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Separate but Unequal – Drayden Schoolhouse newly renovated

Drayden, MD—In honor of Black History Month, renovations of the Drayden African-American Schoolhouse were unveiled to the public in a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 6. The Drayden Schoolhouse is one of the most well preserved one-room school buildings in the entire country. Unlike many surviving schoolhouses of this kind, the Drayden Schoolhouse still sits on its original land and has not been greatly altered over the years. Built in 1890, the school was in use until 1944, educating the African-American youth of St. Mary’s County for over 50 years.

Giving introductions at the ceremony was Dr. Rebecca Bridgett, county administrator. Mr. Arthur Shepherd, director of Recreation and Parks continued with remarks, and James R. "Randy" Guy, president of Commissioners of St. Mary’s County, gave proclamations and went on to give a brief detailing of the origin of Black History Month. In regards to the newly renovated schoolhouse, Guy stated that it was important that we “understand what happened in the past, understand what happened here.” Don Cropp was recognized as being a driving force in the schoolhouse’s restoration.

When the Drayden Schoolhouse opened, it was one of three schools designated for African-Americans, as opposed to the nine available for white children. A single teacher taught grades one through seven, with a classroom smaller than most of our living rooms packed to the brim with students. Until 1934, there were no public high schools open to African-American students, meaning that most African-American children were unable to continue their education past the seventh grade.

One man present at the ribbon cutting, named Frank Travis, was a former student at the Drayden Schoolhouse. Travis, who will be 90 years old in May, began his education at the school in 1934 when he was six years old. Travis remained in that small classroom until he finished the seventh grade.

Travis (pictured, right) recalled this room having no running water or electricity, with the closest fresh water source—a spring—being a quarter mile walk away. A single wood stove was used to keep 30 or more students warm in the room, and the students had to bring their own wood. Travis said he walked seven miles to and from school each day, but he and his friends had a good time running around and climbing trees on the route. Once he got home from school, he had to feed and water chickens, pigs and cows, so the only time he had to play with his friends was on his walking commute to school. Despite the disadvantages given to him, Travis said, “I’ve been blessed.”

Now open again to the public, the Drayden Schoolhouse is a true historical landmark in our area, giving us all the chance to take a step in the past. Black History Month is a time when we should acknowledge the hardships that African-Americans in our country had to—and still have to—experience in order to try to reach the same opportunities that the majority receives. The Drayden Schoolhouse stands as a reminder of a different time, and yet a time not very long ago.

Contact Naomi Hurley at n.hurley@thebaynet.com

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