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Documentary Portrays Tolerance Amid Segregation In Small Maryland Town

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Sandy Spring, Md. has a unique racial past, with a curious mix of racial tolerance and segregation.
Matt Bush
Sandy Spring, Md. has a unique racial past, with a curious mix of racial tolerance and segregation.

The town of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County was founded by Quakers in the early 1800s. More than 200 years later, their beliefs are still influencing the town. A new documentary is taking a look at how racial segregation in Sandy Spring was affected by the beliefs of the town's founders.

Phyllis Carroll grew up in Sandy Spring during segregation. She says black residents like herself got along with whites. The town's lone store, run by whites, was open to everybody, and Carroll says one worker there was known to all.

"The Sandy Spring store was the only one we went to, and Sarah Dass, whenever the Sandy Spring store changed hands, she stayed there. I think they sold her with the store," says Carroll.

That story is just one of many in "Sandy Spring: Unity In The Time Of Segregation", a production from Montgomery College. The documentary starts with the Quakers who founded the town. They freed their slaves, for the most part before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Sandy Spring was even a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The town's unique history may have contributed to its racial tolerance, but segregation was unavoidable in one area: schools.

Carroll recounts a time when she was prepared to be bussed to Carver High School in Rockville, 20 minutes away, instead of going to all-white Sherwood High, which was just a short walk from her house:

"I went to visit Carver High and then when the time came for us to leave Sandy Spring elementary, they said no you don't have to go to Carver," she says. "I went to Sherwood."

Segregation ended around 1962 in Montgomery County public schools -- just in time for Carroll to go to her neighborhood high school. Her children and grandchildren have since graduated from Sherwood High. The former all-black Sandy Spring elementary school she went to is now the Ross Boddy Community Center, and it was there that the idea for the documentary started, says County Council member Nancy Navarro.

"I came to visit with the seniors, and towards the end, there was a request made," says Navarro. "They said so many of the participants of the senior program have this amazing rich history that they want to share in some way. We believe this is a major contribution to the historical archives of Montgomery County."

Once the idea got to students and instructors at Montgomery College, it took just two months to write, film, and edit.

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