When the Supreme Court overruled “separate but equal” in 1954, change gradually began to take hold in Montgomery County. But within the walls of the county’s all-black high school at the time, some students did not focus on segregation.
“At that time it didn’t make any difference to us. That’s what we were used to. We knew it wasn’t right, but that’s what we were used to,” said Annabell Moten Owens. “It was never my desire to go to Richard Montgomery. Some people might have had that desire. It was not mine because I had made so many friends that went from elementary to junior high to senior high with me.”
Owens, now 77, graduated in 1955 from George Washington Carver High School, a brand new facility that opened in 1951 and closed in 1960. The school, now called Carver Educational Services Center and located in Rockville where the county Board of Education meets now, served grades 10-12 as well as some junior college students and had a range of academic classes, vocational training and extracurricular activities.
But for many who attended, the community proved the most memorable part of the school. The students still have class reunions and a few, most in their 70s, still live in or moved back to Montgomery County.
When Lionel Owens – Annabell’s brother-in-law – moved back to Gaithersburg from California, he compiled a list of everyone in his class.
“I have their phone numbers and addresses and if anything is happening I will call them, like these two guys,” Owens said, gesturing to two friends he brought with him to this meeting in the Carver cafeteria.
Along the cafeteria walls are old pictures from Carver. Elaine Hebron, formerly Crutchfield, one of the organizers of this gathering, spotted herself in two of them: history class and graduation.
“We had our graduation right on the lawn and you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t all of that,” she said. “You know, as I came in today I was looking at the grounds and they have added so much to Carver I couldn’t even see where we had our graduation because they put on an extension to the building. Before it was just grassy area where we had enough to have graduation and exercises and people sang, the choir sang, the band played, but when I looked today I couldn’t find that spot or that extra yardage.”
But Hebron, a Rockville native and now night facilities manager at city hall, looks back on graduation day as a very proud one.
“I had gotten my education and I was going out in the world to do something different,” she said as she looked at the photograph.
Hebron and some of the other graduates felt proud of the teachers and the amenities. When Carver opened, it had facilities for carpentry class, typing, auto mechanics, tailoring and dry cleaning and cosmetology classes that took field trips, according to Annabell.
Hebron said the teachers taught them very well, as she looked at the picture of history class with about 15 students in it.
“We learned so much. I mean, we had no behavior problems, we knew what we had, we did our homework, and we just had a great, great school and a great class, great friends…we were just happy-go-lucky,” she said. “We had such a close-knit family.”
Hebron said even the teachers made up part of that family, and often stayed with people in the community during the school year.
She said she remembers few if any behavioral problems – everyone knew what they were supposed to do. Her brother, who now goes by Warren Crutchfield but used to be called Gordon, said he got minor punishments from some of the teachers as he learned how to act appropriately.
“When I was smaller they said ‘You got three apples and you got three apples and then what was that?’ and I said ‘That’s five apples.’ They said ‘Five apples? What happened?’ I said ‘I ate the other apple.’ So I had to stay in the classroom and (write) ‘I will not be a smart aleck.’ You had chalkboards back then and you would stay in there until you fill that chalkboard,” Warren said with a laugh.
But the education worked for Warren and others, who said they owe a lot to Carver.
“Oh yes, Carver…let’s see, how can I put this? I do owe a lot because the teachers here were very care-giving. They wanted to see you succeed and all of that so it was – it was really nice,” Lionel said.
While some students had to get up at 4 a.m. to catch the bus as there were only a few buses for Carver to pick up students all around the county, Hebron and Warren grew up in Rockville and walked to school.
“We walked in the snow, the rain, the cold because we lived right here and that’s one thing, you know, and we didn’t have any days it was too hot to come to school. We didn’t have our air conditioning, so we’d just come here and endure. Endure. And I think that made us better individuals,” Warren said.
The education also went beyond the classroom for many of the students. Warren and Hebron played on sports teams, which would compete across the region with other all-black teams.
Music also played a large role for Lionel, who performed as drum major his senior year and led the marching band in a parade through Rockville. He still stays involved in music through singing at his church.
“Music was my favorite subject. Of course when I left, I took voice lessons, piano lessons and all of that and I’m still trying to sing. Can’t play anything, but you know,” he said with a laugh.
Although Lionel said he probably did not take advantage of all the opportunities at Carver, he felt sad when they closed the building as a school.
“It was sort of heartbreaking. But then with the board of education moving in, that was sort of a nice thing because it was still part of the school (system) but then when I come in and look around, how they’ve added more on and it’s such a huge building now than what it was when we were here in school, they could have done the same thing and they could have had more than one high school,” he said.
According to Annabell, they closed the building as a school as part of integration because white students “did not want to sit in the same seats that we sat in.”
“It was still a relatively new school…but there was a lot of prejudice in Rockville back then and the way our parents shielded us from it was to keep us, like I said, pretty much to ourselves,” she said.
Although Carver is not open as a school today, photographs throughout the cafeteria and hallways commemorate its days as a top facility and as so many of the students put it, a “great time.” Now, Annabell and her classmates are getting ready for their 60th reunion.
“We just got along then and we get along now,” she said.