IUL Smithville School Museum & Education Center (SSMEC)
HISTORY OF SSMEC
In 1896, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision legalizing segregation. The court ruled it was constitutional to have “separate but equal” accommodations for African-Americans in schools, hospitals and other public places.
The application of that decision was inherently unequal. Consequently, African-Americans in Montgomery County, Maryland and elsewhere throughout the nation received an inferior education.
In 1927, The Smithville Colored School was opened with the financial support from the Julius Rosenwald fund, money raised by the community and funds from the County Board of Education. This was an attempt to give black children a better education than they had before.
In 1952, the school was closed and used for various county maintenance functions.
By working with the Historical Preservation Commission and the Planning Board, the County Council and the County Executive, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has taken that which was designed to separate us and are using it to unite us. The conversion of this property to a museum, computer/education center and community meeting facility continues to have a positive effect in Montgomery County.
The Smithville School is historically significant for its association with the history of public education in Montgomery County during the "Jim Crow" era. It was one of fifteen one-and two-room frame structures erected as part of the Rosenwald school building program between 1926 and 1928 that aimed at rectifying inequities in the facilities of the county's segregated school system. In 1928, this two-room classroom building was constructed with funds provided by the community, the Montgomery County Board of Education, and the Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropic organization created by merchant Julius Rosenwald to aid African-American people through education and health care. The property featured the simple design and construction techniques often used in communities with few financial resources. However, Smithville was able to survive the test of time. The building is a rare historic resource and its basic form, overall utilitarian design and materials recall its historical association with county educational policy and the education of African American school children between 1927 and 1944.
The Montgomery County Board of Education acquired the land for the Smithville Colored School in September, 1927 and soon thereafter African American children began attending classes at the new building. Vocational training in the lower grades focused on carpentry and gardening. The vocational building at the Smithville School site was probably constructed at this time. By 1939-1940, the Smithville School included grades one through seven and housed 135 pupils.
The Smithville Colored School closed in 1952 after the school board initiated a plan to consolidate all the colored schools into a few modern buildings. In 1950 new schools for African American children opened and integration began in 1954. The building was used briefly as a community center, before its transfer to the county government in 1956. The property was then converted for use as a school bus depot and the old school house became a storage facility. The Montgomery County Division of Highway Maintenance used the site for maintenance of County vehicles for several years until its closure.
Collaboratively working with the Historical Preservation Commission and the Planning Board, the County Council and the County Executive, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has taken that which was designed to separate us and made it a call to unify all. The conversion of the Smithville school property to a museum, computer/education center and community meeting facility continues to have a positive effect in Montgomery County.
After the Board of Education decided in 1997 that it no longer needed the facility, members of Alpha Phi Alpha learned the school's history. The fraternity, which was looking for a place for chapter meetings, asked the county to declare the building a historical site and asked for their consideration to renovate it. Upon receiving positive feedback, Alpha Phi Alpha bought the Smithville School from the county in 1999. IUL then initiated the submission for registration of the Smithville School facility as a historic property. Subsequently, the entire property was registered with the Maryland Historic Trust (MHT) due to Rosenwald School affiliation. Achieving success over an extended period, it is currently listed on Maryland Inventory of Historic Places.
"Before that, I just saw it was a bus depot and a beat-up building," said Russell C. Campbell Sr., a Burtonsville fraternity member who is chairman of the school. "When I found it was a Rosenwald school, I knew we had to save it." Campbell, a consultant on historical preservation, said his father was a principal of a Rosenwald school in South Carolina, and his mother was a student at one.
IUL then completed a design to refurbish the facility and was subsequently awarded a building permit to renovate the property as a museum and education center in November of 2002. The Brothers received a matching grant to mitigate the cost of the renovation effort from the state, as well as additional funding from the county, to assist with restoring the property; one as a museum and education/training center (current meeting facility) and the other as an office and meeting facility. However, due to funding constraints, the Brothers turned their focus to ensuring that the museum and training facility were renovated. With additional funds that were donated by fraternity members, this effort was completed in 2003 at a cost of over $300,000. The museum and education/training center is still in use today.
Today, the Brothers of IUL proposed to provide a new destination to instill pride in Montgomery County residents and to commemorate the history of the site in Silver Spring. The property redevelopment will include a dedicated space to house Smithville School artifacts and era related memorabilia; a hi-tech conference and meeting center for classroom training, discussions and private meetings; and a small events venue for events and activities hosted by residents and local organizations. The intent is to have ongoing indoor and outdoor activity at the property throughout the year, furthering the concept of having a local gathering space for all to enjoy.
Please join us in supporting this worthy cause. Together, we can work towards our own common good.
Your tax-deductible charitable contributions may be made by check payable to:
IUL Smithville School Museum and Education Center
Mail your check to:
IUL Smithville School Museum and Education Center
811 East Randolph Road
Silver Spring, Maryland 20904