The Peale’s seminal role in public school education for African Americans in Baltimore at the end of the 19th century is one of the most intriguing periods of the building’s history, but so far little is known about this period. Here are a few notes we have from Peale Center board members Jean Baker and Jim Dilts; please add to our knowledge base if you can, and forward this request for information to anyone you know who might be able to help!
In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, an organization called the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Social Improvement of the Colored People was formed. The association raised money and opened a number of free schools for black children. The city agreed to contribute $10,000 as well.
In 1867 the city council voted to operate schools for black children, replacing all black teachers with white ones, and with that the Baltimore Association turned its buildings over to the city. Some were closed, some were refurbished, and some were used in their existing condition. The Baltimore City Council opened 13 primary schools but no grammar or high schools were established for blacks because it was thought “neither advisable nor practical to provide grades or schools for this class of people.” (This generation made distinctions among grade schools and primary schools and high schools.)
In 1869 the city council opened publicly funded grammar schools for blacks and one was started at the Peale called Colored Grammar School Number One.
1878 “By a resolution of the City Council, the Inspector of Buildings was directed to alter and repair the old City Hall building on Holliday street, for the use of Colored Primary Schools No. 1, and these schools are now occupying their new apartments with better light and ventilation and more comfort than they have ever had since their organization.”
In 1882 a Colored High School with a two year program was housed with the Colored Grammar School in what the minutes say was “The old city hall at Holliday near Lexington.” After six years it moved to a new building on Saratoga and in 1889 its graduates (there were 18 in the first classes) were certified to teach.
In 1883 the Annual Reports of the Board of School Commissioners recorded, “The building occupied by the Colored High and Grammar School and Male Colored School No. 1 is not a suitable one in scarcely any respect. It is not well arranged and some of the rooms are too small and very badly lighted. In some of the rooms, on the lower floor, it is scarcely possible to see sufficiently well to read on cloudy days. If, in case of fire or for any other cause, it became necessary to move the children quickly out of the building, great difficulty would be experienced on account of the narrow stairway down which pupils on the third floor have to pass in getting out of the building.”
By 1884 things hadn’t improved: the stairway was still a hazard, and “This neighborhood is too noisy for the location of a school.”
Afterwards, the poor conditions persisted and in 1887, the School Commissioners reported that there was a “building in course of erection on Saratoga St. near St. Paul for the use of Colored High and Grammar School and Male and Female Colored School No. 1 [to] furnish these schools with ample accommodations.”
Can you help fill in the details of the history of public education for African Americans at the Peale? We’re keen to learn more about this pivotal chapter in Baltimore history, and look forward to hearing from you!
- Articles by Bettye Collier Thomas in the Maryland Historical Magazine
- Annual Reports of the Board of School Commisioners 1878-1887, notes by Jeff Korman, June 5, 2007
- MA thesis at Howard University on the History of Public Education in the city of Baltimore by Vernon, Vavrina