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The first high school for African American students in Frederick County was on 170 W. All Saints St. in Frederick. It opened in 1920.

West All Saints Street has historically served as the center of the African-American community in Frederick.

Once located on the edge of the community, the street grew throughout the mid to late nineteenth century as a thriving center of African American life in Frederick – a grocery, clothing stores, restaurants, barbers and beauty shops, doctor’s offices, churches, restaurants, pubs, and more. Importantly, West All Saints Street also became the home of the first high school for the education of African Americans in Frederick County.

In 1872, Maryland required every Board of Education to establish at least one school for the education of African Americans in their respective districts. In Frederick, two schools were provided: one on South Bentz Street at the head of West All Saints Street, and one on West Seventh Street. Before the construction of these two schools, the first classes for African American children were held in the basement of Quinn Chapel on East Third Street, and at Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church on West All Saints Street.

The South Bentz Street School began night classes in 1917 for teenagers older than 16, who worked during the day. Prior to the establishment of a local high school, options for African Americans to receive education beyond the elementary level could only be found outside of Frederick.

In 1920, Mr. John Bruner, an educational leader in the African American community, asked the Board of Education to purchase a plot of land for a high school on West All Saints Street which contained a small one-story stone building. Sanborn maps indicate that the building was approximately 600 square feet in size, one story, with a slate or tin roof and existed as early as 1887. An early, undated, photograph of the building depicts the structure as constructed of fieldstone. The earliest Sanborn maps indicate that the structure was also once a part of “Louis McMurray’s Canning Establishment” as a “Tin House.” This small building was to become the first formal high school building for African Americans in Frederick County.

After purchasing the building, it was then renovated to accommodate the first 28 students who enrolled in classes which started on September 5, 1920. Mr. Maurice Reid was the principle of the school, and only teacher. By the 1921-22 school year, enrollment increased to 50 students, and Ms. Rose Stepney was hired to teach English and history. The 1922 Sanborn map labels the building as “Colored School” and indicates “No Lights, Heat Stove.” The small school continued to grow, however, and it became necessary to expand once again. The Board of Education purchased land on Madison Street to construct a new, modern school, in 1923. In the summer of 1924, 12 students who began classes at the West All Saints Street school marched down the aisle, graduating from the new Lincoln High School, and received their diplomas. Lincoln High School remained the only African American high school in Frederick County for the next 35 years.

Sometime after the last classes were held at the old West All Saints Street school, the building was demolished. While no traces of this small but important building remain, a small granite marker placed by the Frederick Chapter of the NAACP marks the spot of this significant piece of Frederick’s history. The site now is home to a parking lot for the adjacent Mountain City Elks Lodge #382, and host to a local farmers market.

Send us your historic preservation questions to PreservationMatters@cityoffrederick.com.

(5) comments

DickD

We have come a long ways in 100 years. We have a ways to go. Just think, prior to the Civil War, African Americans could not be educated, it was a crime to teach them how to read and write.

MD1756

That's only partially correct. In certain southern states it was illegal (even so some still taught slaves to read and write (including Thomas Jackson aka Stonewall Jackson), but it was not a federal restriction and there are plenty of examples of schools or programs for or that included African Americans). Additionally, the southern states in general didn't have established publicly funded schools. Education was left up to individuals (which generally meant home schooling or private schools). Public schools for anyone in the south generally did not exist until after the Civil War.

DickD

And after the Civil War they were not allowed in "white schools". The South still maintains the Civil War was over "states rights", preferring to ignore the right predominantly the cause was slavery.

Dwasserba

I had read that was due to concern that if they could forge documents, which would help them run away and disappear. So let's all pretend that people back then believed that enslaved people were happy serving under benevolent masters.

MD1756

I think it was more the fear that slaves may read papers/pamphlets, etc. from the north promoting the ending of slavery including through encouraging uprisings. An ignorant (not dumb) or uninformed workforce is a happy workforce... right? It was simply short sighted protectionism in trying to preserve an elite way of life even though I think in general a better educated workforce leads to greater prosperity for everyone.

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