January 3, 2023
Only a few feet away from the percussive sounds of Atholton’s band room and the clicks of powerpoint presentations from the Social Studies department, a seemingly ordinary government building holds a momentous amount of history.
The Harriet Tubman School served as the only high school for Black students in Howard County from 1949-1965.The Howard County Public School System continued to use the building for 50 years after the school’s closing. Then on October 16, 2015, former Howard County executive, Alan Kittleman, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, officially transferring the property from the management of Howard County Public Schools to Howard County for refurbishment. The building was reopened as a museum and community center on September 17, 2022. According to the Baltimore Sun the renovations required, “$1.85 million from the state and $7.53 million in county funding.”
Walking through the entrance, it is clear that the building is not just made of brick and mortar; the stories of Black Marylanders and the building seem to be almost intrinsically intertwined. Ms. Chaundry, the lead organizer of a recent Social Studies department trip to the building, described it as, “Simply beautiful, so much history and more than the building, it was a feeling of deep recognition and respect for the individuals who made it a place for so many students. A place for learning and community.”
The stories of resilience in the face of segregation and other racialized political barriers are apparent from the most minute details.Even the seemingly simple task of naming the school was a fight against oppression. The school was initially set to be named Atholton High School, but after firm lobbying from the African American community, the school was renamed to the Harriet Tubman School. The architecture further symbolizes the strength and resilience in Black history. This is exemplified in the lights being slightly elevated above the ceiling tiles so they look like stars guiding the way to freedom on the underground railroad. Alongside the concrete walls, stand the original layout for the building and the stories of each class-finished with the personal touches of inside jokes, stories and genuine camaraderie.
The building also houses the original gym, secretary’s office, refurbished classrooms and an office dedicated to the former two high school principals Eihart E. Flurry and Silas E. Craft. Flurry was the principal from 1949-1956. Craft was the principal from 1956 until 1965, when the school closed after the ruling
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognized both men for their role in helping Black Americans further pursue education in the face of insurmountable odds. Dr. Craft, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, commented on the “struggle to get what you needed.” He described the county’s clear bias towards white schools, providing them with brand new textbooks and materials, while the Tubman building received used textbooks. In defiance, Craft sent the books back and received a set of brand-new textbooks.
Even further down the hallway there is a section dedicated to the stories of Black Americans in Howard County and the surrounding areas. Segments are dedicated to Black pioneers such as Oliver Scott, Millie Bailey, Joseph Fuller, and Herman Chanty. Oliver Scott was born in Howard County and joined the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, and led his unit in the pivotal Battle of Crater. Millie Bailey was born in Washington, DC and served as a first lieutenant and later as a commander of the all-female detachment. She was one of only two Black women to attend the Adjutant General School Officers’ Administration Course, and graduated with distinction. Joseph Fuller was born in Baltimore on December 8, 1925 and served in the US Army. After being honorably discharged, he became the first Black firefighter in Howard County. Like Fuller, Herman Charity paved the way for Black Americans in Howard County’s first response unit. Herman Charity joined the police force in 1989 and faced constant discrimination-enduring racial taunts from fellow officers and resentment from residents. Despite racial tensions, he became the county’s first Black corporal, first Black sergeant, first Black detective, first Black vice officer and first Black Internal Affairs officer. He also recruited other Black officers, including Richard E. Hall- who became the County’s first Black captain.
Howard County, like America itself, stands at a crossroad between progress and division and the Tubman building pays homage to both sides of America’s constant struggle between the two. It stands as a memorial to the injustices that Black Americans face, but also the continued resistance to it. Whether it was Bailey becoming one of only two Black commanders in the Women’s Army Corps or Craft boldly sending back textbooks as a sign of civil disobedience to racialized funding, the Harriet Tubman building serves a monument to the contributions of Black Marylanders and a guiding light to Howard County’s — and America’s– future progress.