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Black History Month: Baltimore County Public Schools highlights district’s history of racial inequality, slow but powerful triumphs

1939-1940 photo of students from the former Shepherd Colored School in Baltimore County.
Photo Credit: Baltimore County Public Schools/Baltimore County Public Library

In celebration of Black History Month this month, Baltimore County Public Schools has highlighted the county’s earlier progress toward ending segregation, the beginnings of integration, and the district’s historical attempts at equalizing teacher pay, school funding and resources for the then-all-black, segregated schools.

It may be hard to believe, but it hasn’t been that long ago since attempts at fixing the inequities even began gaining traction.

A timeline posted by Baltimore County Public Schools, called A Promise in Progress: The History of African Americans and BCPS – The Story Begins, highlights the historical iniquities between Baltimore County’s black and white students and their schools, and earlier strides made to fix those inequities and end segregation.

And history shows that progress has been slow.

It took 50 years after an 1847 law was passed to establish a school system in Baltimore County for the school board to commit funds to build schools for black students.  And it took an additional 58 years after that when, in the 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those “separate, but equal” (segregated), schools were unconstitutional.

In 1961-62, the school board would vote to desegregate all remaining schools and faculty, yet years later more than half the black student population continued to attend segregated schools.

Nearly forty years later – in the year 2000 – the school system’s first African American superintendent, Joe Hairston PhD, would be elected by the school board.

Although not noted in the timeline, in 2012, the district’s second, Dallas Dance, PhD would follow.  Also not noted, in 2017, although only serving as interim superintendent, Verletta White would serve for two years; and in 2019, current Superintendent Darryl L. Williams. PhD would mark history as the fourth black leader to lead Baltimore County Public Schools.

The timeline ends with a photo of Hairston, from 2010, with his arm around a white student in front of Catonsville Elementary School (formerly Catonsville High School) when, in 2018, a marker was placed at the school to commemorate an unsuccessful attempt in 1935 to desegregate it.

Baltimore County schools’ black history and the full A Promise in Progress timeline can be viewed here.

The district notes that photos and additions to the timeline are welcome. They can be sent here.
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