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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Anne Arundel 100

A Study of Integration at Great Mills High

Written by Barbara Geehan

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Photo courtesy of The Enterprise. Joan and Conrad Groves are the first African-American students to attend Great Mills High, shown here in 1958 newspaper photo.

In 1958, southern St. Mary's County had two public high schools: Carver for African-American children and Great Mills for everyone else. That was all soon to change. Carver was made a middle school, and Great Mills was largely desegregated by the mid-1960s.

This transition, though not marked by the violent rock-throwing clashes occurring in other parts of the country, had its unsung heroes and had a major emotional impact on all involved, from the teachers, parents, the NAACP, politicians, the military base, and certainly the students themselves. Their memories of this complicated time have been captured in a short documentary that will be shown at 7 p.m. June 18 at the Great Mills High School auditorium in Lexington Park. A panel of African Americans and whites from the school at the time will then discuss their experiences. The audience is encouraged to join in.

The documentary, "With All Deliberate Speed: One High School Story," was made by Merideth Taylor, St. Mary's professor of theater, film, and media studies, with interviews she started gathering in 2003. She taught then-current Great Mills students how to conduct oral histories, and sent them out into the community to record memories. More recently, she followed up with additional interviews.

"What will come through clearly are the contrasting perspectives," says Taylor. "Partly, this is because of the format of oral histories and the use of memory. People remember things differently because of the values they place on those memories. For some it was a positive time, and they were not always aware how different it was for others who had a much more negative experience.

"This county was very, very segregated in all aspects of life into the 60's."

One of the heroes was Theodore Newkirk, local NAACP president at the time. "He really helped move the county forward with school integration, and challenged discrimination on the base and in housing," says Taylor. There also were savvy school offi cials. And then there was Joan Groves, whose parents sued the school system; she and her brother Conrad walked into Great Mills High as the fi rst African-American students in the fall of 1958. Now Joan Groves Briscoe, she will be on the panel after the documentary.

"These are the stories of our pioneers," says Taylor.

With All Deliberate Speed: One High School Story was made possible by a grant from the PNC Foundation Legacy Project with support from the Maryland Humanities Council (MHC). The MHC is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the documentary do not necessarily represent those of the PNC Foundation, the MHC, or the NEH.