In 1890, the Drayden Schoolhouse opened its doors to African American children in the Valley Lee District, located on the other side of the St. Mary’s River from St. Mary’s Manor. The schoolhouse was typical of most built during this time. The school was one room, small, built of wood and heated by a single chimney, which was a wood stove by the 20th century. It is a frame structure, with its foundations resting on tree trunks. It is a rare example of a still-standing building that was closed in 1944.
The Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) has done a number of oral histories of former students describing their experience attending the schoolhouse. Classes would start in the morning, and the student body was comprised of a number of different grades. The school was entirely segregated, as Frank Leroy Dyson remembers: “I never ever remember or recall seeing any white people there. Colored. It was nothing else went there” (UCAC 2006). Teachers had to navigate having seven different grades and upwards of forty students in the tiny schoolhouse, and the books were few and far between.
This schoolhouse was typical of the buildings that were built after the Civil War to educate African Americans. Despite the call for separate but equal, the education provided was anything but: in Maryland, the property taxes of white citizens supported white schools, and the property taxes of black citizens supported black schools. Because so few African Americans owned property after the Civil War, their schools received significantly less funding then white schools. Similarly, the increased need for family members to work the fields meant that many African American students missed school or were unable to attend during harvest. This is demonstrated at St. Mary’s Manor, where in 1870 only one of the ten families have children in school. By the 1880 census, the young children of the families living in the duplex quarter did have children in school. However, at this point 22 people lived in this duplex, making it possible that the labor of the children was not as necessary.
It is likely that the Drayden Schoolhouse was similar to the one built on the land donated by Dr. Brome immediately following the Civil War. Visiting the Drayden school, and reading the oral histories of those who attended it, gives a glimpse into the lives of African American children. Emma Hall talks about how school was one of the few times that she was able to see her friends (Hall 2000), and the oral histories provided by UCAC discuss not only their schooling, but also social activities like recess. Nonetheless, seeing the building and understanding its context also sheds light on the obstacles that were placed in the way of educational advancement for African American children.
The Drayden Schoolhouse is available to visit, and is maintained and operated by the St. Mary’s County Government. Visit this website to arrange guided tours of this wonderful and rare resource.
Have you visited or did you attend Drayden School? What was school like when you were a child? What do you remember about segregation and education?
Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions of St. Mary’s County, Incorporated
2006 In Relentless Pursuit of an Education., edited by Donald M Barber, Steve Hawkins, Alma Jordan, Bob Lewis, Anna Moseley, and Merideth Taylor. Lexington Park, Maryland, Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions of St. Mary’s County, Incorporated.
1998 Emma Hall Interview., Interviewed by Merideth Taylor. St. Mary’s City, MD, Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions of St. Mary’s County, Incorporated.