Friday, February 4, 2022

The Ambiguity of Desegregation

 Following preservation debates as I do, I have long been impressed by the loyalty that many Black Americans feel toward their old segregated schools:

May Day is my mother’s favorite memory from her time attending the segregated school in the mismatched buildings at the corner of Stokes and Alliance streets. During my own childhood, she and my father, the late Joseph Williams Sr. — both members of Havre de Grace Colored High School in northeast Maryland, Class of ’51 — told stories to my sisters and me that bordered on legend. Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes once lectured my dad’s English class and gave him a book of poems. I envied their experience: I attended a suburban, predominantly White high school in the suburbs.

My parents rarely spoke of the hardships that went along with education in the Jim Crow era, like the secondhand desks and tattered textbooks, the basement science lab or the grassy vacant lot with homemade bleachers serving as the school gymnasium. “I loved being there,” my mother says. “I was proud to graduate from there. The cohesiveness and the closeness made you feel like you belonged.”  . . .

The school and its long, proud history have been resurrected and returned to the community as a museum and community event space, thanks to an alumnus’s determined daughter. Havre de Grace Colored High School has joined a growing national list of formerly segregated institutions finding new life. Ongoing or recently completed grass-roots projects have been pursued in Atlanta, St. Louis, Baltimore, Delaware, Alabama, Virginia, Western Maryland, North Carolina and Florida. (Washington Post)
I can't imagine anyone showing this kind of loyalty to the sort of big, diverse high school I went to.


pootrsox said...

Here in rural VA, we have some Rosenwald schools (

Graduates in my little corner of the Northern Neck (which I leave forever on Monday to return to CT) there is a very active group that is restoring the high school in Reedville (

The pride, I think, lies in the sense of accomplishment, earned by working together and enriched by the support of the faculty.

G. Verloren said...

I can't imagine anyone showing this kind of loyalty to the sort of big, diverse high school I went to.

People who go through hell together often develop a closeness and camaraderie that others don't. I imagine you and your fellow schoolmates didn't go through hell together - you weren't forced by deprivation to develop a close-knit community, as a means to make up for other lacking resources.