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Past struggles

Local residents remember difficulties associated with historical achievements

Local residents remember difficulties associated with historical achievements

February 18, 2007|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Arnetta Doleman watches for herself each time she sees a replay of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on television.

The 85-year-old Hagerstown woman has not yet spotted herself among the more than 200,000 people who watched King speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, but she said it doesn't matter.

"It was a wonderful feeling to be out there for that occasion," she said.

Doleman, who was 42 at the time of King's speech, has experienced both segregation and the changes that came with the civil rights movement.

While growing up in Hagerstown, she was forced to use separate restrooms and attend a segregated school. Even dances were segregated.


Leon Brumback, a retired Washington County Public Schools teacher, also grew up in Washington County, but he was nearly 20 years younger than Doleman and had a different experience.

Brumback was one of the first African-American students to graduate from Hancock High School, and the first African-American to graduate from what then was Hagerstown Junior College and Frostburg State Teachers College.

"I was me. I was who I was and I was accepted for that," said Brumback, 68. "There was no disrespect."

Doleman attended North Street School - the city's only school for African-American students - from the late 1920s through the early 1940s, then dropped out in the ninth grade, she said.

"At that time, it wasn't how much education you had," she said. "The best job you could get was running an elevator."

Brumback attended North Street School until the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which found that segregated schools were unconstitutional.

A Hancock native, Brumback had been bused to the school on Jonathan Street, but attended Hancock High School in his senior year. He graduated along with two other African-American students in 1956.

Brumback said he didn't have problems adjusting to the different curriculum at the school, but Doleman said North Street School had limited resources when she attended it in the 1930s and '40s.

'Sitting upstairs was better'

Doleman said she wasn't allowed to take her geography book home because the school only had so many volumes. The school didn't teach Latin, and she didn't learn to diagram sentences until later in life.

She said she took evening classes when her son was in school because she couldn't help him with his homework.

She was raised by her grandfather, Edgar Washington, who cooked for a family on Potomac Street, she said.

Doleman, who was married to Caesar Doleman, gave birth to her only child when she was 17, and cleaned houses until the 1970s. She also tended bar at Brown Tavern on Jonathan Street.

At the tavern, Doleman served Willie Mays in 1950, when the baseball great made his professional baseball debut in the minor leagues in Hagerstown.

Back then, Mays was forced to sleep in a separate hotel from his white teammates, and faced racial remarks when he took the field.

Doleman said she volunteered a lot, particularly raising money for Mother's March on Polio.

Through the National Youth Administration, Doleman sewed for the underprivileged in the 1940s. Although all of the workers sewed in the same room, Doleman recalled using a restroom separate from that used by the white workers and being teased about being African-American.

"We were all making $16 a month and we were all in the same room together," said Doleman, who said she would have a retort for those who teased her.

She later joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Doleman recalled being separated from whites in other aspects of her life. She watched movies at The Maryland Theatre in the balcony section, but said she didn't mind that so much.

"Sitting upstairs was better," she said with a laugh.

Doleman also sang in separate choirs. And when famous singers and bands, such as jazz great Count Basie, came to town, the groups would play first for the whites, then for the African-Americans.

Doleman recalled dancing from midnight to 2 a.m. on one such occasion.

'Maybe we missed the boat'

Brumback said he experienced segregation as a youth, but not as an adult.

"We knew that we couldn't go into some restaurants, but beyond that, it was limited," he said.

Brumback received his associate degree from HJC, now Hagerstown Community College. He was the first African-American to receive his bachelor's degree from Frostburg State Teachers College, which now is Frostburg State University, in 1961.

He taught first at North Street School, which still was an all-black school, then at South Potomac Street Junior High School.

Brumback was offered, and accepted, the position of director of student activities at North Hagerstown High School in 1968, but later taught history at the school after enrollment declined and the position was not needed.

Recognized by the county, the state and Disney for his teaching, Brumback was the first teacher in the county to offer a course in African-American history.

Brumback retired in 1998, and now works part time for The Herald-Mail Co.

Brumback said he wonders how many students now would be able to name the amendments to the Constitution that gave African-Americans freedoms or how many understand the significance of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

Brumback said it is his belief that there is not enough African-American history woven into the general curriculum.

"Everybody needs to know their history," he said.

Brumback has put up displays in Tri-State-area schools during Black History Month to showcase African-American leaders.

Brumback, who is Doleman's neighbor, said he loves hearing her stories and the stories of others her age.

He said he plans to pursue compiling a pictorial African-American history book.

"I think maybe we missed the boat," Brumback said. "Most of the people who lived it and knew it are gone, and we have failed because we have not documented that history."

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