TALES OF TAKOMA: Schools before Brown v. Board of Education

The Geneva Avenue black school. The current concrete brick building was constructed after a 1956 fire destroyed the old school.

TALES OF TAKOMA • DIANA KOHNs

The current upheaval over Supreme Court decisions on marriage and gender equality recalls the the Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education 62 years ago, on May 17, 1954.

At that point in time, Takoma Park had 53 black students in grades 1-8, according to official school board records. They attended a two-room schoolhouse on Geneva Avenue, four blocks north of Takoma Park Elementary School. Fourteen of the black students technically lived in Prince George’s County but were allowed to cross over to attend the school.

Montgomery County, like the rest of the South, had created a “separate but equal” two-tier education system. Although the county’s first public black schools opened in 1872, Takoma Park did not have such a school until 1927. Rev. William Parker, pastor of the Baptist church, led a six-year lobbying campaign, which resulted in construction of a two-room frame building. Located across from the church, it was partly funded from county monies donated by the Rosenwald Fund.

The Takoma Park school then joined the 20 other county black schools in their continual fight for school funding. Black teachers were routinely paid less. The school year was 6 week shorter than at white schools, often closing earlier if funds were short. Books and desks were mostly hand-me-downs.

It was 1945 before Takoma Park had a room equipped to serve lunches or piped in water. Playground equipment was provided only after the city made a specific written request, and as a result, the school remained open in the summer as a recreation center beginning in 1948.

A major reorganization of the schools in 1952 reduced the black school system to four consolidated schools, all located up-county, but excluded Takoma Park, and three other substandard schools in Ken-Gar, River Road and Linden.

While the County was debating where to build the “Eastern Suburban Negro Elementary School,” the 1954 Supreme Court ruling forced revision of these plans. The ensuing debate over how to integrate the schools “with all deliberate speed” ended with the decision to close all black schools effective in fall 1955. That September, the 63 black students from Takoma’s Geneva Avenue school joined their white classmates at Takoma Park Elementary and Takoma Park Junior High, with minimal disruption.

Next: It was not so peaceful elsewhere. The aftermath of desegregation.

 

 

 

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.

2 Comments on "TALES OF TAKOMA: Schools before Brown v. Board of Education"

  1. Steve Whitney | June 3, 2016 at 6:51 pm |

    Thanks very much for some local history that’s important to know. Stunning to say the least that such extreme inequalities of education existed around here some 80 years after the emancipation. But it’s also heartening to know that integration didn’t cause major strife as elsewhere.

  2. Elias Vlanton | June 6, 2016 at 12:48 pm |

    Thanks also…you filled in a lot of details that I was unaware of.

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