Philip L. Brown doesn't want people to forget that the segregated Anne Arundel County schools he attended and taught in had no central heat, no electricity, no running water and no toilets.
Those amenities were for whites.
"White schools had janitors and steam heat and lights and sanitary facilities within the school," said Mr. Brown, 86. "Our two-room school lasted until 1958," when the county began putting up new school buildings for blacks.
Preserving the memory of those days is important to Mr. Brown. He has published two books about blacks in Annapolis. "A Century of 'Separate but Equal' in Anne Arundel County" chronicles the history of segregated schools. "The Other Annapolis" offers glimpses of the lives of black residents in Maryland's capital from 1900 to 1950.
"More and more people have no knowledge of what it was like," he said. "It's important to talk about it."
Born in Annapolis in 1909 and raised in the city, Mr. Brown attended Anne Arundel's "colored" schools, and watched two sons, now in their 50s, graduate from the same segregated system in 1956 and 1963. County schools didn't desegregate until ordered to do so in 1966.
The issue of segregation in the county school system made the (( news recently when residents of the Seven Oaks community asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the racial balance in the schools.
Mr. Brown said he wasn't familiar with the Seven Oaks case, but supported the principle of having white and black students studying together in schools where each race is "well represented."
"There's so much each can learn from the other about culture and other things. When they grow up they don't live in a black or white world. They have to associate," said Mr. Brown, who served as vice principal at Bates High School.
Mr. Brown's experience in the county's school system covers so many eras he finds himself having to apologize for using "colored" when referring to himself.
"That's what I grew up with," he said. "It didn't become 'black' until the 1960s, and by then I'd been colored for about 50 years and it was hard to change."
Anne Arundel County's tradition of segregated schools continued for 12 years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision barring segregation.
"We weren't affected by that at all," Mr. Brown said of the ruling. "We were so used to it. Here's the thing: We were born into it and didn't know anything different."
Eventually, black parents started pushing for integration. In 1966, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the U.S. Justice Department sued the county for failing to desegregate. Only then did Anne Arundel start complying with the law.
Black parents knew that with integration their poorly equipped schools, usually attached to the community church, would go by the wayside.
"We agreed that the only way our children would get an equal education was to be in the same schools as white children," Mr. Brown said. "We were convinced the county schools did not see the need for a colored child having the same facilities and opportunities as a white child."
The all-black schools had to go, he said, because "we knew white children wouldn't be sent to those schools. But for the good of the children and future generations, we put ourselves behind the principle of having one school for all children."
While Mr. Brown said he understands neighborhood schools can be an important part of a community, he's adamant that having black and white students "well represented" in the same school is more important.
"I would like to see them mixed for the benefits," he said. "I'm not saying 50-50 right down the middle, but with each race well represented so that the school is not obviously predominantly white or black."
In 15 county elementary schools, minorities make up more than 40 percent of the student body. All but three of those schools feed into either Annapolis or Meade high schools. The complaining parents in Seven Oaks are particularly concerned about the feeder system for those two high schools. They also say a new county redistricting plan would send most black students to two of 12 high school feeder systems.
The Seven Oaks parents aren't the only people concerned about racial balance. The issue remains important to the black community, said Everett Pettigrew, who retired from the county school system in 1984 as a director of elementary schools.
"We are still one American people, I don't think there's any doubt of that and the experience of America is the experience of all of its people," Mr. Pettigrew said. "It is important that everybody who is part of America gets experience with everyone who is part of America. That doesn't happen when any one group, regardless of which group it is, is excluded from experience with other groups."
Mr. Brown, a school administrator until 1970, remembers the county's first attempts at integration.
"All the problems they said you'd have when the races were mixed with each other didn't happen.
"The students stayed to themselves for a while. Gradually some began to talk to each other and some became friends and were seen walking to class together," Mr. Brown said. "Some kids, I can picture them now, didn't look on me as a colored person. One brought me a rose -- a rose -- and put it on my desk."