Getting an education took energy, effort

The Rev. Monroe Seawood Simms Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Elkridge. His aunt, Dorothy Taylor Richardson, has lived in Elkridge all her life. They were interviewed by folklorist Alison Kahn on May 14, 1999, for an oral history project coordinated by Friends of Patapsco Valley & Heritage Greenway Inc. This is the first of two excerpts.

Dorothy Richardson: I was born in the same house where I live today. I was born on September the first, 1916, on Race Road. And my mother was named Nanny Byrd Robinson Taylor. And my father was James Taylor.


My mother was a domestic, and they went over to Relay and St. Denis to work. And my father worked there on the railroad tracks, and then ... he'd cut hair on the weekends. ... He was a barber ... right in the house ... in the kitchen right there, had his big chair and his towels.

The Rev. Monroe Simms: ... Yes, this community goes back. It was primarily African-American community, but over the years it has become a diversified community. There are whites and blacks both that live ... in the area of Race Road. It's two areas, see? It's called Race Road and Church Avenue, and the blacks lived in both of those sections. Church Avenue was destroyed by the flood in ... 1972, and everyone in that area, except one family, was relocated in other areas like Baltimore and Columbia, Maryland. And one black family ... they lost that home, and now it's a white family that lives in that home.


Richardson: ... And the school that we went to ... it's still there, but it's just an old building, up where Gaines [A.M.E.] Church is. And that's where we went to school. It was a one-room school, and [we] went there ... in that one-room school, I think, until you were in the sixth grade. ... And then, the rest of my education I stole because I caught the train up here and went to junior high school in Baltimore ...

I had relatives who lived in the city, and I used their ... house number as my residence. And that's the way I went to junior high school and Douglass High School. ... There wasn't any high school nearby, and that's how my sisters and whatnot got their education because ... there wasn't [any] place close by that we could go to school.

Simms: The closest school ... for junior high school and high school students was in Cooksville, Maryland, and that was ... almost a two-hour ride.

Richardson: [The local school is] still up there, but it's falling down. But it was a just small room, and had one teacher. Miss Jones was our teacher. And you just sat there and she taught from class to class.

Simms: ... They didn't have buses.

Richardson: Didn't have buses, we walked. We carried our lunches, and we sat at the desks and ate them.

Simms: ... Well, during that time the lunches were not like, you know, prepared with all these fancy sandwich bags and so forth. They would have slabs of fatback, just like slab bacon, fatback, fat in a little piece of aluminum stuff. ... And you would cook it on the stove and get it real crisp, then you would put it in between a slice of bread. Sometimes you'd put mayonnaise on it, sometimes you'd put mustard on it. But sometimes you just ate it just like it is.

Richardson: I think some of them were old, the books.


Simms: Old used books.

Richardson: Old used books that came from white schools. That's my opinion.

Simms: ... Even the teacher's salary, salaries at that time were tremendously different. It was a lower scale for the black teachers because, see, a lot of the black teachers did not have to have a formal B.A. or B.S. degree. They were just teachers that were out of high school, had just what you called a "normal school." A normal school was just like ... the A.A. degree we get today in our schools. ... I started out with a salary of $3,800, and that's way down the scale.

I was a teacher and principal for 36 years in the school system in Prince George's County. And I went from teacher to administrator. ... I was used as one of the target people that went into some of the white schools and tried to get them to have an understanding. The culture of black students, their dialect and all those things, I had to teach them, because it was like a little course. ... And I was borrowed from Prince George's County to develop the human relations of how to deal with ... blacks. ... And I did it also with the Howard County Police Department. ...

See, one thing she failed to tell you about, about her father. Her father did work on the railroad tracks, but he was a big-time politician, too, in those days. And he was considered one of the head men, as far as blacks, as a Republican, you see? And he was considered the mayor of Race Road because he had succeeded in getting ... street lights. One time, they were dirt roads, and he had succeeded in getting a blacktop placed on Race Road, and a lot of little things.

And he had succeeded in getting out the black voters to vote the Republican ticket. And when you lived in his household, or lived around here, it was ... a life-and-death thing if you voted anything else except a Republican. Because when I first started voting, I voted Republican when I was young, until I got good common sense and got on my own. I'm not saying the Republicans [are] bad, but I'm saying at that time it wasn't doing us any benefits, you see? And so I had to go where the benefits of my people [were]. That's why I changed my affiliation from Republican to Democrat. But when I did it, I could not breathe the word Democrat around him.