Historic Structures

Wiley Bates High School, Annapolis Maryland

Date added: July 11, 2019 Categories: Maryland School

The Wiley H. Bates High School, built on Smithfield Street in 1932, is the second building erected by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education to provide secondary education for African- American students. It is the direct descendant of the Stanton High School located on West Washington Street in Annapolis. Stanton school was a three-year high school established in 1917, and was the first black secondary school in the county. Enrollment came primarily from the surrounding areas, but space was required to accommodate increasing enrollment. Interested residents, including the Stanton Parent-Teacher Association, and Wiley H. Bates (a prominent member of the African American community), persuaded the Anne Arundel County Board of Education of the need for a separate high school for colored students, and a site search began. At this time it was not uncommon for colored parents to donate land for the schools, and with a $500.00 donation from Mr. Bates, property was secured on Smithville Street. The school was constructed, and classes started in the fall of 1932.

The first principal of the school, Frank Butler, recalls that while it was officially identified as the Annapolis Colored High School, it was known as Wiley H. Bates High School since it first opened.

The original building was designed by the Baltimore architectural firm of Buckler & Fenhagen, and subsequent additions were completed by this firm and its successors. In 1928, Riggin Buckler and George Corner Fenhagen established a reputation as school architects with their design for the $2.5 million Baltimore City College, which prevailed over 18 other entries in a statewide competition. The selection of this celebrated architectural firm to design the new black secondary school reflects Anne Arundel County's approach to providing "separate but equal" facilities, evidencing a commitment to quality, at least in terms of physical plant, despite segregation.

The building was too small from the day it opened. Due to an ever-increasing enrollment, limitations and requirements for admission were instituted, but growth in enrollment was still outpacing the facility. The building was first expanded in 1937, adding more classrooms, and the old Germantown Elementary School, a frame building located at the corner of West and Russell streets, was moved to the site and used as a home economics room and lunch room. This annex no longer stands. In 1945, even more classrooms were added. The school offered courses in academic, general, and vocational arts curricula. French, sheet metal, and physical education classes were added by 1942.

This school building was expanded three times and continued to be the only secondary school for black children in the county. The final expansion, completed in 1950, enlarged the school to three times its original size, and added up-to-date facilities rivaling many white high schools. These facilities included 45 classrooms, a shop, a gymnasium-auditorium, a cafeteria, and a 399-seat "little theater" at the time the only such facility in the county school system.

The provision of facilities which equaled or exceeded those available to white students, such as the unique auditorium, exemplifies a widely-observed response of school administrators to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the "separate but equal" doctrine. It appears to have been common practice for school boards to attempt to comply with this mandate through improvements in the physical plant. As early as the 1920s, for example, the Baltimore School Commissioners provided buildings for black pupils which were comparable to those for whites in their appearance, facilities, and cost; the amounts expended on the construction of black schools in the course of a broad campaign of modernization of Baltimore city schools during that period were proportional to the ratio of black to white students. In Anne Arundel County, the selection of the most celebrated school architects of the period to design the 1932 building, and the program of expansion and updating which was carried out through the following decades, reflects Anne Arundel County's efforts to comply with the spirit of the law.

The Anne Arundel County school system was eventually desegregated in 1966. The first fully integrated high school class graduated in 1968. The Bates school continued in use as a junior high school and middle school until it was closed in 1981.