February is Black History Month, and students throughout our system are learning about people and events that have shaped America’s progress in providing equitable opportunities for all. Today, Howard County is considered a model community, known for welcoming families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Our county and school system have come a long way, and many people struggled for years to integrate our school system and instill the inclusive practices that we value today. Our current county leaders remain committed to the cause of civil liberties. Both Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and former Howard County Council member/former HCPSS Board of Education member Courtney Watson continue to uphold a proud family legacy of civil rights advocacy. Guest blogger Mark J. Stout, Ph.D., curriculum coordinator of Advanced Placement and Secondary Social Studies, provides a historical perspective of segregation in Howard County schools.
Guest blogger Dr. Mark J. Stout currently serves as curriculum coordinator for Advanced Placement and Secondary Social Studies for the Howard County Public School System. He holds a Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Maryland College Park, with an undergraduate degree in Geography from UMBC. He began his career as a middle school social studies teacher, and has worked as a resource teacher for social studies and as a facilitator for professional development. He also served as president and executive director of the Maryland Council for the Social Studies and coordinator for two Teaching American History Grant projects.
The Howard County Public School System recently posted its annual school profile report, which reflects a widely diverse school system in terms of both ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Families flock to Howard County because it has a reputation for acceptance, and because the school system is considered among the best in the nation. HCPSS has consistently demonstrated steady academic growth among all student groups, high graduation rates, and high percentages of students continuing their education beyond high school. This hopeful scenario was not always the case for Howard County.
In 1954, the Supreme Court delivered the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed public school segregation by race. More than 60 years later, HCPSS embodies the spirit of this decision – ethnically diverse schools with access to outstanding educational experiences for all. It is doubtful that many citizens are aware of the difficult road that the county experienced in providing equal educational access to all students. It is indeed a past that we must remember in order to contextualize the present.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision in 2004, the HCPSS Office of Secondary Social Studies worked to develop a series of lessons for social studies classes. These lessons helped students understand the struggles that key citizens experienced in their efforts to desegregate the school system. In conducting the background research, we uncovered a revealing story of racism, injustice, struggle, and perseverance.
According to the “History of Blacks in Howard County, Maryland” (Howard County Branch, NAACP, 1986), the first mention of “colored schools” in Howard County appears in the minutes of the Board of Education from Feb. 7, 1871. In a revealing statement that foreshadows much of the next 100 years, it states, “On motion it was resolved that each school commissioner distribute the school books of the old series in their possession if required to the colored schools in their district.” This pattern of neglect resulted in a second-class school system for people of color, with subpar facilities, no educational opportunities past grade 7 until 1939, teachers paid less than those in white schools, and no bus transportation.
When Brown became the law of the land in June 1954, the HCPSS Board of Education stated that it was “impractical” to begin desegregation until 1956. It was not until May 1, 1956 that the Board officially desegregated grades 1-5, with families forced to apply in person and with separate transportation facilities. Beginning in 1957, all grades were to be desegregated, but at the pace of merely one grade per year. This was hardly in the spirit of the law and in direct conflict with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren’s appeal to do so “with all deliberate speed.”
Although all grades were desegregated by 1964, segregated schools remained and many black students were educated in facilities with no white students. In June 1964, NAACP Howard County Branch President Silas E. Craft and Robert H. Kittleman, chairman of that group’s education committee, delivered an impassioned statement to the Board requesting an end to all segregated schools. With two new Board members as a result of a recent expansion (including future Howard County Executive Ed Cochran), the Board voted to integrate Guilford Elementary School in June 1965. As Cochran noted upon reflection in 2004, “With these actions, the era of segregated public schools in Howard County ended.”
Ironically, during the same time that Howard County was struggling to achieve racial equality in its schools, James Rouse began acquiring land to develop the model city of Columbia. An important part of the vision for Columbia was to develop a community that was racially, culturally, and economically diverse. In another interesting twist that demonstrates connections between the past and present, both candidates for Howard County Executive in 2014 were children of two important figures in the final struggle to integrate the schools of Howard County. Allan Kittleman is the son of Robert Kittleman, and Courtney Watson is the daughter of Ed Cochran. Students may also be aware of the Silas Craft Collegians Program at Howard Community College, but unaware that the man who inspired the program played a key role in this civil rights battle.
On Nov. 15, 2012, the Board of Education officially apologized for its role in slowing the desegregation of the Howard County Public School System. In attendance were many who lived through the era of segregated schools, as well as students of our current schools. It is imperative that our students understand our past, both the celebratory and the shameful, in order to appreciate the diverse classrooms that they have the good fortune to attend today.