Inside Boyds Negro School

Boyds Negro School, off White Ground Road, was built in 1895 and operated between 1896 and 1936, serving the children of rural African-American residents during the early 20th century.

In the time of Boyds Negro School, high-tech tablets needed chalk and clean erasers.

Instead of bottled water, Boyds students had fresh spring water — as in whatever water was fetched from Gum Spring.

But the real lesson Boyds Negro School leaves as its legacy is that perseverance is possible in the wake of inequality, a physical reminder of a post-slavery generation’s struggle for educational parity and how far society has come.

“Our message to people would be for them to appreciate the minimal resources that were in place for students of color,” said Elaine Fors-MacKellar, president of Boyds Historical Society.

Boyds Negro School, off White Ground Road slightly north of Germantown, was built in 1895 and operated between 1896 and 1936, serving the children of rural African-American residents during the early 20th century.

The historical society acquired the one-room school in 1980 and renovated the site with help from a state grant and guidance from the Maryland Historical Trust. The school is open for tours, though this time of year it is only available through an appointment.

Fors-MacKellar led Patch on a tour of Boyds Negro School on a brisk weekend in February.

Maryland Historical Trust’s Inventory of Historic Properties includes about 50 schools like Boyds Negro School, MHT administrator Peter E. Kurtze said.

But to find one with its characteristics as a one-room school intact is considered uncommon.

“Most of them have been knocked down,” said Nina Honemond Clarke, 94, of Rockville, in a phone interview with Patch.

Clarke featured Boyds Negro School in “History of the Black Public Schools of Montgomery County, Maryland 1872–1961,” which she wrote with researcher Lillian Brown.

Clarke said Boyds Negro School was one of several in Montgomery County that was built to serve African-American students. 

Germantown students would have had thier own school, said Susan Soderberg, president of the Germantown Historical Society.

Soderberg said hand-me down buildings that used to serve white pupils were used to serve African-American students in Germantown during the 1800s. One of the schools was still standing, but was relocated and has since been converted into a home, Soderberg said.

The other site, Soderberg said, no longer exists.

Soderberg, who is a Patch columnist, .

According to state records, at least 15 students in grades one through eight would have been taught inside a single building, which was heated by a wood stove and cooled by a set of six bright windows. The school also lacked indoor plumbing; an outhouse in the woods behind the school served students during lunch and recess.

Girls sat on one side of the school, boys on the other, according to Boyds Historical Society records. 

But the school was also operating in the era of “separate but equal.”  

African-American teachers at Boyds, Fors-MacKellar said, would have been paid considerably less than the white teachers in the county. The schools operations were funded solely by tax dollars of African-American residents, which meant intermittent closures if there wasn't enough money to support the schools for the entire the school year, Fors-MacKellar said.

Boyds students read from worn, hand-me-down books and materials the county’s white schools discarded.

She said that today, students she leads though the school were surprised at the school’s simplicity.

“They are amazed at the things they take for granted,” Fors-MacKellar said.

Tiffany Arnold November 13, 2013 at 02:56 PM
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