STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) — At the intersection of Frank S. Brown Boulevard and Bailey Street in Steelton sits a stone marker. It commemorates the Hygienic School for Colored Children, which at a time of segregated schools brought education to African American children.
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The school actually opened in another location in 1873, and moved to its location on Hygienic Hill in 1892. As the school population grew, the building was enlarged several times, with additional classrooms and a second floor. (Most of these improvements happened after members of the African American community applied pressure on the school board.)
But the students rarely if ever saw a new textbook; school district policy was to send them worn-out used books from other schools. Other basic school supplies were often in short supply. But despite these and other barriers imposed by the so-called “separate but equal system”, teachers taught, and students learned. They studied reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history, English, geography, health, art, music, and debating. (Some learning had to be “under the radar.” A few history teachers taught black history-with a student at the door as a lookout, to alert the teacher to switch back to the official lesson plan if any administrators showed up. )
The school only had classes up to 8th grade, about ages 13 to 14. After that students either moved on to Steelton High School or went into the workforce. A lot of students had no choice but to go into the workforce to help support their families. Still, many students of the school went on to high school, then went on to graduate.
Then in 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Brown vs Board of Education decision, segregated schools were unconstitutional. Steelton started transferring Hygienic students to other buildings, and the school closed in 1958. The building was torn down in 1974.
But there are still people who remember the old school, and in 2020 they erected this monument, to help preserve the memory of a time when a community committed itself to education in spite of the barriers in their way.