oral history of desegregation

I spent most of the morning advising a potential applicant for the Rhodes

Scholarship—something that I do on the side because I feel that Maryland

students need coaching. (We haven’t won since the mid-1970s.)

In the afternoon, our class at Northwestern

High School interviewed two people for our oral history project

on the desegregation of Prince George’s County schools. One interviewee

was the first African American student at the school. (He was still the

only one when he graduated three years later). He said: "Initially

I was actually hoping that it wouldn’t work. My parents had said that

if there was a lot of violence, we would back up. … Instead of violence,

there were three years of hostility." His main motivation was to

be "part of something bigger," the Civil Rights Movement. He

later became a successful chemical engineer. I found him enormously appealing—and

easily understood what he meant in his understated way, but the kids took

his reticence about his own emotions as evasiveness.

The second interviewee was a current member of the County Council, a

white man who was formerly a civil rights lawyer. He had sued to force

bussing in the county schools and then arranged the settlement that ended

bussing. He moved to the County in 1971, and his family was the only White

one in the local community. At a community meeting, "I said I was

a civil rights lawyer and I wanted to be active in the community."

A community leader said, "Man, you are a phenomenon. Most white people

are trying to move out of here." In the 1970s, roughly 100,000 African

Americans relocated to Prince George’s County (mostly from Washington),

and roughly 100,000 White people left—a pattern that continued for

the next 20 years. "Those folks who moved in the seventies were running

from black folks … In the eighties and nineties, it had more to do

with the aging of the population and the changing of circumstance."

People left for upper income housing and better schools.

"My dream in the early eighties was that this is the place where

we would make it work. This is the place where we would demonstrate to

America that it can work like it says in social studies books. Today I

would say that we are still working on that."

2 thoughts on “oral history of desegregation

  1. Michael Arnold

    A Channel 8 Virginia, Black History Month, program highlighted bussing in PG County in 1973 and I was reminded of my experience with forced integration. I was a junior at Crossland Sr. High School in 1973 when bussing began. My racist, white, father was up in arms but most of we white middle-class students took it in stride. There was a group of less enlightened bussed-in blacks and local-white kids who started what I would call race riots, but that was short lived. I remember that many bussed-in black kids held to the highest standards for classroom behavior and performance. Some put us to shame, really. I also have fond memories of the bussing experience having made friends amongst the new students. I have one funny story to tell: Because Palmer High School (it was a Central Ave. area high school) was predominately black we received a large number of black students from that school. However, they inadvertently shipped a white student-Dale- from Palmer to Crossland. He tried hard to get sent back to his majority black school but the education bureaucracy forced him to be bussed to Crossland, where he graduated. To this day, Dale?s story still doesn?t make any sense.

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