A Three-Part Series (Part II)
In June of 1903, Black people living in the quiet community of Sykesville, Maryland petitioned the Board of Education to build a school. The Sykesville Colored School opened in January of 1904. For 34 years it served as an anchor for the community until it was consolidated with another school for Blacks four miles away. Ironically, no transportation was provided to the new school causing the community to find creative ways to educate their children. While the school no longer serves the children in the community, its legacy endures.
If you have the mind to see the old schoolhouse, you can take a left off Main Street in Sykesville onto the narrow and winding Oklahoma Road. This scenic road runs parallel to the south branch of the Patapsco River and the B & O Railroad line. It will lead you to Schoolhouse Road where you can find the meticulously restored Colored Schoolhouse. The Schoolhouse Road community now provides low income housing for seniors. It is an area that has seen much change over the years.
My family moved into a modest brick rancher near the Schoolhouse Road community in the late 60s. Our home backed up to Oklahoma Road. The mostly white population of Sykesville at the time numbered around 1,400. The small population of African American families living in Sykesville resided near the old school. The Dorsey family, a well-known African American family, dominated the area and held their annual reunion a few feet from my backyard. I clearly recall the joy, laughter, and merriment shared by Dorsey family members returning to Oklahoma Road every year.
Faith Smith was born in Westminster, Maryland in 1964 and later moved into a home on Oklahoma Road. She had several cousins in the Dorsey family. Faith was a classmate of mine from elementary school through high school. We graduated together from Liberty High School in 1982. We were members of the first graduating class. We were not close friends. We were respectful acquaintances whose paths crossed several times throughout our years of schooling.
Faith was probably the most dignified person I have ever known. She was quiet and strong and mature beyond her years. I never heard her utter an unkind word. She was the kind of student others aspired to be. She was a strong student and an even more talented musician. I admired Faith from afar.
In 1981, Faith and I wrote a song together for the ring ceremony held at Liberty High School. I wrote the lyrics and Faith put the words to music. We collaborated at the Dorsey Family Center on Oklahoma Road several times to get the song just right. It was a sweet song recalling the transition from childhood to young adulthood. I marveled at Faith’s skills in choosing just the right notes and melody for the song. The song was sung by a classmate at the first-ever Liberty High School ring ceremony. Faith and I were proud of the fruits of our collaborative effort.
After graduating from high school, Faith earned her bachelor’s degree from Morgan State and a master’s degree in education from McDaniel College. She also earned a Master of Divinity from Howard University. She was the music teacher and director of music at St. Luke United Methodist Church for many years. Her students and families adored her. Our paths never crossed after graduation from high school and sadly Faith passed away at the far too young age of 49 in 2013.
In the sixties and seventies, if you were a white person living in Sykesville, you knew most of the Black families in town. Sykesville was built on plantation land owned by the Springfield family. It has a legacy of slavery and segregation that made growing up in the area a very different experience for people of color. While Jim Crow and “separate but equal” officially ended the year that Faith Smith was born, I am sure that her family could tell vivid stories of the bigotry and racism they faced.
It took Faith, knowing her and watching her, for me to begin to understand the challenges of being African American in a predominately white town. She was a strong and spiritual person from a loving family. Growing up on Oklahoma Road, the legacy of the Colored Schoolhouse is one reason that education was so valued by her family. I regret never telling Faith how much I learned from her. If I could, I would tell her how much I admired her. Faith Smith is the second reason that Black lives matter to me.
Next Up: Part III. The Mayor of Sandy Point