The seats are filled with the memories
Dec. 1, 1999

Preservation efforts will continue at Boyds Negro School

by Kristen Milton

Staff Writer

December 1, 1999

These days, the single-room Boyds Negro School is quiet, with an enlarged black and white photo of some of its last students keeping watch from one end of the room and a portrait of their teacher, Lillian Giles, looking back from the other.

But some 70 years ago, the school was filled with children, as students in grades 1 to 8 arrived on foot at the rural school and tromped across wooden floors to the desks where they learned the three R's of reading, writing and arithmetic in pre-integration Montgomery County.

Nowadays, two of Giles' students, Delores Talley and Betty Hawkins, still laugh like girls as they remember old discussions of their teacher's always long dresses and doses of cod liver oil.

"My brother was sure Miss [Lillian] Giles was older than she said," Hawkins said fondly. "She was the old maid schoolteacher."

Talley, 62, and Hawkins, 68, were Giles' students after she moved in 1936 from the one-room Boyds schoolhouse to the two-room Clarksburg Negro School. They remember her leading Biblical devotionals, cooking bean and potato soups for her students' lunch and lining them up during the winter for nasty-tasting spoonfuls of the "medicinal" oil. They remember shoveling paths to the outhouse, enjoying the heat of a wood-burning stove and dreading the monthly visits from the local dentist.

The routine was probably very similar at the Boyds school, in use from 1895 to 1936, they said. The school was eventually converted into a private home but sat unused for many years before the Boyds/Clarksburg Historical Society purchased it in 1981. This Saturday, the society will host a fund-raising holiday bazaar, and proceeds will go toward the building's upkeep.

With a grant from the Maryland Historical Trust, the Boyds Negro School was restored in 1989 to its probable appearance in about 1900, complete with blackboard, desks, stove and a portrait of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. However once the work was done, some of the enthusiasm for the building waned.

Now as the society's president and secretary, Talley and Hawkins are trying to make sure the school's legacy is not lost. Bazaars and fruit sales held by the society for the last three years are part of that effort.

"We have to do something to keep it going," Talley said. "I couldn't see it go. This building means very much to me."

Talley said she saw an example of the building's ability to bring African-American history to life when she saw one young girl react to the schoolhouse during a fruit sale. "She was amazed that this is how the older generation went to school and had to do -- here in a one-room school," Talley said. "The younger kids -- they need to know that."

The society has plans to try to expand the influence of the building, where it meets monthly. Talley hopes that as of February 2000, the school will be open at least monthly for visitors. It is now available only by appointment. In addition, the society is gathering volunteers to help them make a video with interviews of the school's surviving students.

"We hope to interview the few that are living and make a video," Talley said, looking at the black and white picture on the wall where 1930s students look back at her. They stand side by side, arms straight and faces serious; one boy the only one in a tie, one small girl in a coat with a fur collar. Hawkins, whose older siblings attended the school, and Talley know several of the students and are eager to preserve their stories. "We can't keep putting it off," Hawkins said.

Fund-raisers and donations also pay for necessities such as insurance, taxes, roof work and paint for the building. They are things "to keep the building together," Hawkins said.

That is important to the two women. Their own Clarksburg school is no longer standing, and the Boyds school is symbolic to them of all the schools that educated the county's African-American residents. The destruction of the Clarksburg school, which was near the current Rocky Hill Middle School, was "heart-rending," Hawkins said.

Even relative newcomers to the area can appreciate the significance of the Boyds school. Society treasurer Steve Gibson and his wife Ginger, who have lived in the area for about 20 years, say the school can say a lot to all members of the Boyds community.

"It's so much a part of the culture of the area," Ginger Gibson said. "It really got me interested in the black gift to the community."

Community support of the society's efforts is one way to assure that the history, not only of the school but also of the area as a whole, will be preserved, they said. They hope to see a good turnout at Saturday's event.

The bazaar will feature crafters from around the area. "There will be a lot of good Christmas gift items," Steve Gibson said.


The bazaar will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the school, 19510 White Ground Road. The society meets third Wednesdays of the month. Call Talley at 301- 972-0578 for information on joining.