By Maya Pottiger
In honor of Black History Month, the Voice spoke with historian Janice Hayes-Williams about prominent African American figures from the area.
George Phelps Jr. was Hayes-Williams’ uncle who lived in Annapolis. Phelps was the first black law enforcement officer in all of Anne Arundel County.
After returning from World War II, Phelps had trouble finding a job because nobody would hire him. “He sat on the governor’s doorstep until somebody came out,” Hayes-Williams said. “They weren’t sure if they should arrest him or [what].”
Phelps was introduced to Sheriff Joe Alton, who hired him. On Phelps’ first day of work, he walked downtown in his uniform with two of his friends, Representative Steny Hoyer and lobbyist Bruce Bereano.
“The phone started ringing off the hook,” Hayes-Williams said. “People were calling in saying there was a black man impersonating an officer, and he had Steny Hoyer and Bruce Bereano hostage.”
In the late 1920s, the Stanton Community Center, which was the only school for black children and held all grades, was bursting from the seams. Wiley H. Bates negotiated with a developer and bought some of the land for a school, which he then sold to Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
In 1931, the first class graduated from Wiley H. Bates Middle School. It was the only high school in the county for black children, no matter whether they lived up in Brooklyn or down on the Calvert County Line, Hayes-Williams said.
“He is significant for bringing education to African American children,” Hayes-Williams said.
Sarah V. Jones was the colored superintendent of schools. Her picture currently hangs at the Board of Education because she was technically the first female superintendent, Hayes-Williams said.
During segregation, George Fox was the superintendent, but he needed a black superintendent for the black teachers and black schools.
“In terms of a pioneer, she’s the first female superintendent,” Hayes-Williams said. “She believed that her expectation for excellence for black children was very high.”
Jones believed in the use of bulletin boards because, when seen in the hallways, they reinforced the lessons learned in class. Students nicknamed Jones “Powder Puff” because of all the face makeup she wore.
When she retired right at desegregation, Jones was concerned about black children getting lost, Hayes-Williams said.
“Guess what that equates to today? It equates to the achievement gap. There wasn’t an achievement gap during segregation,” Hayes-Williams said. “The same amount of black children were going to college as white children before desegregation. After desegregation, the roles of black teachers has reduced them to being almost nonexistent in the county today.”
Charity Folks was a slave of the famous Ridout family from Broadneck. The Ridout family owned White Hall Plantation, but also had a house in Broadneck. Folks was one of their favorite slaves, and they granted her freedom from slavery after she saved their grandson from a sickness. The grandson Folks saved was Horus Gibson, whose family established Gibson Island.
Because of Folks’ loyalty, the Ridouts thought more should be done for her than any of the other slaves, so they gave her a pension. Her pension was willed through every generation that she lived through, so Folks became the wealthiest black woman in Annapolis.
With her wealth, Folks married her daughter into one of the wealthiest black families in Annapolis. They were able to send their nephew to medical school, and he became Dr. William Bishop, who is the only African American on the founding board of the Anne Arundel Medical Center.
There is now a book on Folks, called “Finding Charity’s Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland” written by Jessica Millward.