the way things were"
Originally published in the Emmitsburg News-Journal
This is a story about Barbara. Well, not exactly
about Barbara. It's a story about Emmitsburg, but not
exactly about Emmitsburg either. It's really about all
of us, everybody. But before I can tell this story I
must go back long years ago, so many years that I
scarcely know just where to begin..
In about the 15th Century the Portuguese explorers
discovered that there was money to be made in the
trafficking of black people of Africa. Other countries
followed suit and soon most of the countries of Western
Europe were transporting these people to the New Word to
be sold as slaves.
Barbara's paternal great, great grandfather was
descended from a Dutch Baron from Holland. When the
Baron died, his widow and sons came to America and
settled in Connecticut. One of these sons left
Connecticut for Santa Cruz (St. Croix) in the Dutch West
Indies. This son married a black woman, and a child of
this interracial marriage was Barbara's grandfather.
Just how and when her grandfather got to Emmitsburg is
unknown. He did get here and this is where Barbara's
After the Civil War when it became legal for blacks
to be educated, Maryland and nineteen other Southern
states established segregated schools for black
children. Frederick had schools for the blacks;
Emmitsburg had only one public school, for whites only.
St. Euphemia's parochial school of St. Joseph's Church,
run by the Daughters of Charity, set aside one room in
this school for the teaching of black children.
In 1940 circumstances made it necessary for Barbara
to come from her home in Washington to live with her
paternal grandmother in Emmitsburg. Her grandmother
enrolled her in St. Euphemia's School where one sister
was assigned to teach the black children, all of whom
were taught in this one room.
All of the children of Barbara's grandmother had
attended this school. Sister Beata, the teacher, was
beloved by these 20 or so children. When Barbara was in
school she was one of only three students, herself and
cousins Kenny and Joe. These three were taught writing,
reading, arithmetic and religion. Father Rogers was the
priest at St. Joseph’s. Sister Josephine was the
principal of the school and Sister Veronica was the
teacher for the black children.
There were no privileges for the black children with
the exception of being schooled. They were not allowed
to play either in the school or on the playground with
the white children. There was not an indoor bathroom for
them either. Their "bathroom" was an outhouse
in the back of the school. Neither were they allowed to
use the drinking fountain. The black children had a
separate playground and a separate entrance to the
school. (We all can surely remember seeing pictures
during the 60s where drinking fountains and restrooms
were clearly marked "Whites only." The black
children were Catholic, and were instructed in the
Catholic faith, and when they went to church they were
limited to the back pews of the church.
There were other restrictions for the black children
in Emmitsburg. Barbara remembers that on August 5, 1945,
the day Word War II ended, bells were rung all over
Emmitsburg in celebration of victory. The old movie
house, the Gem, was close to the fire hall and the white
children on their way to the movies lined up for a turn
at ringing the Fire Hall bell. Barbara and her cousins
stood by hoping against hope that they, too, might have
a tug in celebrating this victory. No one offered them
the rope even though four members of her family were
serving in the Armed Forces. Sad.
Barbara had completed 8 grades in four years at St.
Euphemia's, but when at the age of 10 she returned to
D.C. she was placed back in the 5th grade, the
appropriate grade for her age.
When after high school, she wanted to enter the
convent of the Daughters of Charity she was refused. The
convent was open to white women only. After several
other attempts she was accepted by the Franciscan
Sisters of Atonement at Graymoor, Harrison, New York.
She was with the Franciscans for 15 years, six of which
she spent in Utah and four in Brazil.
Some years after leaving the Dominicans, she returned
to Emmitsburg and was secretary to Presidents
Wickenheiser and Houston. She is now involved in
volunteer work with the Daughters of Charity at the
Seton Center Outreach Program.
Barbara is a friend of mine and I have spoken with
her several times about her experiences in Emmitsburg
when she was young and at St. Euphemia's School. I asked
her how she felt about the treatment she and the other
black children had received. Her answer was,
"That's the way things were."
I end here with a recent quote from Barbara: "I
have no regrets about my early school experiences. The
sisters, Veronica and Josephine, were very kind to their
charges. In spite of the segregation the Sisters
instilled in my heart a deep love for my faith and the
Church, qualities that have helped me all through my
Please note: In the 40's when Sister Veronica died
the Daughters of Charity made the decision to integrate
the black students rather than assigning another Sister