Oral History of Mrs. Diane Weems Ligon, completed at her home on April 23, 2011. Mrs. Ligon discusses her family's connection to Lakeland, as one of the founding families. She describes how her grandparents and parents met and what they did for a living. Her parents were both civil servants, her father working in the District of Columbia, and her mother at Fort Meade in Columbia, MD. She discusses her siblings, a brother and sister, and her own experience being born and growing up in Lakeland. She describes the different schools she attended, Lakeland Elementary, Fairmount Heights High School, Howard University, and New York University. Ms. Ligon attended segregated schools throughout her education, until she reached graduate school at NYU. She discusses the effects of attending segregated schools, including the lack of material resources for African-American schools, the exceptional quality of teachers in those schools, favorite teachers, and after school activities. She also speaks about Prince George's County's resistance to integration, and the effects segregation had on her life as she experienced it both in the county, in the District of Columbia, and through discussions with her parents in her home. She explains the unity of the community of Lakeland with the surrounding African American communities and how Lakeland was the choice location for the high school because of its position in the middle of the Route 1 corridor. Mrs. Ligon discusses a trip she took after sophomore year in college to India, which was the first time she lived with people who practiced religions other than Christianity, which was an eye opening experience. She later explains how the trip to India helped her transition to graduate school, where again, she was living with people from different cultures and religions. Until graduate school she attended mainly all African-American institutions, and outside of the trip to India, had never lived outside of Lakeland. She describes leaving graduate school early to pursue a career in social work, a career choice she attributes to her rearing in Lakeland. She remained in New York City for fifteen years before returning to Lakeland with her daughter. Upon returning to Lakeland she worked for the District of Columbia government, and then for the Prince George's County Health Department, where she currently still works part-time after coming out of retirement. She describes the difference in her education and the education of her daughter in Prince George's County in the 1980s, not only the different between segregation and integration, but the quality of the education her daughter received. She also describes the Urban Renewal project in the community, and her perspective as someone who was not in the community when the redevelopment happened and as someone whose family was not displaced. She said the redevelopment had both good and negative impacts on the community, and how though her family wasn't negatively impacted, she understand why some families were and are so upset about the project. She briefly discusses the impact of having the University of Maryland as a neighbor to the community. She explains it was a place for employment, but it was also a constant reminder during segregation of where African Americans couldn't attend. Throughout the interview Mrs. Ligon discusses the small community experience for African Americans, their sense of place, self, and rootedness. She explains that Lakeland's story is part of a larger narrative for African American history, and that the history of Lakeland is probably similar to many of these small communities. She also disputes the idea of education as a way out explaining that education was not necessarily a way out, but a way for people to achieve more, and have more opportunities for work.
Subject: School Integration
This interview was conducted with Gela Sandage Brooks on April 27, 2011 at her home in Upper Marlboro, MD. Ms. Brooks discusses her time as a student at Lakeland School, Greenbelt Jr. High, High Point High School, and the University of Maryland. Ms. Brooks also talks about being a teacher at Lakeland Elementary and Paint Branch Elementary.
Violetta Sharps Jones, with her infant grandson, was interviewed on November 18, 2009. After not knowing her maternal or paternal grandparents, Violetta became interested in her genealogy. She is able to trace back her family's roots in Lakeland to the early 1900s. Her family migrated from Colonial Beach, VA in Westmoreland County to Washington, D.C and she was able to determine through census records that in 1880, Sarah Walls migrated to Washington, DC where she worked as a servant for a doctor and his family. This doctor was also from Virginia, so it is possible that she came with them to Washington, DC. She believes that Sarah's mother, Susan Walls moved to Lakeland because her children were there, and when she died in 1906 her body was sent back to Colonial Beach, VA to be buried, most likely because that is where her husband was buried. The 1900 census documented that Sarah, the oldest daughter, and her sister Nanny Walls, who was Violetta's great grandmother, lived in Lakeland. Nanny Walls Johnson Tate lived there with her husband James Johnson and their five children, and their family owned their home in Lakeland after 1900. Violetta was born in 1948 and lived at 1425 Albany Avenue, Lakeland, MD. When she left Lakeland in 1975, she lived at 5507 Albany Avenue, Lakeland, MD. Four generations of her family had lived in Lakeland since the 1900s. She was able to recall the neighbors that she grew up around, including John and Maggie Brooks who had five children, James and Martha Edwards who had one child, Charles and Netty Hamlet, and James and Anna Smith who lived in the building that used to be the Rosenwald School with their thirteen children. This school was comprised of two large rooms that previously housed the classes, a hallway, kitchen and storage room. Violetta's experience living in the East Side of Lakeland remained rural, and she was able to recall lots of outdoor activities and cookouts in her neighborhood. Her father was in the cooking profession and worked as a chef at the now closed College Park Diner that was located where the current McDonald's is, at a restaurant in College Park, and at one point he owned a small restaurant in Alexandria, VA. During the summer he would dig out a pit and have a barbeque pit, and Violetta recalls that her father always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Violetta grew up in her Family's house and recalled that her mother raised two of her sister's children after her sister passed away. Her extended family did not live with her; however, she recalled that at times relatives would stay with her family for one reason or another. Members of her extended family lived in the area local to Lakeland, and they were all associated with Embry AME Church together. Growing up, Violetta lived in a two-story house with a wrap around porch. Her house had two front doors with one door shut off to a parlor that was only used for special occasions. The siding on her house was originally wooden but then aluminum siding was installed. Next to her house was a large yard with an apple and walnut tree. Violetta later got married under that same walnut tree. Additionally there was a fishing pond with no fish and flower garden in her yard as well. Her family did not have a vegetable garden because of her Dad's work schedule and because she had no other brothers to upkeep it, nor did they keep any animals in their yard. The layout of her house consisted of a huge dining room, which activities were centered around, four bedrooms and an indoor bathroom on the first floor that was installed after the house was build because the original house did not include indoor plumbing. Violetta recalled the architecture styles of the houses around her, with several houses having a resort style, a large Victorian near the lake, a Bungalow style house with a screened in front porch, along with two-story structures that did not have a porch, and a cottage. Most houses in the area were fairly large two story structures. Status was not placed on homes and Violetta described it as a proud not pretentious community. Since her father was the cook of the family and her mother never had to cook, her mother was interested in personalizing her house through its dacor. Growing up, Violetta did not think of her area as the East side instead it was just the other side of the railroad tracks. Social events growing up included house parties, events at Lakeland Hall that anyone could rent, Church events and the Friday night teen club held by the recreation department. The Teen Club took place at Lakeland High School, and they would occasionally join up with other recreation departments in Prince George's County for events. Another past time included dancing to Juke boxes in Black's store and buying penny candy. During the summer, the recreation department had organized sports including softball and swimming. Violetta attended Lakeland Elementary and Junior High School and at the end of her eighth grade was the beginning of integration. Violetta had the choice of attending Northwestern, High Point, or Fairmont High School, and ended up attending Fairmont High School, which was a thirty-minute bus ride to school. She very much enjoyed her school experience because her teachers had a vested interest in the students. The Embry AME Church was a focal point in her family's history, and her mother was married there and her extended family were members of the church. The ministers lived in Washington, D.C and loved Lakeland, and would spend their Sundays after church with different host families that would invite them to Sunday family dinners. Growing up in Lakeland there was always a sense of community and belonging for Violetta. Everyone knew each other, and new people would become a part of the community as well. The community members were very protective, and this was apparent in the way they cared for you. Lakeland was a safe place and no one locked their doors, and she recalled very few instances of break-ins. Looking back she realized that struggling families were supported by community members and they always had something to eat and clothing to wear and other families always stepped up to help. Very few families moved in to the Lakeland community, and most property was passed on to extended family instead of being sold when someone passed away. Some of the traditions that Violetta recalled from her childhood were that very few people did not go to church, which is something that has changed now. Now there are a lot of new people in the area with no connection to the town, and not everyone knows their neighbors. Growing up everyone knew everyone and their families, which was a bond of the community. People often married other community members from Lakeland or North Brentwood. The community boundaries of Lakeland were based on a social life with the neighboring black towns until the 1960s, and that segregated socialization was a choice not by force. Violetta recalls going to the library and shopping center in College Park, and that many of her friends were in Lakeland and neighboring communities. Violetta briefly discusses an engineering firm that opened up on the East side of Lakeland, but it did not become a part of the community. On the east side, there was one newer structure built, but the rest of the houses were from the 1900s. On the west side, many families had expansions to their homes throughout the neighborhood.
Mr. Arthur Dock was born and raised in North Brentwood, Maryland. His father was a sand and gravel employee, and his mother, who worked as a domestic, passed away when Mr. Dock was a young boy. His aunt helped to raise Arthur and his three siblings. Mr. Dock recalls that North Brentwood, where he attended elementary school in the 1940â€™s, was a close-knit African-American community where everyone was concerned about the educational and social well-being of the children. The schools and churches played a large role in safeguarding the security and well-being of the community. He describes some experiences of attending a segregated school, including how teachers were short of supplies and what books they had were handed down from white schools (usually Mt. Rainier or Hyattsville.) Mr. Dock attended Lakeland High School from 1946-1950, and was part of the last graduating class of Lakeland High School. Like other African American students in Prince George's County, he rode the bus to Lakeland. Again, he recalls the second-hand materials that the school received, but fondly remembers the quality education he received there. Mr. Dock feels strongly that the teachers made an exceptional educational experience for the students, preparing them for a life and career in the segregated world. One important lesson he recalls is that African American students were taught to speak well, use appropriate English, be on time, and look decent. Mr. Dock formed a close bond with one teacher - Mrs. Walker and speculates that she took special care of him because his mother had passed when he was young. He stayed in touch with Mrs. Walker until her death in the mid-2000â€™s. This serves as one example of how the teachers in Lakeland wove themselves into the fabric of the community, taking the time to visit students at home, serving as mentors and role models. Most of Mr. Dock's reminiscences center around his conviction that folk made the school“ especially the teachers. It is not surprising, then, that Mr. Dock went to Bowie University, after graduating Lakeland High School in 1950, to become a teacher. His experiences at Bowie cemented the idea that education had a purpose and could be used to market yourself to the job market. After graduating Bowie University in 1954, and spending a two-year stint in the army, Mr. Dock began teaching in the Prince George's County school system, starting at a two-room school in Holly Grove, Maryland. But the segregated school system began to change, after the Brown vs Board of Education decision in 1954 forced an end to legal segregation. Mr. Dock seemed more affected by the fact that the integration of schools in Prince George's County caused competent black teachers to move to mostly-white schools, signaling an end to their effectiveness. Mr. Dock enjoyed teaching, especially science, and it is obvious that his teaching style was influenced by the education he had received in Lakeland, and that he attempted to replicate that experience for children during integration, a time of great social upheaval for adults and for children in Prince George's County. He was promoted from teacher to Helping Teacher (a quasi-supervisor for teachers) and then to Vice-Principal at Concord Elementary in District Heights. After two years of training, Mr. Dock became the principal of Ardenwood Elementary School, a country club school in the County. From there, he went to the decidedly less glamorous Bladensburg Elementary School, which he enjoyed immensely for about two years. He spent the rest of his career in a middle school implementation team position that he did not like, as it kept him out of the classroom and away from teaching children. Mr. Dock emphasizes that one of the major drawbacks of the integration process was that talented black teachers were sent to white schools, where they were not as appreciated and were decidedly less effective. He saw his role as trying to make the transition to integration smooth for the teachers and the students, implementing new teaching procedures and curriculum that seemed to replicate the educational experience of Lakeland and help the students to market themselves for the outside world. He also wanted to properly assign teachers to subjects where they had an expertise or strength. He pushed to instill discipline in the students and have the teachers set expectations, or benchmarks, in the learning process so that students could mark their progress. Finally, Mr. Dock emphasized the importance, at the time, of athletics in the schools, and how the students were able to travel around the county. Athletics became another field in which African-American students could achieve success in their segregated world. Recorded at Caroline Hall, University of Maryland College Park.
This interview of Dervy Lomax by Neil Cohen is one of two interviews Mr. Lomax has given as part of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project's oral history archive. The interview is broken into two parts: basic biographical data about himself and his family and the impact living in Lakeland has had upon him, personally. Dervy Lomax was born December 20, 1923 in Berwyn. He became a part of the Lakeland community when he came to Lakeland for elementary school. Mr. Lomax recalls the community watching out for his wellbeing, when neighbors told his parents of his misadventures with a well/spring in an empty field on his route to school. Dervy Lomax married a woman named Thelma in 1953 at First Baptist Church in College Park. They remain married at the time of the interview. Mr. Lomax recalls competing for Thelma's hand with a man who would be the best man at Thelma and Dervy's wedding. When she felt he was taking too much time to propose, an aunt pressured him not to be too choosy or to wait too long. The couple has two sons, Gregory Lomax, born March 6, 1954 and Elson Lomax, born November 28, 1956. Mr. Lomax's parents were Etelka Johnson and Charles Lomax, both born in 1902. Etelka was born and lived in Lakeland all her life. Her parents were Blanche and Charles Johnson, of Bladensburg and Lakeland, respectively. Charles Lomax was born in Muirkirk and grew up in Berwyn Heights. His mother was Henrietta Lomax and she and her husband lived in Muirkirk. As a member of the Lakeland Community, Mr. Lomax was involved with the E.L.K.S. and American Legion, as well as being President of the County Boys Club and Serving on the City Boys Club. He is also a long-standing member of the First Baptist Church of College Park. During high school Dervy Lomax was a pitcher on the school baseball team. When he joined the Navy after graduating from high school, Mr. Lomax continued to play. Once he returned to Lakeland, he joined the community baseball team and recalls his time playing as some of the happiest times in the community. He was so talented and loved by the community that he remembers being urged to pitch in games when he was not even scheduled to play. Mr. Lomax remembers some of his most disappointing times as a member of the Lakeland community as being connected to his involvement in local politics. Starting in 1956, just after he returned from the Navy, Mr. Lomax joined Mary (Williams) Holloman in addressing the City Council about the cost of blacktop on Navahoe Street. Mr. Lomax (who was acting as spokesman for Lakeland) was asked if he was a registered voter and, because of his recent service, he was not, so his concerns were not heard by the Council. He ran for Council in 1957 and was elected. During his time serving on the council, Mr. Lomax emphasizes that he demanded respect and gave respect to his peers in return. Despite respecting one another, the Council continued to avoid addressing his concerns through their votes, whenever possible. The proudest accomplishments in Dervy Lomax's life both centered around education of Lakeland youth. First, he played a large part in getting a school in Lakeland after the old school was earmarked as a school for slow learners, a tactic often employed to remove schools for colored children. Committees of black communities were organized along the Route 1 corridor to discuss where the new school should be built, but the school board also held a non-disclosed, whites only meeting in which they decided to build the new school in Berwyn. Because Mr. Lomax was informed of this meeting by his white friends, he was able to address the school board about their misconduct when they held the official meeting in which all communities were present. As a result, the Superintendent of schools agreed that the school should be in Lakeland. Mr. Lomax also appealed to the State Board of Education for integrated schools while his oldest son was entering high school. During the appeal, colored students were being bussed to Fairmont Heights School from College Park, but Gregory was taught by a private tutor, in order to keep his education on track without compromising Mr. Lomax's appeal. The Lomax's won the appeal and Gregory was allowed to choose between Fairmont and College Park High Schools the following year. He attended College Park. The interview continues with Dervy Lomax addressing various influences in his life. He starts by sharing that religion allowed him to successfully work with the public without being negatively influenced by the lack of personal respect that often accompanied his interactions. For example, when Mr. Lomax was successful in petitioning for code enforcement in Lakeland, many of the landlords in Lakeland were unhappy with him. His faith allowed him to grapple with the dilemmas of doing what was best for his community even when members of his community were unhappy with him. Religion also allowed him to overcome the dishonesty he encountered on the City Council. Finally, religion played a role in his ability to deal with Urban Renewal. A further discussion of Urban Renewal in Lakeland will be available in a later interview, according to this recording. Dervy Lomax was also influenced by two important people in his life. Charles Johnson, his grandfather, was a politically oriented person who kept track of current events. Mr. Lomax spent time discussing these events with his grandfather and even listened to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, live on the radio, with Mr. Johnson. From this relationship, Mr. Lomax developed an interest in politics. Mr. Lomax's mother imparted on him the belief that education was important. He attributes his beliefs, "you have to be educated to do something in this world" and "If you don't have nothing up in your head, you don't have nothing in your pocket" to his mother. The subject of Urban Renewal in Lakeland is revisited again, briefly, as being the event to have caused the most significant change in the community. Mr. Lomax expresses disappointment that many families did not return to live in the new houses that were built after Urban Renewal, despite the input they had in the rebuilding process. He also expresses regret that older members of the community are now selling their homes to owners who rent them to college students. Students do not respect the community and the community is deteriorating as a result. The most important events to impact Dervy Lomax's life are his marriage of 54 years and raising his two sons. He wishes his sons would marry and run for office, following in his footsteps. He also wishes for grandchildren. When asked about special childhood memories, Mr. Lomax returns to his memories of sports in the community. During his childhood, Lakeland was divided geographically, into the Southwest, Railroad Bulldogs, and Babyland areas of the community. Teams would form according to these divisions to play all sorts of games (football, baseball, horseshoes, etc). Mr. Lomax also fondly recalls lawn parties being held by local churches and lakes freezing during the winter and being used as skating rinks for the community and the university students. Those same lakes were used for swimming during the summer. At the close of the interview, Dervy Lomax states that he hopes the community will remember him as dedicated to Lakeland and that he will continue to fight for them as long as I have breath in my body".
This is an audio recording of an open panel discussion about Lakeland and the surrounding area's history of African American education, which allowed all participants to contribute when compelled. Participants included former residents of Lakeland and students of the Lakeland School, as well as students from the University of Maryland American Studies program under Dr. Mary C. Sies. Professor Sies introduced the focus of the 2011 project on education before the beginning of the discussion. The following dialogue included how education played an integral role in the Lakeland community. The participants discussed their experiences of going to grade school during times of segregation and then integration/desegregation.
Personal Background Attended Lakeland Elementary School, Greenbelt Junior High School, and Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Maryland. Mother worked as a housekeeper for the Maryland University Father was in the Government Bureau of Mines located at the Maryland University Campus â€¢ Parents also raised in Lakeland Lakeland Community Participation Attended Sunday school with Ms. Dessie Thomas Sunday school was an important part of education Parents were greatly involved in PTA and education of children Lakelanders were also involved with the Lakeland Civic Association There were summer activities for children such as the Girls Club, Boys Club in College Park, as well as the Girl Scouts Understood Lakeland as separate from College Park Desegregation in PG County Ms. Weaver was the first white teacher at Lakeland Elementary Lakeland students were bused to Greenbelt Junior High, where they were the only African American children there There were both African American and white teachers at Greenbelt. Was apprehensive about going to an integrated school: about making friends, fitting in, etc. There were some small incidents of racist name calling in middle school, but generally people were inclusive Some of the best athletes at Greenbelt were African Americans like Georgie Rounder, Jeff Briscoe, who went on to Parkdale High. Race became a more conscious issue in high school as more incidents of racism arose and students segregated themselves There were two violent walkouts (refusal to attend class) at Parkdale when the principal, Dr. ,made a racist remark about one of the students Through negotiations and conversations between parents, the community was able to work the whole thing out. There were also walkouts at the University of Maryland until they made the school more comfortable for African American students What Made Lakeland Different â young man whose last name was Webster was the first Lakelander to attend the University of Maryland. African American students whom the Lakelanders met at school were from different communities with different upbringings and culture. For example, the students from East Pines were disrespectful and lacked a strong religious upbringing. Neighbors were very active in parenting other people's as children in Lakeland All of the homes were single-family homes, not apartments or the town houses that are on Lakeland Road today Many of the younger Lakelanders have moved away and now there are many students who rent houses in the neighborhood There used to be two general stores here and one was called Mr. Black's Store and the Mack's Store where Lakelanders purchased food and congregated. The Black's Store also had a dance hall attended by local youth. Success in Lakeland Ms. Middleton did not attend university because her favorite teacher at Parkdale High, a white woman named Dr. Lake, arranged an interview for her with the FBI and she worked there for 37 years. Personal and collective Lakeland success attributed to the strength of the community and support of parents and religious leaders Lakeland teachers made do with materials, even though they were substandard, and educated students well as Gregory Lomax and other Lakeland families with some influence used their power or class status to send their children to all white schools, Integrated schools might have better materials, but they did not have the same community feel as Lakeland schools Memories of a Community in Decline Used to live on Lakeland Road before urban renewal, when she moved with her parents to Pierce Avenue After urban renewal, the neighborhood changed drastically as the community fabric weakened Ms. Briscoe-Middleton believes that the community will continue to dissipate until eventually the University of Maryland will acquire all of Lakeland. Playing sports in the community allowed Lakeland children to interact with non-African Americans and become more comfortable in an integrated environment Mayday was the biggest celebration in Lakeland The regular flooding of the community was a perennial source of anxiety for residents However, they also had fun with roller skating, movies, a big parade every summer etc. High school prom was an important event for Lakeland youth There were instances of integrated couples, especially young women who wanted to take African American athletes as dates; you just didn't take anybody home. Janet Winnatin â€¢ Patricia was very good friends with a white girl named Janet. She asked her mother if she could visit Janet's house and after some reluctance, her mother let her. When she arrived, Janet's mother would not let her enter the house. At first Patricia did not understand, but Janet explained that it was because she was African American. Janet was very upset because she worried that Patricia would not like her anymore and because she was disappointed in her mother. Patricia assured her that she understood and they continued to be friends Thoughts on the Future Patricia has a granddaughter who is 13 who doesn't understand what segregation and discrimination were like, especially because Black History is not taught well enough in public schools. Because of the disintegration of community in Lakeland, the area is becoming less safe and children do not have a good understanding of their heritage. Whereas before, the area was safe and nurturing, now there is danger of muggings and an emergency light box has been installed similar to those on the University of Maryland campus. The only anchors that may tie the community together are the Embry AME and First Baptist churches; as long as they stand and the history of Lakeland continues to be spoken, the memory of this community will survive.
Top left Rudolph Gross (far left) and Harry Braxton, Jr far right between them are the boarder in the home of George Gross on Cloud Avenue and the boarder in the home of Elwood Gross on Pierce Avenue. "Mr. Ed" boarded with the Gross family on Pierce Avenue. Maxine Gross remembers him as a young married man with small children who stayed with the family during the week while attending school at the University of Maryland. He went home to his family on the weekends. This was a common story in Lakeland at the time. Many Black students were older, male and boarded with families in Lakeland. Other images include vacation photo from a trip to Vermont and graduation photo for the brother of Wilmer Gross, James Richard Sydnor
Teachers from Lakeland Elementary on a beach trip with students Howard McMillan, Robert Peterson, Darlene Briscoe, Royce Powers, Delphine Gross and Richard Mason