Interview with Allen C. Brown, 25 July 2019
About This Recording
Allen Brown began teaching, and later administration, in 1968 right after integration had taken effect in Wicomico and Salisbury. He speaks of his experience as an administrator in the early 70's with the freshly-integrated schools and the community surrounding those schools during his career. He remained as a principal at Bennett Middle School until his retirement in 2008, where he later became a member of the Wicomico Board of Education where he remains as of 2019.
This interview is part of the Maryland Humanities Teachers' Institute: Documenting School Desegregation through Oral History collection. For more information, see the Edward H. Nabb Center finding aid.
Recording Date: July 25, 2019
Interviewer: Letia Cooper
Narrator: Allen C. Brown
Date of Interview: July 17, 2019
Keywords: Desegregation, Segregation, Wicomico County Education, African American Education, Lynching
Intro: Mr. Allen C. Brown is a member of the Wicomico Board of Education. He was a teacher in Wicomico County right after desegregation and remains active in the field. He shares his story of education around the time of desegregation.
[Interview Begins at 00:02]
Letia Cooper (LC): Alright. Good morning, Mr. Brown.
Allen C. Brown (ACB): Good Morning!
LC: My name is Letia Cooper and this morning we’re going to interview Mr. Allen C. Brown Sr., Retired educator. I’m going to ask you questions about yourself to get us started and comfortable. Where were you born and raised?
ACB: I was born right here in Wicomico County in a little town called Hillaber Creek on the west side. I went to school in that area.
LC: Awesome. Hillaber creek, that’s an unusual name!
ACB: It’s actually a part of a branch off of the Wicomico river, and it kind of dead-ends in that particular area.
LC: It must’ve been nice growing up there. Can you tell me about it?
ACB: Yeah. It’s really, um, it’s almost like a one-way street. Everybody knew everyone. I grew up in a time when no one locked their doors. Even though we were poor, we were never hungry. People raised pigs and cows and chickens. Neighbors helped neighbors. When it was hog-killing time, everyone helped everyone. If you wanted a chicken for dinner on sunday, just go in the neighbor’s back yard and get a chicken. It was really great. Everybody was your parent. We would be outside playing and at the end of the day when it would start to get dark, whoever’s house we were at would say “Okay boys and girls, it’s time to go home.” And we might linger on, then they would come out a second time and everybody would scatter. It was just really interesting and a lot of different things have occurred since that time. I’m not sure how much we’ve lost, but I feel that we’ve lost that closeness. I remember when we were at different homes including my parent’s home, if we were playing and it was like the middle of the day, they would bring you in the house and give me the milk and cookies or something like—cool aid, cookies. It was just really great. You kind of miss that after you grow up.
LC: Right, that sense of community that was bound by traditions and, you know, like you said: the hog killing. You have your barbecue and you get all your different pieces and you share amongst everyone in the community. So, this sounds wonderful that you all and your parents raised you in that environment, down in Hillaber Creek. And are you still there or do you still participate in that area?
ACB: Actually, I still go to church there. That’s my home church. We had to build a new church about ten years ago, uh, it’s flourishing still. Probably, right now in that communi—my sister still lives in the homeplace. So, I visit quite often, in fact I was down there this week cutting her grass for her. But very few families that attend the church live in the community. They live in other areas. I guess a majority may live in Salisbury as I do. But we’re still members of that church and attend on a regular basis.
LC: That’s awesome. It’s awesome that you all, even though you may not live there anymore, your sister’s still there keeping up your family home. I know that brings back so many memories and just having that space to always come home to and make you feel connected. Can you tell me a little about you growing up in the school system here?
ACB: Sure. During the time I grew up and started school in 1952, the schools in Wicomico county were segregated. So, the elementary school that I went to in Quantico was first grade through sixth grade. Then there was only one school in that particular area for minority students, actually there were two because there was one in Nanticoke. After that, all the kids once you passed on from sixth grade to seventh grade, the kids came into Salisbury and Salisbury High School and the grades there was six through twelve. Our high school was really a middle and high school. So, I graduated there in 1964, and at the time I was still at High School there, it was still segregated. Had never had teachers different from the black teachers until I went to college. In fact, we never had—the only visitors, uh, the white folk we saw were the visitors who came into the school, and they were usually a part of the—which I didn’t realize then—they were part of the board of education: The supervisors and the directors of the superintendent. But at that level, you don’t really have any real idea of who those folks really are, but you find it down the road. I guess in 1966, it was the first year that they started integrating schools here in Wicomico County. Our school was actually turned into a vocational school. It was called “Vo-Tech”, and that lasted for about ten years. Then they built a new middle school there, so it’s now Salisbury Middle School. But uh, kids from different locales, but still integrated, those were all the schools in the county. But like I said, up until 1966, we were all going to segregated schools.
LC: Right. Even though Brown V. Board of Education happened in 1954, it took time. Were you aware of that as a student?
LC: You were just going to school every day, living your life.
LC: So, the civil rights movement was more of a—you knew about Dr. King. But was it more on the outside because you were insulated in your community?
ACB: You know, it’s kind of funny because I grew up near a golf course and I worked at the golf course. And, we caddied, and there were young white boys who were our age and they would come down and play football with us or basketball at the golf course. Then, when they went out to play golf, they went out to work. It was interesting that even though there was that division, it really wasn’t a division because in this area, we did kind of get along. There was one grocery store on Hillaber Creek road, and it was run by a guy named Grover Layfield. He was a white man, of course, and it was such—it was a community store. All the folks knew everyone. I could go there, my parents would send me there to get bread or hotdogs or something, and they would put it on the book and my parents would pay them when they got paid. So, it was really, even though it was a difficult time, it really was a time when things kind of worked the way they were working.
LC: Right, I understand that. What I hear you saying is that even though the communities were segregated, there was still comradery and you knew each other, you interacted with each other, there was still a level of respect there for each other. Ok. Well, just going back to your schooling, who inspired you-- because I can imagine you becoming an educator, so did you have a teacher inspire you or what inspired you to go into education?
ACB: That’s an interesting question, I’m glad you asked that. I guess, when I was in school, and I guess by the time I was in eleventh or twelfth grade, I looked around my community and I saw male black teachers, and they were the ones with the new cars and the new homes. All of the sudden, I said to myself, “That’s what I want to be, I want to be a teacher!” And of course, having a new car, having a nice home and, of course, having the summers off. So that kind of motivated me. That really was the rationale I used when I went to college to become a teacher. One of the most influential teachers I had was a guy named Mr. Polk. James A. Polk. And Mr. Polk kind of took me under his wing and helped me through school, made me his—I used to run the concession stand and the book store in the morning before school started. I was in charge of the book store, ran the book store. And for basketball and football games, I ran the concession stand. When he called me over and said “I want you to do this,” I said “I have no idea how to do this.” He said “You’re going to learn and I’ll teach you.” And so that was a really big part of my life. A person that was very influential when I was growing up and deciding what I was going to do. I remember in 1964, the year I graduated, he bought a brand new 1964 Chevrolet Impala four-door hardtop. I still remember that car. It’s kind of also interesting in my neighborhood, I guess uh, I first built my home there in ‘72. And about 1980... ‘88-’89, he built a home in the neighborhood. So, for a long time, we were neighbors. And he just recently passed, this past year. In fact, I think Mr. Polk was about 103, and was very much fluent and coherent and active the entire time.
LC: He must’ve been very proud of you. And I can see-- I can tell from how you’re speaking about him that your relationship was close, and I know he was so proud to have you come back. You know a lot of students when they leave, they say “I’m not coming back home.” What drove your decision, in having gone to a segregated high school and then going to bowie state and then coming back. What drove your decision to come back home and make a difference?
ACB: Well I guess, really, I wanted to come back and help my parents. They never, neither one of them... could you turn that off a minute? Coughing (Audio cuts for a moment)
LC: Okay, we’re going to begin again. You were just telling me about when I asked you “Why did you decide to move back home,” you said it was about your parents?
ACB: Yeah. My parents were, they never went any further than middle school. During the time they were growing up, to go to the high school, you had to pay to ride the bus. And of course, neither one of my parent’s parents could pay that, so they only went to eighth grade. By the time they were able to go beyond that, it was beyond the level they wanted to continue their education. So, I wanted to come back home. They did a lot of sacrificing for me to go to college. I know many times they would do things to benefit me rather than doing something for themselves, so I decided I wanted to do that first before I went out on my own. So I did that for about four years.
LC: You went out on your own for about four years?
ACB: No, I actually stayed at home. One I graduated college, for the first four years working in the school system, I stayed home with my parents.
LC: Okay, what was the first school that you were working in?
ACB: First school that I went to was North Salisbury. My father had worked the Deer’s Head state hospital in the dietary department. During the summers, I would work at Deer’s Head as a summer replacement for the summer help in that particular area. When I first put in my application, got the first phonecall from the board of Ed., they said “We’ve got a school for you, North Salisbury Elementary. Do you know where that is?” I said “Yeah, I ride by it every day.” and he said “Well, Mr. Mahaffey said go by there and meet the principal.” So, my first school was right there at North Salisbury near Deer’s Head State Hospital.
LC: Tell me about the school, tell me about the racial makeup. I know this is early...
ACB: This is 1968.
LC: Oh, 1968. So, tell me--
ACB: 1968. It was kind of unusual because it was the first time I had been involved with students both black and white. When I went to Bowie, we were a predominantly-black school. There were maybe one or two white folks in our classes, and most of them lived off campus. There were maybe one or two who lived on campus. So, my first few years at North Salisbury Elementary was the first time I interacted with both white and black teachers as well as both black and white students. And I taught sixth grade. I taught for three years and then I was promoted to vice principal at North Salisbury and Beaver Run elementary schools.
LC: So, you were at two schools? How was that experience?
ACB: Actually, what would happen is you would spend a full day in one, then a full day in another. It was trying to introduce a system into vice principals. They couldn’t afford full-time principals all over. But eventually we now have full-time vice principals in most of the schools. Even in the high schools, we may have two or three depending on the population of the school. But it was very interesting. I taught math and science at North Salisbury. And, of course, at that time, everyone taught their reading and language arts, then we’d departmentalize with math and science. So, I taught the math and science for the sixth grade. It was also interesting that during that time, music and art was taught over the television. That was interesting to see that done that way. So that was interesting during those years that we did that. From elementary school, I became a vice principal at Bennett Middle School. I was a full time vice principal at Westside intermediate prior to going to Bennett Middle.
LC: And were all these schools desegregated at this time?
ACB: All the schools were desegregated. Right.
LC: As a principal, from your point of view—and as a teacher in the classroom, how do you think the Wicomico students—because I hear you telling me earler that people get along together in their communities and there was some integration in other ways. Once they came into the school together, how did that go?
ACB: My experience during that time: Kids are kids! It’s interesting that I didn’t see them any other way nor did they see themselves any other way. They would play together on the playground, especially the boys. They played basketball, they played softball, and it was just a thing that brought them together. I never had any—remember of any instances where I would have to have said that there was a problem racially in my class or the other classes with kids. More often than ever, the fights that were in middle school were kids fighting amongst themselves. There are very few that I can recall where race was the problem. It was because somebody was messing with somebody’s girlfriend or somebody took somebody's lunch or something like that. It was never really a racial situation.
LC: The regular middle school things. Good. Good. Then... between the professionals, how did that do as teacher to teacher?
ACB: Well, there were like teams. When I was at North Salisbury, there were two white teachers on the second floor with me and one black female. And we got along well, I mean we each did our part in terms of departmentalizing with the kids, we all planned fieldtrips and things together. So, didn’t really see animosity or any difference. It was very congenial, very cooperative.
LC: So, let me ask you this. Why do you think, in some cases, that Wicomico County was able to desegregate at the time that it did with little conflict? Do you think there’s a...
ACB: I think what happened in Wicomico County—there's a large population of people both black and white that value education. Their big thing was making sure that their child, their children, got a good education, and many of them became involved. That’s kind of deteriorating right now. We don’t have as much, as I’d like to see, parent participation or parents who I think value education. A lot of them, because they had bad experiences in the school system themselves, don’t really trust that system. So, sometimes it has a negative impact on their children. By and large, I look at what we have done here at Wicomico, our students, when they finish school, go to some of the most prestigious schools in the country. I think this year, they got almost $21 million worth of scholarships, so that’s really impressive. Parents who value education and push their kids that way, it really works out. We have a lot of other programs that we try to make sure that we have that would meet the needs of some kids who are less motivated, that’s a big deal. Also, sports play a big part. If you can get some kids involved in sports, that’s the only thing that keeps them on the straight-and-narrow, especially a lot of fellas that want to play basketball or football or soccer. You tell them “you have to have at least a C-average to stay on the team,” and so they’ll work-- “You got to stay out of trouble.” So, they’ll work to do that.
LC: That’s good. After being in the system for forty years, is it forty years you retired?
LC: You did an extra ten?
ACB: Actually, I—when I retired in 2008, I stayed kind of away from it for a little while then, I mi—no actually it was the second or third year they asked me to come in and help out. So, I kind of went back as an assistant superintendent for half-a-year. Then a couple of years ago, I got on the board of Ed. It’s important to me to do all that I can to help make sure that we do the best that we can to provide educational opportunities for all the kids in the county.
LC: I see-- after reading your biography, I see that you worked in not only the school system but out in the community. You’ve served in so many different boards and you’ve met so many different people in the community. How would you—say, from when you were younger, how do you think Wicomico has changed for the better or is it the same or is it just...
ACB: It’s like everything else. It’s a slow process. There have been changes, there needs to be more, we’re growing. A couple of things have happened that’s not so good for the county. We have lost some of the businesses that were once good-paying jobs for our county. We had companies like Campbell Soup Company, CrisCras (?), Dresserrain (?). When they left, those industries weren’t replaced. We have a lot of service industries, and they pay minimum wage, and we have people now who are having to work two or three jobs to equal one, and I think that has kind of impacted the family structure because the parents really aren’t there to provide the support and guise that they should be doing because they’re working two or three jobs. The other thing that’s a big factor in the school system is the fact that, I think, here recently, the county council, as well as the city and other businesses, are now beginning to partner with the school system. They see the value of having a good school system to bring in different industries and workforce to help provide and propel their jobs. So, we’re in a growing spurt, but it’s a slow process. We’re going to get there.
LC: Right. So—and I believe you because I hear it in your voice. You all are working towards that. I know you have friends in all the different boards that—I'm sure you’re mentoring someone who will also follow in your footsteps. I hope so. We definitely need that. Let me ask you a question: Just in my research, when I was looking at neighborhoods because you said you were from Hillaber Creek neighborhood, and I see that there’s a Cuban neighborhood and there’s jersey neighborhood, and different neighborhoods, black neighborhoods in Wicomico during the fifties and sixties. One thing I was looking at, they said that—I wanted to ask you, did you have any memory of when highway thirteen and fifty were built through certain neighborhoods?
ACB: Yes. I remember when the main—what is downtown main street, that was the main thruway between route fifty and ocean city in that area. I remember when we used to have parades and the bands would march down main street. And I remember when they built the bypass.
LC: Was it a good thing? Were people happy about it?
ACB: Well, what happened... Even though there was progress, the black community lost out on that deal, because at one point, in the area of Lug (?) street downtown, there were many black-owned businesses and they kind of went away. That was a big loss to the community. We have a few businesses now that are black-owned and black-run, but not like it was at that particular time. There was one area where there was a—if you want to call it a black movie, a black restaurant, a black five and dime, that type of thing. The acme market was there. So, the concentration that where black-folk shop was in that particular area. As integration came to be, people began to branch out and go to other areas as well, and we lost out in that way.
LC: Ok. I was also reading, you brought up movies, I was reading that during the sixties, and you might have been in college at this time, in ‘66 I think it was the Biracial Commission or a Commission with a similar name, they worked to try to work with the business owners quietly to try to help with segregation. Instead of doing sit-ins, “Let’s see if we can get the business owners, we can work together to get the business owners to change and to open their doors.” And so the movie theaters desegregated, and do you remember—so, before you went to college, it was one way, then you come home from college--
ACB: When I was in high school, there was only one movie that we could go to which is called the “Ritz”. Then shortly there—I may have been doing my last couple years in high school, they began to let us go to the other—there were three other movies, but we had to sit in the balcony. Chuckle You could go to those movies and you could sit in the balcony, but you couldn’t sit downstairs. And I kind of felt “Hey this is really dumb,” because I remember seeing all the time that kids would throw M&Ms or popcorn on the people below so why wouldn’t they put white folk at the top? Both chuckle
LC: You all had better seats!
ACB: Yeah, that was interesting. And I remember a couple times, there was a movie—I can remember it now-- it was called “In the Heat of the Night” (Sidney Portier), and we have this long line of folks. Then there was a group of black folks, they came and got us and we didn’t have to wait because there was nobody upstairs. The downstairs was loaded, so people had to wait for the second movie, so we got to go ahead to the front of the line. So, that was kind of interesting. Then I guess by about 1968, by the time I came back and started teaching, you could actually sit anywhere. For example, the Five and Dime had a restaurant and you could go there and you could order things, but you couldn’t sit down to eat. So, that kind of phase went through while I was in college.
LC: Right. So you saw—I always think it’s so special to speak with someone who has seen the change and seeing the differences. We complain a lot today because chuckle about things but, you can always say “Well I lived and I knew this and I know things will progress.”
ACB: I guess one of the biggest things that, you know, I look at and see the progress and growth, uh, I’m now a member of the Rotary Club of Salisbury. I remember when that was strictly a white organization. I joined Rotary in 1998, and right now—this year—this past year, I received the Rotarian of the Year and I’m a past president of the Rotary Club and those guys, in my opinion, are the kinds of movers and shakers in the community. They see the value of doing good things for the community and including everyone. So, it was really pleasing to work with. It’s one of the organizations that I—we meet every week and I enjoy going there every week. It’s one of those organizations that I think we do a lot for the community. I think last year we gave away over $186,000 to different organizations and things.
LC: That’s a blessing to the community in so many ways. And then for you to see that change and for you to be a part of that and get the accolades, congratulations on that. Know that you live in a community that fifty-sixty years ago is now what you thought it could be or what you all thought it would be, that’s wonderful. While I was reading about the biracial commission, when I’m hearing you talk about the Rotary Club and all the other organizations you’ve been in, I think about that being a kind of precipice for a lot of people being able to get along and the respect between each other. So, your children were reared here? Your child, your son?
ACB: Yeah. That’s another thing that I—that we have a problem with. I live in a neighborhood, at one time there were about anywhere between twenty and thirty kids in the neighborhood, and all of them—all the parents valued education. So, our kids went to school here and all of them went off to college, but none of them come back here. Including my son! Both chuckle These are the kids who would be able to give something back to the community, but they see more opportunities elsewhere. Out of those twenty-eight kids, there were three kids who have come back home. [Difficult to understand name], she was just one of them who is now in the legislature. Her sister, I believe, is here. Maybe one of them, I think Roy has one son that’s here. But all the others, they’ve done well and now they’re across the bridge or other places making a living. They come back to visit.
LC: Was that neighborhood that your son grew up in diverse?
ACB: No. It was a—it's still a predominantly-black neighborhood.
LC: And what neighborhood was that?
ACB: It’s called “Hyde Park”. It’s down route fifty, just past the Salisbury Armory.
LC: Chicago Hyde Park. Both laugh So, your son decided—did he go to school here?
ACB: Actually, he didn’t know what he wanted to do so I said, “well, if you don’t know what you want to do,” he’s one of those kids where “I got to find myself”, so I said “you go find yourself at Warwick community college. We’re not going to pay big bucks for you to go off to college and not know what you want to do.” So, we did Warwick for a year, then he transferred to UMES for a year, then he went to where we had hoped he would go: Bowie State where my wife and I both went. He ended up going there. He is in technology, he’s one of those computer gurus, and he’s done really well. And like all the other kids from the neighborhood, they’re doing very well.
LC: You all, as parents, put the ownness on your children. You were going to raise them a certain way, make sure they achieved, and make sure that they, as my parents used to say “Do even better than we did.” And your wife, was she an educator as well?
ACB: She was an educator too. She retired as a vice principal at one of the elementary schools in east Salisbury.
LC: Good! So, your son had no choice but to do well.
ACB: Yeah! Both laugh He would say it was kind of difficult for him with my being in the school system and my wife being in the school system, so he had no choice but to be good. And everybody knew him and knew his parents.
LC: Right, he couldn’t get into any trouble!
ACB: And also, there were probably, let’s see—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, about ten educators in my commu—in the development I live in. So, the kids there, most of the parents knew all the other parents, and most of the teachers knew the parents as well, so a lot of our kids didn't have a choice but to do the right thing.
LC: Being that your neighborhood is still kind of, well mostly segregated—well, mostly black parents living there, homeowners, do you see that—do you think it’s changed every year? Is there still pockets of just white families in the neighborhoods, black families over here?
ACB: It’s kind of sprinkled now, because there’s one white family in my neighborhood now. We’re friends, I mean, we’re good neighbors. If you look at some of the, I guess, newer developments in the stills or the cover mill village, even though they start out as being predominantly white there are now black-folk living in there. So, it’s kind of sprinkled, it’s getting better.
LC: Good, it’s getting better. Changing over time. Just in reading about some of it, about all the different neighborhood names, I love that Wicomico has all these different neighborhood names. It’s really nice to say, “Oh! I’m from or I’m from...” chuckle
ACB: Indian village is one neighborhood. Jersey road chuckle
LC: All those places and then there’s communities like Fruitland that are built up in these different areas. Everyone has a story from those areas. [Couple second pause] Oh, I was reading about the first-grade centers program. Were you around when that started?
ACB: Yes, mhmm.
LC: And the ownness I was reading about is to make sure the kids, as they were integrating, that you had they integrated in the first grade.
ACB: Yeah. The ide, the thought there was the earlier you bring those kids together, the better it’s going to be for them to kind of have some cohesiveness and it worked. It was also kind of a way to integrate schools and to continually integrate schools. But it had twofold meanings and one was to kind of get those kids interacting earlier on and at the same time try to have some racial balance in the schools. And in reality, if you stop to think about it, the kids of my neighborhood actually had to ride by about four elementary schools to get to Beaver Run because they needed black population in that area. So, it was kind of – it was kind of difficult to understand, but being an educator, I understood why what was being done was being done. Because in reality, where I live, it was predominantly black. So, if our kids went to the closest school of those neighborhoods, they would be all black. There would be no integration at all. So, you had to do something.
LC: Is that—what I hear you saying is that the kids in the area being bussed over to a school further away and, you know, those bussing conversations today that were having. Sometimes, at the moment it seems like, “Well, why would they go this far?” and then now, to see the “Why” the reasoning, the hindsight. You know they say hindsight is 20/20.
ACB: And that all could be remedied if, in fact, they put the same amount of funding in every school. Unfortunately, whether we want to admit it or not, white schools were better served and better financed, in the earlier years, than black schools. If we, on a parallel level, made every school comparable, there wouldn’t be a need for that.
LC: I would agree with you on that. So, as a board member now, is that something that you work towards, to make sure of?
ACB: Yeah. That, and the other thing I’m working toward and I’m pushing is to have diversity in all the schools. Right now, we have four high schools. In those four high schools, we don’t have a male black principal in any of the four high schools.
LC: And how has that changed? I know when you came in and you were promoted you had other black males in positions?
ACB: Well, black males aren’t going into education anymore. There are more opportunities that are opening up, and so we’re struggling. Every county in vying for those few, and those few go where the dollars are. And so, a lot of our teachers who or individuals who could work here in Wicomico county, they’ll go across the bridge and make five, six, seven thousand dollars more.
LC: They have families to support, lifestyles to support. So, how do you think you would encourage, how do you think you all could encourage...
ACB: I think we’re going to have to grow our own. For example, say to a kid “If you want to go to college, we’ll help you go to college, but you have to come back and work for us for three or four years.” and we think in those three or four years, we can get them hooked and help promote them up the line.
LC: I hope you all can accomplish that, because that’s sorely needed. As I’ve been reading through your stuff, I see “Salisbury High School Alumni Association”. And I just think that’s so great because your school, alumni, your graduate class, you all have really tried to keep the memory alive.
ACB: Yes, we have. We have—actually every year we’ll have some type of gathering to commemorate the school history. Especially when different classes have twenty-five-or-thirty-year anniversaries, so we do that on an ongoing basis. We have a scholarship fund; we award scholarships each year.
LC: I read that a Mr. Chipman?
ACB: Charles H. Chipman.
LC: Started the—and the community the school commemoration.
ACB: Bought the property. Bought the land that the school is built on.
LC: Yes, yes. That is wonderful in itself, because to have the community come together and do that for you all, and to make sure you had what you needed. And the teachers...
ACB: And the fact it was called “Salisbury Colored School”.
LC: Oh, really?
ACB: Which is now Charles H. Chipman Elementary.
LC: So, they wanted to honor... Ok.
ACB: Actually, when they integrated it, it changed from Salisbury Colored School to Salisbury Elementary school. Then when they build the new school, it was changed to Charles H. Chipman Elementary.
LC: And they kept part of the structure?
ACB: Yes, the archway out front. And Mr. Chipman was also instrumental in, uh, during the unrest years, he was instrumental in helping the community stay quiet and peaceful. Many times, the councilmen and things would meet with him and he would then, in turn, meet with teachers and the community and try to do what he could do. Put things at rest and try to calm down the community.
LC: He was a bridge-builder in a lot of ways? Reading about Wicomico County, I feel like that was the case where there was bridge building. Trying to—probably the adults seeing what was going on in the rest of the nation, especially the south, that they would want more... an easier way to transition. And so, Chipman was a great part of that. Were there other people in the area who were influential in that?
ACB: Yeah. There were a number of individuals, but Mr. Chipman had kind of a handle on all of the teachers. So, many of the teachers that worked with him during those years were kind of like his cabinet. They would do things in their communities, where they lived, to help bridge that gap.
LC: What would you say has been the biggest gain from integrating for African Americans in Wicomico County and for Caucasians here in Wicomico County?
ACB: I guess the biggest gain I would see is opportunities opening up for minorities. If, in fact, you had something on the ball, if you had some skills or knowledge, you kind of express yourself, you’re given an opportunity to do that. For example, there are people who are now funeral home that are black-owned, and they’re given the opportunity now to move forward and have better businesses. Myself, for example, being a part of the Rotary Club, which was once thought of as an all-white organization. I remember I used to work down at green hill country club. You could work there but we couldn’t play golf. But I can go there and play golf now. So, it’s a slow process, but things are changing for the better. The opportunities that are opening up for Wicomico County. You know, years ago, in my mind, I would’ve never thought that we would have a black as a president of the United States. But, you know, things can happen. It’s a slow, but you’ve got to work at it and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do.
LC: When you look at the progress and, you know, the slow and steady as they say, and that’s the wisdom I think you all have given my generation.
ACB: That’s why one of the things I want to see, I want to see more minority black males in the school system because I think our kids need to see that. It’s still at the point where I can walk into one of the schools and see a young man with his pants hanging down and say “pull your pants up” and they will do it. They may drop it when they get around the corner or whatever, but they will do it. If a white teacher says that to him, he’s going to say “these are my pants. I can wear them any way I want.” And we’ve got to get over that. We need more individuals in the school system to help bridge that gap. Not only in the school system, but in society in general.
LC: Do you think that integration was good for the white community too? That it had the—it may not have had the same type of change, but in your meeting people and talking with them, have you all had these conversations?
ACB: Sure. Interesting that you say—many of my white friends, when we talk—you know, we have the same struggles. Many of them have worked in chicken houses or on farms, which I didn’t-- I just thought that they had everything, and they didn’t. Many of them went to college and they had to work to get through there as well, but they had the one step up on me when they were going into the job world because they were white and I was black. But now, that has kind of lessened. A lot of white folk benefitted from integration as we did because we got to see, and they got to see, that we’re people just like they are, just like everyone else. A lot of them now, I can say, are my friends. We socialize together, we do things together, break bread together, it’s interesting.
LC: You make a better county because of it. You make a better Salisbury. Is there anything else you want to tell me about that time period or just in your today?
ACB: Yeah. You know, one of the things that I often thought about, even though I grew up during segregation and hard times, I never felt threatened. I never can remember a time when I was called racial names to my face. I don’t know how I avoided all that, but it never happened to me. I’ve heard people talk about the experiences that they’ve had, and I just never experienced that, and I think a lot of it has to do with the manner in which you carry yourself. If people respect you, you respect them... I just had a good feeling about people. If I say cordial things to them, they’ll say cordial things back. I will work with them; they will work with me. And that’s what happened.
LC: That’s probably a testament, not only to you but your family, the people in the county itself. I was comparing Wicomico to, what was it, Cambridge?
ACB: Yeah, Cambridge.
LC: The differences and unrest in Cambridge—well I don’t know if I could call it unrest. There was one incident I found that was called the “Salisbury race riot” where a deaf-mute was shot and killed by a police officer.
ACB: There really—right downtown there was a hanging.
LC: Oh, really?
ACB: There was a lynching in Wicomico County years ago. A black was accused of raping a white woman, and they actually hanged him and burned him.
ACB: I’ve read about it and heard people talk about it, but I've never really experienced anything like that. A lot of things happen in your life which change your perspective on things. Typical example would be—My son is married to a Caucasian, and I have two grandsons who are mixed. I met their mother and I met her parents and they’re people like me. So, from the getgo, it was a very cordial and understanding and we got along well. Like I said, with a lot of the organizations I belong to, ina few of them, I’m the only African American in that group or there may be one or two of them. But never have I ever been addressed to me as being an African American or a black or whatever, it was A.B. President Brown or Vice-President Brown or something like that. It’s a person, with the same kinds of interests, same kind of desires, and wanting the same kinds of things for their community.
LC: I think it goes back to you all being able to come through the civil rights movement and as the doors opened in Wicomico County, people being able to work together. It sounds like that was a benefit and just all the way around. It’s a full circle for you and your life.
ACB: The biggest part of everything I think in terms of the family is the family structure. My parents were parents. My community, all the folks there were parents, and I think we’ve lost something there. Many of the kids today are kind of raising themselves. Many of them are families without male influence, that’s a big negative. Many of them, parents don’t see the value of an education. Those who do, make out okay. Those who do, do well and they move forward.
LC: Where do you think that disconnect is? Where did it start? Did it start recently or do you think it was a slower break down?
ACB: I’m not sure how it started. If I knew that, I would have the magic bullet—the silver bullet that could fix things, but I do know and I look at the school system today and look at the community today, and you see all the broken homes, all the parents. You know, even back—I remember there were a couple families in my neighborhood where the kids were raised by grandparents. But even though they were raised by grandparents, there was still that parenting piece there, and that made a big difference. Somehow, we’ve lost that, particularly in the black neighborhood, in the minority neighborhood. That influence, that male dominance, that home influence, it’s just gone. It’s a struggle.
LC: It definitely is a struggle; it definitely is an opportunity lost for a generation. That’s not to say everyone in that generation because I’m sure there are lots of bright, shining stars.
ACB: I think, also, a lot of it has to do with economics. If you look at the drug culture, many of the people that get caught up in that don’t have the finances to do the other kinds of things to stay away from that, and they find that an easier way to go.
LC: It’s the legacy of our issues in country to a certain degree. A legacy that some people overcome that others cannot or choose a different path.
ACB: The other thing that sometimes is a big factor is... you’ll have families which kind of seem to follow the family, you know? The father’s in jail, the son’s in jail, the grandson’s in jail; it’s just a perpetual kind of thing. How do you break that cycle?
LC: I think you might solve that. Both chuckle
ACB: We’re working on it.
LC: If you do, you’ll solve it for a nation. Any final thoughts that you can leave me about desegregation here and this time in Wicomico?
ACB: Well, like I said initially, it’s been a slow process but I do see progress and I feel confident that that progress will continue. I look at the growth of the community, I look at the growth of Salisbury University. I should’ve mentioned this, but when I was going to college and put in applications, Salisbury University was not accepting minorities at that time in 1964.
LC: You were a rebel, huh?
ACB: There were about six of us who wanted to go to Salisbury because in reality, it was easier for us to stay home and go to school than to go somewhere and have to pay room, board, and tuition. So, there were six of us who applied to go here, and there were all kinds of reasons given for us but the real reason was because they were not accepting minorities at the time. To come back some years later and get my Master’s from here does show progress. To look at this facility and look at the individuals that work here and are part of this, it does show progress as well.
LC: Do you remember what year you got your Master’s?
ACB: I got my master’s in eighty.... eighty. Yeah, 1980.
LC: 1980. I think there was one black professor that we learned about, a Talbot?
LC: Yes, Mr. Talbot. I read some of his papers yesterday, I was very impressed. Did you happen to know him at all?
ACB: No, I knew him but I never had him as a teacher. In fact, chuckle when I got my Master’s here, all the teachers I had were still white teachers.
LC: Is the faculty diverse today?
ACB: Yes, the faculty is diverse almost like our school system: it’s sprinkled. There’s not a large number of them. I know there are—in fact, one of my friends, Dr. Gibson, was a professor here before he retired. There are a few others I know, um, Dr. Flemming... no, Claris Mall was her name. I think she was recently retired from here. But there a few, not a lot. I noticed as I came to the inauguration of the new president... for Salisbury University, I guess three or four months ago whenever that was, and they had all the staff walking in, and I remember maybe about four or five minorities in that group.
LC: I’m sure you all would like to see more.
LC: Because it would give op—when the students in your area see that when they go to college, they’re also going to have that. I know that being in Maryland, I’ve been the first black teacher for some of my students this year. So, and they, you know, it’s nice—like you say, a role model. To be a mentor for your student as they go through school. So I know that it’d be great if it became even more diverse in women, men across the board. So that’s something that—like you said: time and cultivating young black males to come here and then even come into the college profession.
ACB: And I’m sure the college’s probably struggling the same way we are even though it’s a growing college and progressive college, the salaries here are probably not comparable to other places. Many of them apply and they go where the dollars are.
LC: Is it all about the money? chuckle
ACB: Sometimes it’s about the money, but sometimes it’s about locale. We have been able to attract teachers here because of our proximity to Ocean City. You’re only, what, a couple hours out of Baltimore, three hours out of New York; you don’t want to live there but you like to visit there to go to the theaters, the zoos, the operas and things like that so you can make a weekend of it. That has been a big asset for the community as well. And, also, it’s not as expensive to live here. It’s expensive, but not quite as expensive as some other places. You know, you could actually—a home that you would pay $300k-$400k here, across the bridge you’re going to pay $600k-$700k. A half-a-million-dollar home here is going to be a million-dollar home there.
LC: Living better is Salisbury. both chuckle I guess that’s going to have to be the draw to have some comeback, like you said, to cultivate the ones you have here, and hopefully they'll come back and make a difference.
ACB: There’s a lot of serenity here. Even though we have violence and crime, it’s not at the level of Baltimore City. Chuckle It’s a little bit better.
LC: chuckle I’m sure it is. Salisbury seems like a very nice city, from what I’ve seen so far. Like I said, I’m going to take a little bit more driving to the areas today to see what it’s like. But overall, from what I’ve seen, it looks like a nice, quiet college town.
ACB: You said you brought your mother—your mother lives here?
LC: She lives in Waldorf and we’re about to move to Bowie, yeah.
ACB: Okay. See, my son used to live in Waldorf.
LC: yeah, she wanted to move to Maryland. She was tired of the quiet country life. Chuckle Now she’s in the big city.
ACB: Yeah, Waldorf has grown too.
LC: It is. And Maryland in itself is more progressive than South Carolina. I think you all have a one-up on us in that. Chuckle But we’re making it too. I’m going to end our conversation now, but it was so nice to speak with you and learn so much—I've learned so much!
ACB: I hope that what I’ve said has been helpful to you. It’s been interesting and I’ve enjoyed talking with you. I thought about when Creston called me, “What am I going to say?” Well... “Be yourself.”