de Grace) - in the difficult position of both creating a successful school environment while steadily losing students like Dwight Pettit. Pettit’s father wanted him to have science and math opportunities that he simply did not have at the consolidated school. According to Havre de Grace alumnus Ronald Hathaway: “It wasn’t a hostile environment [on race] with regards to Havre de Grace. We knew that the situation was very real. For example, if a white man was coming down the street you had to get off the street and let him by.” If not an overtly hostile climate, segregation did exist in the town: at the movie theatre, for example, and whites were given preference for buying other items that involved queuing up or sitting at a restaurant (if it wasn’t a whites-only restaurant).
Neighborhoods were sharply segregated, although apparently black and white kids often played together whilst attending separate schools. Mr. Hathaway also looked back on what the school accomplished despite the racist, unequal circumstance: “Number One: we had great teachers and our teachers taught 24/7…..even when we weren’t in the classroom.” Yet, despite the close nurturing and attention, in Hathaway’s view “integration was the best thing that could have happened.” In later oral history interviews, numerous former students recalled a similar sense of community established by the school in the context of legal segregation, understanding the inequality of the system as well, for example using hand me down books from all-white schools.
In the early 1960s, Havre de Grace Consolidated teacher and civil rights activist Janice Grant became an outspoken and bold leader of consolidated schoolteachers who advocated for desegregation for both students and faculty. Another faculty leader of the civil rights era was Madeline Banks. Banks led the Havre de Grace Consolidated Faculty Association in an organized protest movement in 1964 to respond to continued local media and Board resistance to the full integration of Harford County teachers. Amidst the final federal lawsuit to desegregate the schools, the teachers held a few meetings during the school day to respond to 1-the gradual desegregation plan favored by the Board of Education, and 2-local opposition to the movement.
For example, in one local newspaper’s editorial comment that black P.T.A. groups would be sorry to see the end of legally segregated public schools in Harford. Banks and the other teachers reacted sharply to the Board’s then ten-year long process of desegregation, slow de-population of the consolidated schools, and selective entry of African American students and teachers into white schools. In a letter from the group reported out in newspapers, the Havre de Grace teachers group called the editorial “unfounded, erroneous, misleading, biased.” The teachers' group concluded with a powerful statement that the current desegregation plan “perpetuates the stigma of inferiority already unjustly stamped on our people.”
The teachers cut to the essence of the administration’s policy, soon to be brought low by the federal court’s ruling: “We object to the fact that the plan [teacher integration] insultingly states that Negro teachers should be selected – with competency the criteria. The Board of Education implies that the masses of our faculty are competent only in a segregated situation.” The federal judge on the lawsuit agreed that it was wrong to continue the current policy. By the beginning of the 1965-1966 school year – years ahead of the schedule- Havre de Grace Consolidated closed and became an elementary school first called Oakington, and later named the Roye-Williams Elementary School as the district fully desegregated both students and faculty.
In recent years, an active group of former students and educators has transformed the Havre de Grace Colored School building into a living history site. Organized by the the Havre de Grace Colored School foundation, the group has held numerous events and community programs. As of July 2021, the foundation was actively transforming the site into a museum and cultural center.
|Havre de Grace Consolidated School Teachers Protest||pdf / 43.82 kB||Download|