Silas E. Craft Sr., 76, Howard County educator

Silas E. Craft Sr., a retired school principal who promoted education for black students in Howard County, died Thursday of cancer at his home in Columbia. He was 76.

Mr. Craft, who had a 32-year career as an educator, helped open the now-defunct Harriet Tubman High School in Simpsonville, Howard's first black high school. He was its first principal from 1949 until 1956.


"He was a no-nonsense principal," said Herbert E. Brown of Catonsville, a member of Harriet Tubman's first graduating class. "He told us there was nothing we couldn't do."

Mr. Craft, who was born in Virginia, came to Howard County in 1944 to become principal of Cooksville Junior-Senior High School, where grades one through 11 had cramped quarters.


"The greatest challenge was obtaining teaching materials," Mr. Craft recalled at a 1993 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council ceremony honoring him.

Mr. Craft said that when he arrived at the school he received a load of used textbooks. He promptly sent them back and managed to obtain a set of new books.

"He was a very straightforward person. He was the driver behind the fight for Harriet Tubman High School," said Mr. Brown, who retired in 1988 as director of rehabilitation at the state's Spring Grove Hospital Center.

"He made us believe we could become somebody," said the Rev. Douglas B. Sands, a 1952 graduate of Harriet Tubman who is pastor of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial United Methodist Church in Baltimore. "He made something out of us."

In addition to being principal of Cooksville and Harriet Tubman, Mr. Craft taught subjects ranging from music to science.

"Whenever he used pigs or cows at the school, they ended up at our house," said his daughter Virginia C. Lee of Columbia.

"Until the end, he encouraged us to do our best," she said. "His life was spent doing his best."

Mr. Craft received a bachelor's degree from Bluefield State College in West Virginia in 1944 and a master's degree from University of Pennsylvania in 1947.


He received an honorary doctorate from Bluefield in 1978.

The latter part of his career was spent in the Washington suburbs, where he was principal of Carver High School in Rockville, assistant principal of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring and assistant principal and principal at Francis Scott Key Junior High School in District Heights until his retirement in 1976.

Then he became a community activist, his daughter said.

"He would reach out and extend himself to anyone in the community," said the Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford, where Mr. Craft was a member.

He also was responsible for the building of the Columbia church, where he served on the board of trustees, Mr. Wright said.

Mr. Craft, a lifetime member of the NAACP, was president of the Howard County chapter for 10 years and the national board for 15 years.


He also was a lifetime member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

A wake was to be be held from 9 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. today at First Baptist Church, 7504 Oakland Mills Road, followed by a memorial service at noon.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Dorothye McKnight; two sons, Silas E. Craft Jr. of Devon, Pa., and Dwight B. Craft of Atlanta; three other daughters, Rebecca C. Felder of Rockville, Kaye A. Craft of East Orange, N.J., and Sharon C. Moore of Washington; a great-niece, Carmen M. Reid of Mitchellville; 10 grandchildren; and three great-great grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the United Negro College Fund, 700 13th St. NW, Suite 1180, Washington, D.C. 20005.