Documentary on Desegregation of Great Mills HS Brings Hidden Local History to Screen - Southern Maryland Headline News

Documentary on Desegregation of Great Mills HS Brings Hidden Local History to Screen


Joan Groves was the first black graduate of Great Mills High School. Her story is documented in the new film, “With All Deliberate Speed: One High School’s Story.” Groves is now retired and lives in Landover, Md. (Submitted photo)
Joan Groves was the first black graduate of Great Mills High School. Her story is documented in the new film, “With All Deliberate Speed: One High School’s Story.” Groves is now retired and lives in Landover, Md. (Submitted photo)

ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. (June 13, 2009) — St. Mary’s College of Maryland professor Merideth Taylor has produced a documentary film on the desegregation of Great Mills High School that will premiere in the high school’s auditorium on June 18th at 7pm. “Ending a Century of Segregation: One High School’s Story”, will run about one hour and give voice to those who experienced the desegregation process at Great Mills High School between 1958 and 1972.

“We found that many students at Great Mills are unaware that their schools were ever segregated,” said Taylor. “And it may surprise even older folks to learn or remember how segregated the county once was.”

The screening of the film will be followed by a panel discussion and refreshments. Panel members include Joan Groves, who was one of the first two black students to enroll at Great Mills after her parents sued the school system in 1958 to force integration. The panel will include former teachers and students, both white and black,who were at Great Mills during these years.

The documentary is based on eighteen oral histories drawn from over thirty interviews with former teachers, administrators and students collected by Taylor with the assistance of students and teachers at Great Mills. To mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, in the spring of 2004 Great Mills students who had helped with these interviews presented an original theatrical work based on the oral histories. The documentary grew out of Taylor’s sabbatical project in 2003-2004 involving Great Mills High students and teachers.

“What will come through clearly are the contrasting perspectives,” says Taylor. “Partly, this is because of the nature of oral histories and 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 more negative experience.”

Before desegregation, there were two public high schools: George Washington Carver for African Americans and Great Mills for whites. However, with the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board in 1954, the schools were required to desegregate. Another ruling in 1955, Brown II, demanded schools desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” St. Mary’s County began to make plans for desegregation, which met with resistance – Southern sympathies ran deep in the county. It wasn’t until Joan and Conrad Groves’ parents filed suit in 1958 that African American students actually entered the “white” schools. Taylor documents this entire turbulent time period, through the racial tensions that rose in the early 1970’s.

A grant from the PNC Foundation Legacy Project and the Maryland Humanities Council made the documentary possible. Additional support for the documentary project came from St. Mary’s College in partnership with St. Mary’s County Public Schools and the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions.

“Ending a Century of Segregation: One High School’s 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 (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the documentary do not necessarily represent those of the PNC Foundation, the MHC, or the NEH.

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