For 74 years, Ellicott City’s Black children learned in a two-room schoolhouse with no running water, no electricity, no central heat, no bus service, and no bathrooms.
Starting in 1880, after an 1879 Maryland law required that counties provide education for African-American children, the county built the tiny, primitive schoolhouse.
The gabled building, set back from Frederick Road, started as a one-room schoolhouse that was divided into two to add seventh grade. Older students served as janitors, filling the coal and wood stoves, polishing the floors, and hauling water. Two outhouses sat near the stream, the Hudson Branch that is commonly called the Tiber. Students walked from as far away as New Cut Road.
The Ellicott City Colored School closed its doors in 1953. Schools in Howard County were not fully integrated until more than a decade after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The school slid into disrepair until 1995, when the county bought the property. Beulah Buckner, a genealogy researcher, raised thousands of dollars for its purchase with bazaars, calendar and candy sales, and crab feasts. The building is now a museum.
Poet Patti Ross wrote this poem as an acrostic, with the first letters of each line spelling out its subject. Her family holds a deep belief in education, Ross explained. Her grandfather took a ferry across the Chesapeake Bay to attend college in 1933 at Hampton University. Recommended by George Washington Carver, her great- uncle taught for 35 years at Delray Colored #4 School in Florida.
“Old single-room Colored Schools remind me of the struggles made to adapt to a system that thwarted education for people like me,” Ross said. “Colored schools are imbued in my soul.”
Ross started an open mic poetry reading series in 2019 at Syriana Café on Main Street in Ellicott City. Her debut chapbook, St. Paul Street Provocations, was released in July 2021 by Yellow Arrow Publishing.
Colored School by Patti Ross Close to the rivers’ union seen Out the gap, an 1880 graveyard fence Leans against a cabin On the hill where the Tiber bends. Voices Release from muted mouths. Tears fill Eyes of former slaves. The Law Designates Colored School Charmed dreams Hopes watered for 73 years. One room overgrown Of what is to be Learned. “Colored School” is copyright Patti Ross, © 2022. @littlepisuniverse. Printed by permission of the author.