African-American leaders in Howard County will soon begin raising funds in the hopes of developing a museum and community center in the former Harriet Tubman Junior-Senior High School.
Coalition members incorporated as the nonprofit Harriet Tubman Foundation on Sept. 16. They announced the formation at the reunion of the high school's Class of 1951 last night at Martin's Champagne Room in Baltimore.
The building, which was the first high school built for black students in Howard County, now houses the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center and Head Start classes.
It is also used by the school system to store maintenance equipment.
If an alternative space can be found or built for the tenants, the coalition said, the building should be preserved to honor the memory of the school.
"Since Tubman was the first high school that was built in Howard County for blacks ... we wanted to keep it as part of our history," said Howard N. Lyles, chairman of the foundation.
Lyles, who is a member of Harriet Tubman's Class of 1952, was elected president of the coalition Sept. 13.
"It was decided we would have to be in position and have sufficient funds to begin the reworking process," he said.
Earlier this year, County Executive James N. Robey suggested that the school also house the county's 24-hour crisis center for battered women, sexual assault victims and others in need of shelter.
Three other potential locations for the center have met opposition from nearby residents.
After Robey's suggestion, the African American Coalition of Howard County announced its hopes for the school building.
"The crisis center people are fully aware they are not wanted by the community or by the alumni of Harriet Tubman," Lyles said. "Harriet Tubman was not built for that purpose."
However, the crisis center planners still have Tubman on their list of possible sites.
"We have never taken anything off the table," said Jean Moon, a communications consultant to the project.