Russell D. Stansbury, a prominent Harford County public schools educator and coach who was also an activist, died Feb. 26 of dementia at Northwest Hospital. The longtime Bel Air resident was 96.
“Mr. Stansbury was a trailblazer in education and social change,” Harford County Executive Barry Glassman wrote in an email. “He will be remembered as the first African American president of our local board of elections. His service is a tribute to the Stansbury family legacy in Harford County.”
Russell Dubois Stansbury, son of Clayton C. Stansbury Jr., a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad track worker, and his wife, Mary V. Stansbury, a homemaker, was born and raised on Stokes Street in Havre de Grace.
It was Mr. Stansbury’s father, a believer in the value of education, who pushed Harford County public school officials to establish a high school for African Americans.
“It was really a difficult task because at first he had to convince the powers that be why there should be a secondary school for Blacks in Harford County,” Mr. Stansbury explained in an interview with the Harford County Public Library when he was named a Harford County living treasure in 2002.
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“First of all, he thought it was unfair. In order for taxpayers’ money to educate the whites even though Blacks were taxpayers, and they were denied,” he said. “So, that was the first. Next, they felt that education was too expensive. He had to prove to them that intelligence, education is less expensive than not being educated. They were some of the things that he had to do. Then there’s always a maneuver to keep us from getting those things that are right for us and there’s the system that they use that’s known as divide and conquer.”
The Havre de Grace Colored High School with an all-Black faculty was eventually built and opened at the corner of Stokes and Alliance streets. It was equipped with hand-me-down books and furniture from white schools.
Despite the obvious differences, Stansbury extolled the education he received there. “I am an example,” he explained in the interview, adding that his father insisted that he and his six siblings at least get a high school education.
He was a 1943 graduate of the old Havre de Grace Colored High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1947 from Maryland State College, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in Princess Anne.
Because African Americans were unable to attend graduate school in the state, they were sent at taxpayers’ expense to such out-of-state institutions as the University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago or New York University, where he obtained a master’s degree in 1956. He also did additional graduate studies at West Virginia State College, now West Virginia State University, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
“Because of the color of my skin, I couldn’t go to the University of Maryland,” Mr. Stansbury said.
He began his 39-year teaching career as an industrial arts instructor in 1947 at his former high school where he remained until 1954 when he joined the faculty of the Havre de Grace Consolidated School. In 1964, he moved over to Aberdeen Middle School. In 1985, he began teaching at Fallston High School, and retired from there in 1988.
In addition to his academic work, when he was track and field coach at Aberdeen Middle School, two of his students were future Orioles and Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and Earl Christy, who played for the New York Jets from 1966 to 1969, and was in Super Bowl III.
While teaching, Mr. Stansbury fell in love with a young teacher from West Virginia, the former Mildred Gore, who was also the school librarian.
“I was always in the library and someone said, ‘You must really, really be an intelligent teacher because every time I go down to the library you must be checking out a lot of books,” Mr. Stansbury said in the interview. “I wasn’t down in the library checking out books, I was down in the library checking out my future wife.”
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The couple married in 1948.
Mr. Stansbury was a lifetime member of the NAACP and had served on the board of the North Central Maryland Lung Association. He had also been a member of the Harford County School Board Permanent Nominating Caucus, the Harford County Democratic Central Committee of the Board of Elections, where he had served two terms as president.
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He was the last living charter member of the Phi Epsilon chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, having been inducted in 1947. He was also a charter member of the Iota Nu chapter in Aberdeen and had served two terms as its president. The Omega shields he handcrafted are displayed in many chapters.
For his work, Mr. Stansbury received many awards. In 2004, he was inducted into the Harford County Hall of Fame, and three years later, a scholarship was named in his honor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where the Hazel Hall Lobby was named for him.
Since 1941, he has been a member of St. James African American Methodist Church in Havre de Grace.
He and his wife also operated Stansbury’s, which was a grocery and candy store in their Havre de Grace home, and for many years, hosted the annual July Fourth celebration at their residence. She died in 1999.
Mr. Stansbury was a sports fan and enjoyed vegetable gardening, working in his garden, and collecting and displaying photographs of his family.
Funeral services were held March 8 at the Lisa Scott Funeral Home in Havre de Grace.
He is survived by two brothers, the Rev. Marcus Stansbury of Havre de Grace and Dr. Clayton C. Stansbury of Baltimore; and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.