Black Public Schools In Rockville

Racial segregation in schools, housing, shopping, sports, and social life persisted in Maryland until well into the final third of the 20th century.  Dual public education systems for white and black students lasted for nearly a century.   Rockville residents who vividly recall that period can still visit three local schools constructed during segregated times.

Once Maryland slaves obtained their freedom in 1864, they wanted their children educated.   Just before the Civil War broke out, Maryland had established a public school system for white students.  Black parents, who desired no less for their children, successfully petitioned the Freedmen’s Bureau, demanding the return of funds collected prior to the war.  They organized as trustees for the “Rockville Col’d School” and pledged to guarantee a teacher’s board and washing as well as fuel and lights for a schoolhouse for black students.  By the late 1860s, this activism likely resulted in a school for students through grade 7.

In 1876 – four years after the state established schools for black students – the Montgomery County Board of Education purchased a lot on the west side of Frederick Road (now North Washington Street just above Beall Avenue) and constructed Rockville Colored Elementary School.  One room housed grades 1 through 7.  Interest in education soared, for just seven years later there was a new two-room school, which was topped with a second story in 1891.

In 1899 the U.S. Supreme Court case of Plessy vs. Ferguson confirmed the doctrine of “separate but equal” education.  Black students, teachers, and their families were only too aware that separate was not equal.  Despite pleas from parents, colored schools always lagged behind in facilities, supplies, teacher pay, and length of the school year.  In 1936, William B. Gibbs of Rockville Colored Elementary sued the School Board for equal pay.  The case was settled out of court, all teachers moving to the same salary scale in 1938, but Mr. Gibbs lost his job.

After the old school burned and students crowded into Jerusalem Church for a few years, a third Rockville Colored Elementary School opened in 1921.  On Washington Street in the block above Middle Lane, it was close to homes, businesses, and churches in Rockville’s in-town black neighborhood.

Secondary education was another issue.  Although Montgomery County provided high schools for whites, before 1927 black students went elsewhere.  Julius Rosenwald of Sears, Roebuck Co. matched local funds for Rockville Colored High School.  By 1935 the student population outgrew the space adjacent to the elementary school, and Lincoln High School opened that year.  Students from throughout the County arrived in Lincoln Park by train, foot, car, and school bus to earn their high school diplomas.

Carver High School and Junior College.

Carver High School and Junior College.

In the early 1950s, Montgomery County constructed four consolidated elementary schools including Rock Terrace, the successor to Rockville Colored Elementary School.  Carver High School and Junior College opened in 1951.  Three years later, Brown vs. Board of Education started Montgomery County down the road to desegregation.  Black students were moved into white schools until 1961 when the process was complete.  Rock Terrace became a special education high school, Lincoln was used for offices and storage, and Carver converted to administrative offices for the School Board

The Mayor and Council designated Lincoln High School as a Rockville Historic District in 1990.  Carver gained Historic District status in 2002.