Teacher Inez Hallman (back row, second from right) with her students at the Rocky Hill (Clarksburg) School, 1932. Photo from the MCHS collections, donated by Ethel Foreman and George McDaniel.

Teaching During Segregation

The struggles faced by Inez Hallman during her teaching career were not unique. Many African American teachers encountered similar challenges as a result of segregation and discrimination. Teachers often confronted below standard conditions: lack of indoor plumbing and heating, no access to new school supplies or books, shorter school years and less pay than their white counter parts. The black schools received the books, furniture, and supplies that the white schools discarded - and until 1897, black schools had to pay for these used materials. As the following quotations illustrate, teachers sometimes used their own money and resources to ensure their students had the best education available.

...[I started to cry] when I saw Stewardtown School on Monday morning. The school was in bad shape with very few books. Stewardtown got its first library as a gift from me on my first Christmas there.

- Clara Clarke, reflecting on her first year of teaching in 1944

 

School was held in the Odd Fellow Hall [the Sharp Street Methodist Church social hall]. I had ninety-five pupils in grades one, two, and three. The floor was so drafty (spaces between the floor boards) that I had to stand on paper or a bag to keep warm. Water was obtained at a neighbor's well and we had to use the church's outdoor toilets.

The Quakers had given land to build a school and church as soon as plans could be completed. There was no playground equipment - nothing but rocks. My salary was $529 per year.

- Alicebelle V. Allen, teacher at Sandy Spring School 1924-1925

 

Schools for blacks in Montgomery County have taken a very positive step forward [since the 1930s]. Education has always been one of the strongest links in any community. For Negroes, as we were called then, this was no exception...

Montgomery County Schools for Negroes [in the 1930s] left much to be desired. Whatever was lacking financially or academically was compensated for by the community spirit and helpfulness. Each school was the center of any activity sponsored by the parents, teachers, or pupils.

We were unable to get new textbooks; these were handed down to us from the white schools. In many cases, pages were missing from these books and pupils had to share with each other.

Our school term was at least a month shorter than that of the white school. The course of study was different. Salaries for us were about one-half of what the white teachers received. When asked the reason for this, the superintendent said, "White people paid more taxes than colored people."

Most children walked to school. Bus service was unheard of for grade school children in the early years. High school pupils had bus service. On bad days and very cold days, the school would be empty unless some parents with cars were able to bring their children and others to school.

We had a state supervisor, a superintendent of county schools, and a supervisor of colored schools. No matter how dedicated the county supervisor or teacher was to the job, there was no encouragement received from the state or supervisor. He told me not to be so conscientious. "Teach them to write 'Dear Sweetheart, I love you', that's all they will learn anyway." Our children weren't expected to go any further than high school. Some went to work after finishing seventh grade. On few occasions some went to college or teacher training schools.

Any extra materials were furnished by the teachers and pupils. Dedicated teachers extended learning experiences through chair caning, sewing, cooking, and scrap craft. Usually these learning experiences were held on Friday afternoons.

With all the inequities and injustices, we did the best we could with what we had. The parents, pupils, and community, as a whole, were very cooperative. The children wanted to learn and their parents were very ambitious for them. They tried to give them opportunities that some parents did not have themselves.

- Elizabeth K. Cumbo, retired teacher; taught at Poolesville and Brighton schools

As these excerpts show, African American teachers and parents were fully aware of the inequities enforced by the School board, and they did what they could to make up the difference. Some teachers took their fight to the courts. One of the biggest battles was fought in 1936, when, with the backing of the local chapter of the NAACP and Maryland State Colored Teachers Association, a man named William Gibbs brought suit against the Board of Education in an effort to equalize white and black teacher salaries. Gibbs was a teaching principal at Rockville Elementary School. One of his lawyers, sent by the NAACP, was Thurgood Marshall, who later was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.

This was not the first attempt to achieve equal salaries. Black teachers, who were often better qualified than white teachers, were denied both additional training opportunities and higher salaries because of their race. At the time of Gibbs' suit, black teachers were making about half of what white teachers with the same qualifications were taking home.

Dr. Edwin Broome, School Superintendent, settled the case out of court. For the next year, black teachers would receive "50% of the difference between what salary they now receive and the salary provided for under the schedule for white teachers." Beginning in August, 1938, the MCPS teacher salary schedule would make no distinction by race, creed or color. Although this was a victory for county teachers, the out-of-court settlement set no legal precedent, and it took several more years to achieve state-wide equal salaries for teachers. Gibbs lost his job, ostensibly because of certification problems; but the Teachers Association, anticipating this response, had set up a fund to assist him. He moved out of the state, and continued teaching.

Compiled in part from History of the Black Public Schools of Montgomery County, Maryland 1872-1961, by Nina H. Clarke and Lillian B. Brown

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