“Harriet Tubman, Harriet Tubman, we love to dream of you…”
That’s the school song Bessie Bordenave sings softly as she walks down the hallway of her alma mater, the Harriet Tubman School, which is now back in the community’s hands for the first time since it closed as a school in 1965, thanks to an initiative by Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman.
Kittleman Leads Effort to Preserve Harriet Tubman School
“I hope to see this building become a museum and cultural center not just for the people of Howard County but for people from across the state,” says Bordenave. “This will be an excellent opportunity to showcase the diverse Howard County that we know and to give the public an opportunity to see what we were going through back then and what we are going through now. A big change has been made.”
The Harriet Tubman School was Howard County’s last segregated high school for African-Americans. When the school board voted to close the school in 1965, it was converted into office space and later a maintenance shop for the school system.
When Kittleman became county executive in 2014, he immediately initiated talks with the school system for the county to take ownership of the school. Nearly a year later, Kittleman and the school superintendent signed a Memorandum of Understanding that established the framework for the school to be preserved as a historic, educational, and cultural center.
“Allan Kittleman’s leadership was absolutely critical to have this completed. We had often thought that it would never really get done…that we were chasing after a rainbow or a dream,” says the Rev. Doug Sands, another Tubman alumnus. “He believes, as we do, that this building is a valuable asset to our community.”
Kittleman Creates the Harriet Tubman School Community Advisory Council
Now that the community has regained control of the Tubman building, Kittleman has created the Harriet Tubman School Community Advisory Council. Bordenave will chair the group. Among its members will be Sands and Howard Lyles, a fellow Tubman graduate.
“I can still remember which locker was mine, but mostly, I remember we had teachers who showed us so much, love. They had degrees in many subjects, but all of them had doctorate degrees in love.”
– Howard Lyles/Harriet Tubman Graduate
Work remains before the Tubman building can fully open as a cultural center. There is asbestos, lead paint, and mold in the building. Windows are old and leaky and must be replaced. One consultant’s report estimates it will cost $2.5 million and take up to five years to complete the improvements.
“In spite of the fact it was not used for education purposes, it was used well and preserved well by those who did use it”
– Rev. Doug Sands/Harriet Tubman Graduate
First Annual Tubman Celebration at Harriet Tubman School
On September 16, 2017, the Harriet Tubman Foundation was able, for the first time, to host its annual Tubman Day celebration at Tubman School Building. Kittleman spoke that afternoon and fought to hold back tears as he reflected on the crusade to end segregation. His father, the late Senator Robert Kittleman, was at the forefront of that effort.
“What I really hope is that school kids will come here and that they learn, because too many people sacrificed too long for us not to remember what they did,” Kittleman told the hundreds gathered for the celebration. “But while I want it to be a place to remember, honor and cherish those folks, I want it also to be a place that will bring our community together, that’s going to bring love, kindness, and compassion. I want it to remind people that we are so much more alike than we are different.”