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Carver High School - relic of an era

Carver High School: relic of an obsolete era 
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Carver High School: relic of an obsolete era


Segregated schools are a part of American history. They were a part of American life.

Maryland had lacked "a uniform public school system and standardized education" as late as 1864, but segregation of the schools began that early when legislation of that year provided that the schools for Negroes would be supported by certain state and local funds and the county taxes paid by the black population, as well as private contributions.

The first public school for Negroes in Cumberland was the Mary Hoye School, which had operated in a "colored YMCA" on Independence Street.

The black community became increasingly concentrated solely in Frostburg and Cumberland, and it was during this period that an expanded school was established in Cumberland on Mechanic Street.

The new Negro school in Cumberland was established during the First World War in a building which had stood at about the present location of the John F. Kennedy Homes on North Mechanic Street.

Steadily increasing attendance at the Negro school in Cumberland, combined with the continued inadequacy of the Mechanic Street facility, soon necessitated the construction of a new building. The circumstances of its opening were not appropriate to the significance of such a great advancement of the opportunities available to the local black community: it was widely rumored that opposition existed within the neighborhood of the new school to its being used for Negro students.

The school board maintained its plans for the Negro schools of the county, which included, in 1923, several improvements at the one-room school in Frostburg, which was by then known as "Lincoln School."

Once the Frederick Street facility was in operation, the area black community was better served in the field of education, and as the school grew in popularity, attendance increased.

Perhaps the most important event in the history of the Negro population of Allegany County was the arrival of Mr. Earle L. Bracey as principal of the Frederick Street School. Mr. Bracey was a South Carolinian, having been reared and educated in that state.

He had offers of the principalship of schools in New Jersey and Michigan but chose to return to Allegany County — to the segregated South — mostly because he did not want to move around too much, saw a need for his services here, and liked the area. Despite the offers he had received from Northern schools, it was generally easier for a black educator to find employment in the segregated schools of the South than in the integrated schools of the North.

Within a few years after Mr. Bracey took charge of the Frederick Street School in October 1931; the school began reflecting his influence. Mr. Bracey — perhaps himself influenced by the philosophies of Booker T. Washington, who believed, in the face of political and social inequality, that Negroes should strive for "economic development through vocational training" in order to be better prepared to take a place in the existing society — was disturbed to find that the school had a strictly academic curriculum.

He began a program to alter the curriculum so that it was geared more towards vocational training. Superintendent of Schools Charles Kopp told him to "go after teachers like the Yankees go after baseball players."

Mr. Bracy took that advice and used his own judgment in selecting teachers for recommendation to the school board for hiring. He wanted warm teachers, people to whom the students could cling for support and guidance, not "icy and formal" teachers, and he tried to look into the backgrounds of candidates for evidence of these qualifications.

By 1940, Mr. Bracey’s curriculum reform had developed to such an extent that the Frederick Street School was one of the finest in the county and had home economics and industrial arts departments "second to none;" however, in the strengthening of the vocational training aspect of the school, certain more traditional areas of education, such as French and literature, were weakened.

Along with the traditional topics in United States history and the usual group of American writers — the subjects which all children had to learn in order to do well on the standardized tests — there were special topics taught at the Negro school. Black history was taught as part of United States history, and every year, around Lincoln's birthday, there was observed in the school "Negro History Week," during which the contributions of prominent American Negroes were brought to the attention of the students.

Often, in-depth studies of Booker T. Washington were made. Washington's philosophies, in fact, could be said to be the guiding force behind the school; and, echoing the philosophy of that great educator, English teacher Ruth Franklin has said that "every individual has the explicit right to an education, commensurate to his abilities to absorb, which will help him take his place in society."

Another important change in the school brought about by Mr. Bracey was the changing of its name. Although the building had originally been called Cumberland High School, it had officially and popularly been called Frederick Street School.

Mr. Bracey felt that it should be named for an important American Negro; so, with the approval of the Board of Education, he held, in 1941, an election among the students and faculty to choose a new name for their school. Frederick Douglas and Booker T Washington lost to Dr. George Washington Carver.

The spirit of Carver School, and the aspect in which the effects of state-supported racial segregation can best be seen, is to be found in the school activities.

Mr. Bracey involved himself intimately with the activities of his students. He initiated and conducted glee clubs, and he held singing festivals for the Carver glee clubs combined with those of the North Street School for Negroes of Hagerstown and the Howard Street School for Negroes of Piedmont, W.Va. He also coached the boys' basketball team, but because the law and tradition prohibited their playing the teams of the county white schools, they had to go to Hagerstown, Frederick or Harrisonburg, Va., to play another black team.

Bringing to Cumberland nationally famous American Negro performers was another service to the school and community initiated by Mr. Bracey.

These concerts were originally held in the Allegany High School auditorium but came to be so well attended that later ones were held in the larger auditorium of Fort Hill High School. They were advocated by Superintendent Kopp, who wanted to show the community that white people and black people can sit down together at a public concert and enjoy themselves.

The community services rendered by Carver School were not limited to just Allegany County. The West Virginia counties of Mineral, Hampshire, Morgan, Hardy, and Grant were not able to support their own black schools adequately; and, due in part to the fine reputation of Carver School, the parents of many children in these counties were willing to pay tuition to the Board of Education of Allegany County, and send their children to Cumberland for their schooling.

In 1953, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was challenging the segregation system. The verdict, when it came, took many quite by surprise.

The Supreme Court said:
"Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system."


March 31,1998


Michael Allen Mudge

Cumberland Times-News. Photograph of Earle Bracey from Earle Bracey


Collection Location:
Allegany County, Maryland

African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.

Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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