Forgotten History: The Integration of CHS

Above: Catonsville's first African American school, 1880. Below: The Catonsville school, 1881. Courtesy of

Above: Catonsville's first African American school, 1880. Below: The Catonsville school, 1881. Courtesy of "Images of America".

Eden Beyene, Staff Writer

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In 2018, it’s easy to forget about what happened in Catonsville’s history. Although many are unaware, CHS, like many schools, was segregated at one point in its long history. 

According to Catonsville High School: A Century of Success, in Maryland, integration started in 1955. CHS was integrated in 1958. After the Civil War, in 1868, a small school was constructed in Catonsville for African American children. Years later, school was extended to high school for African-Americans, still in segregated schools. In 1935, Margaret Williams and Lucille Sally Scott, two African-American girls, filed a lawsuit to be allowed to attend Catonsville High School.  

This event was commemorated in front of Catonsville Elementary School last September with a historical marker which was unveiled by Delegate Charles Sydnor, III.  

He shared his admiration for this historical occasion.  

“The courage of these young ladies forced Baltimore County Public School System to change the manner it was doing business. I believe CHS students can be encouraged they have the same opportunity to be the change that they want to see in their communities,” said Delegate Charles Sydnor, III. 

Despite their immense courage, their case, argued by lawyer Thurgood Marshall, was unfortunately ruled against, according to A Century of Success. However, three high schools were built for African-Americans in Baltimore County. One of which, Banneker High School, had the first graduating class in 1943. 

“The greater impact of this lawsuit was pointed out by Professor Larry Gibson. He spoke about how this case was one of the first three big steps on the road to Brown that occurred in Maryland. Professor Gibson said ‘In the appeal, according to the NAACP, there was a line where the court pointed out that separate was never going to be really equal.’” Delegate Sydnor explained. 

Student Gloria Randall Sewell described her experience at Banneker in A Century of Success. 

“We were a close knit community and most of us had grown up together,” she reminisced. However, she clearly felt the pressing walls of segregation.  

“We weren’t allowed to go to Champs or the Drive-ins as teenagers until the segregation laws changed,” she said. 

A Century of Success states that three years after Maryland segregation laws did change, in 1958, CHS was integrated. Banneker students came to CHS, and the first African Americans to graduate were Arlene Collins and Wardell Lindsay. 

Students can learn a lot from the history of CHS’ integration. Delegate Sydnor believes CHS students can take a sense of activism. 

“I encourage young students to get involved in their communities and if they see what they perceive as an injustice, not to be afraid to speak up.  Make this a place where we can all live together and be proud to call home,” he said. 

Students should reflect on where they stand today in terms of segregation in schools. CHS boosts a diverse student population, but is segregation in schools completely eradicated? 

Delegate Sydnor pointed out the ongoing debate over this question, with many arguing that segregation is not over. 

“The short answer to whether segregation in schools is completely eradicated is no…  I think if you look at schools around the Baltimore County Public School System and simply talk with community members, people have a sense of the racial homogeneity which exists within certain schools in our school system,” he explained. 

However, the Catonville community along with people across the country can work to achieve full equality for minorities and complete the integration process that started years ago. 

“Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and all other isms of the world are learned around the world within our cultures. Changing peoples’ hearts and minds means shedding the fear to challenge those isms when they rear their heads; and that can be a difficult thing for people to do,” he explained. 

Although fighting intolerance is a challenging task, history provides local role models to learn from. 

“It was Lucille Scott and Margaret Williams and their families’ courage that led to our highest court acknowledging that a system of racially separate schools inherently allowed ‘some inequalities.’ We all can only hope for the courage to stand up to the face of bigotry as these families did,” said Delegate Sydnor.