Memories of Attending a Segregated School in Easton, Maryland – Part 1

My route to grade school, 1948-53.

I got into a conversation at the First United Methodist Church about Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad heroine from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, from when my family and I come.

It bought back all sorts of memories of walking to the three-story brick Easton Elementary School 3-4 blocks from our home at 212 S. Aurora Street.  No kindergarten there.  No Velcro either. (Guess who didn’t learn to tie his shoe laces until the day before the first day of first grade.)

There were several routes to school.

The one I took most was straight north on Aurora Street for four blocks, then left for a block and, where the Talbot County Health Department parking lot is now, was the asphalt playground of Easton Elementary School.

That route took me past the edge of a black neighborhood (to the right on the map.)

I wondered why those who lived closer to the school than I didn’t go to school there.

We moved to lily white Salt Lake City as I was entering sixth grade.  Before leaving I attended a couple of days of class with my old classmates at the old high school, which was converted for lower grades.

Well before my time, this photo of what became my Easton Elementary School was provided by the Historical Society of Talbot County. Note the granite "sliding boards" next to the stairs. Of course, our teachers tried to keep us from using them for that purpose.

The only black (I guess it was “colored” then) child I knew was the daughter of our cleaning lady.

We used to play on the concrete-anchored, two-inch pipe swing set my father constructed.  Most of the “colored” section of town was west of the courthouse and library.  And the only time I visited it was when the carnival came.

The door to the left of the main doors was where I paid 16 or 17 cents every Saturday to see the movies.

“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” was a movie I saw in Easton.

It wasn’t showing at the Avalon Theatre where I usually went to the movies.  It was at the Easton Theater a couple of blocks away.

When we went to the Avalon we liked to sit in the balcony.  I remember being bored by some tap dancer and a magician entertaining on the stage, probably the last gasp of vaudeville.

So, imagine my surprise when I was told only blacks could sit in the balcony.  What a disappointment.

“Weren’t they lucky?” I thought.

That building is gone, but in its place I think there is a museum about local history.  I didn’t see any reference to the predecessor theater and how blacks had not been allowed to sit on the main floor.

Although there were not blacks at Easton Elementary, there was a Chinese boy whose family ran the dry cleaners.  I went over to his family’s apartment one day after school.

One other race-related experience made an impression.  My parents took me to a minstrel show held in the armory.  White guys dressed up in black face.  It was sponsored by some civil organization as a fundraiser.  I remember lots of physical comedy, but nothing specific.

After we moved to Salt Lake City, I was reading Life Magazine one afternoon and saw a picture of the front of my old grade school.  Besides the cut line, it was easily recognizable from the two granite banisters beside the front entrance.

And the reporting was about how someone had blown up a little bomb at the back entrance of the school.

Why?

The Talbot County Board (or Board of Education if there was a sub-board) had decided to implement Brown v. Board of Education by integrating one grade at a time, starting with the first grade.

Some resident obviously did not approve and took extreme action.

More tomorrow.


Comments

Memories of Attending a Segregated School in Easton, Maryland – Part 1 — 7 Comments

  1. There is a Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon, GA. Macon is about 1.5 hours south of Atlanta along I-75 on the way to Florida.

    Some of the elementary teachers have the kids read a book about Harriet Tubman, grades 3-5.

  2. I grew up in Easton. Found this by mistake when someone posted that Easton Schools were not segregated on a site You Know You Are from Easton …. If Interested I would be glad to share my experiences. I wrote a short piece called 23 Steps to the Door. I was dragged down the steps leading to the balcony. My butt hit every step. Would be glad to share.

  3. I wonder if you got my comments. I grew up in Easton. Memories of Segregation are very poignant. I wrote a comment about by short piece on called 23 STeps to The Door about being drug down the steps of the balcony of the Avalon Theater because I was white. I think I screwed up the use of the captcha code and you may nott have got it.

  4. When I went to the Avalon Theater through summer in 1953, blacks were not allowed inside.

    I loved to sit in the balcony, even for the boring vaudeville shows between movies.

    I remember the tiled bathroom, where I first saw what must have been junior high kids smoking.

  5. I am writing a novel which has a black character who attended elementary school in the mid-seventies in Talbot County.

    He experiences racist treatment from some other children, which is unfairly dealt with by the adults.

    I would be very interested to chat with the author of this blog, and also with Jeff Sarvey, about their experiences, and to make sure that my portrayal of this part is true-to-life. Even though the book is fiction,

    I want the picture of life it portrays to be accurate.

    Thanks very much. You can reach me at julianabarnet “at” gmail.com

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