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Baltimore City

A West Baltimore landmark school attended by Thurgood Marshall to sparkle again

The Rev. Al Hathaway states his case: “Justice Thurgood Marshall should be to Baltimore what the Rev. Martin Luther King is to Atlanta.”

He’s been working hard to get a school the Supreme Court justice attended restored and sparkling again.

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Look for the Justice Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center to start construction this summer.

And how fitting that the Baltimore-born lawyer, who pressed the fabled Brown v. Board of Education case, will be honored with a $12 million restoration of the segregated school where he learned to read and write?

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“This is my vision to promote the Thurgood Marshall legacy,” Hathaway said the other day as he stood outside 1315 Division St. in Upton in West Baltimore.

“I was born at the old Provident Hospital and lived at 1211 Druid Hill Ave. This is my neighborhood,” said Hathaway, the former pastor of the Union Baptist Church.

The Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway, pastor of Union Baptist Church, is leading the restoration of PS 103, (behind him) which will become the Justice Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center. Justice Marshall attended elementary school there.

Hathaway says he is working with the National Park Service to get an important federal designation for the old school, so that Park Rangers would be assigned here, as they are at Baltimore’s other federal site, Fort McHenry.

Hathaway has been the champion of the old school for years, although he did not attend it. He went to Gwynns Falls Junior High School, where he formed a friendship with another student, future member of Congress Elijah Cummings.

Former Rep. Cummings helped with the legislation so that the school would become an asset of the National Park Service.

Johns Hopkins, director of Baltimore Heritage, said: “The school, P.S. 103, is a signature heritage site for Baltimore. Its restoration will really help set Baltimore on the map for our contributions to the national civil rights movement.”

Hathaway sees the school as becoming a tangible symbol of Brown v. Board of Education.

“Baltimore was a pioneering city in that our school system in a city south of the Mason-Dixon Line, desegregated early, very early,” he said.

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Hathaway understands, as a native Baltimorean, why this school is important and why the Upton community needs recognition.

“I’ve been around this country but I found my ministry in a four-square block around the school,” he said of his time served at Pennsylvania Avenue Zion African Methodist Church and Union Baptist Church, where he succeeded the Rev. Vernon Dobson.

He’s lined up funding and late last year, $1 million was approved for the school under the $1 trillion infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden.

“Public School 103 is best known for its most famous student, Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), who attended the school from 1914 to 1920. It was at this school that Thurgood shortened his name from the original Thoroughgood,” said a statement from the preservation organization, Baltimore Heritage. “Thurgood sat in the first row, as his classmate Agnes Peterson later recalled, “he was always playing, and so they had to keep right on top of him.”

When it opened in 1877, the school was known as the Male and Female Grammar School No. 6. There were separate male and female principals.

The school, a handsome brick building trimmed in Baltimore County limestone, was designed by Baltimore’s favorite municipal architect, George Frederick, who designed City Hall, numerous structures in city parks and the old Baltimore City College on Howard Street.

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The initial students were white, often of German ancestry. Black families began moving to the neighborhood, and by 1910, the school was changed to all African American status. It was also named for Henry Highland Garnet, a minister, educator and orator who had been born into slavery in Kent County.

Baltimore’s largest Black community began to be established and then flourished along Madison and Druid Hill avenues and Division and McCulloh streets more than a century ago.

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Thurgood Marshall’s family ran a grocery store. Soon the leading lights of Baltimore’s Black professionals lived not far away.

Clarence Mitchell Jr. and his wife, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, who fought alongside Marshall to desegregate public spaces in the 1940s and 1950s, were residents of the neighborhood.

The school functioned until the early 1970s, then served until the 1990s as the Upton Cultural and Arts Center.

The school was converted to a community center and was the office of Lena J. Boone, the driving force for the neighborhood and advocate for better housing. Boone, who died in 2000, was the director of the Upton Planning Committee. She was recalled as one of the city’s most dynamic leaders.

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The city stepped in to replace the roof and stabilize the building after a 2016 three-alarm fire.

Hopkins believes the area around the school, which also includes the Marble Hill neighborhood, will be included in a civil rights heritage curriculum being taught in Baltimore City Schools.

“We are now seeing school buses come to the neighborhood so children can learn why this area is important,” said Hopkins.


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