The year was 1954.
Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the Supreme Court’s decision in the matter of Brown v. Board of Education, stating that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” ending racial segregation in U.S. public schools and forever changing the country — Carroll County included.
Monday, Carroll Community College took students and community members back to that time more than six decades ago, to talk about Robert Moton School, a segregated school in Carroll, and the start of integration in other Carroll schools.
The college held a screening of “Robert Moton: The Hope of a Community,” a documentary by local filmmaker Patricia Mack-Preston. The film was produced in collaboration with the Community Media Center of Carroll County.
“Creating a document that helps all of us learn about hope and strength and perseverance … has really been a blessing for me,” Mack-Preston said.
In addition to the screening of part of the documentary, Monday’s event also included a discussion panel with six community members — Sally Green, James Purnell Hammond, Delores Jones Mack, Ronald Hollingsworth, Sharon Jones and William “Billy” Hudson — who attended Robert Moton School, some of whom then integrated into other Carroll schools.
Many of the panelists were interviewed for the documentary, and spoke of what they remember about integrating into the schools. They spoke of the challenges and racism they faced, and Jones told the story of a teacher throwing her shoe out the window one day.
“Because of my nerves, I was just on edge,” Jones said, adding that she was shaking her leg because she was nervous and was wearing shoes her foot could come out of.
The teacher told Jones to put her shoe back on and the kids started to laugh at her, Jones said.
“The kids starting snickering saying, ‘Her feet stink; her feet stink,’ you know, just nasty little things,” she said.
The teacher came over and took her shoe, and threw it out the second-floor window, Jones said.
“I had to walk down two flights of stairs, in tears, embarrassed and get my shoe and walk back in,” she said. “That was another awful day in my life.”
A big theme of Monday’s discussion from the panelists following the screening of the documentary was about the differences between attending Robert Moton School as compared to the integrated schools.
For Hudson, leaving Robert Moton School was a change he wanted nothing to do with.
“I didn’t have any interest in going to an integrated school at all,” he said.
Robert Moton School helped teach him the ability to deal with difficult problems, Hudson said, adding that he appreciated the teaching more there.
Jones, who only attended Robert Moton School in first grade, spoke about the challenges of integrating into Elmer Wolfe in the second grade.
“It was difficult, but through all the difficult times I had hope things would get better … and they did,” she said.
But, she too spoke of the impeccable teachers at Robert Moton School, adding that integrating into a different school was a bit of a double-edged sword.
Alexis Bower, a Carroll Community College student majoring in dental hygiene, attended the screening and panel discussion, and said she thought it was especially interesting to learn about how integration happened in the community she was born and raised in.
“I thought it was awesome,” Bower, of Westminster, said of the presentation. “I have a lot of respect for [the panelists].”
Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP and also a member of the CMC board, was also in attendance Monday. Lewis said the documentary and panel discussion did a wonderful job of talking about what the experience was like in the 1950s.
“I think it was very enlightening,” she said. “It’s living history.”
Lewis said it’s great the CMC helped provide this opportunity.
Carroll Community College President James Ball said, as people, we cannot disengage from the experience of others that we may not directly relate to, because all of history is connected. Stories like these help us learn and understand we are all the same, he added.
“We all share the common thread of being human,” Ball said.
Other Black History Month events at Carroll Community College
Carroll Community College will host a Black History Month exhibit Monday through Friday, Feb. 12-16, opening at 9 a.m. in the Babylon Great Hall. The interactive display, “Black History is Happening Now!,” will highlight other local documentaries from the center’s collection, including the African Trailblazers series, along with clips from the center’s Oral History Project, according to the release. Documentaries and interviews from CMC's Oral History collection will also air on Channel 19 throughout the month of February.
Carroll Community College will also provide special lunches called “A Taste of Africa” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 14, Feb. 22 and Feb. 27 in the cafe.