Elmer T. Hawkins (left), then president of the American Teachers Association, pictured with then NAACP Chief Counsel, and later U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall (center) and former ATA president Lillian Johnson discussing the legal strategy to force school desegregation. Source: Jason Patterson Exhibit, chesapeakeheartland.org. Feature image: Elmer T. Hawkins from the 1967 Garnet Swan Yearbook.

This Week’s Kent County History Quiz Question: He was the principal of Kent’s segregated high school while advocating for desegregation, but never worked in a fully desegregated school system?

A. Reade Corr

B. Henry Highland Garnet

C. Elmer Hawkins

D. None of the above.

This Week’s Answer:  C. Elmer Hawkins

Elmer Theodore Hawkins (1904-1973) and his wife, Marjorie (see Kent Pilot History Quiz, February 5, 2021) were a memorable African American Chestertown couple who generously spent their married life encouraging, teaching and healing others–without racial bias.

Hawkins arrived in Chestertown in 1926 after graduating from Catonsville’s Douglas High School (also the alma mater of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice) and Morgan State University, where he had just earned his Bachelor’s Degree.

Hawkins’ message from the 1947 Garnet Swan Yearbook.

He began by teaching and that same year was hired as Principal of the Henry Highland Garnet Elementary and High School, then a 3-story school for African American pupils in grades 1 through 12 that had been built 1915 on College Avenue.  That building was replaced in 1959 by a new building on Calvert Street that today is an elementary school and continues to bear the name honoring H. H. Garnet, an influential abolitionist.

Elmer Hawkins remained as principal of the Elementary and High School through four decades.   During that time, he acquired a Master’s Degree from Hampton Institute in 1934 and engaged in postgraduate work at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Chicago.

In 1967, when desegregation was achieved, Kent County was the last Maryland county to accept it.  The Garnet Elementary and High School was absorbed into the new integrated system.  The school building became home to the new Chestertown Middle School with Hawkins named its Principal.  He stayed until his retirement in 1972.

Principal Hawkins, his wife and their thoughtful guidance are well remembered.  He, as the firm, but determined teacher and shepherd, and she, tenderly bringing generations into the world for him to lead and instilling healthful habits and scientific wisdom to live well.  They were of a mind in their determination to take the time needed, not to give up until lessons were learned, understood and became habit; and bodies were healed.

A bust of this beloved mentor, given in gratitude at the Heritage Day reunion in June 2014 by the Garnet Alumni can be found in Garnet Elementary School.  A street was named by the town in Hawkins’s honor–Elmer T. Hawkins Drive in the Calvert Heights community.  He held the position of Director of the Maryland Branch of the National Education Association and President of the American Teachers Association.

Poignant words are still heard in his praise:  Hawkins is honored at the annual Black History program at the Garnet School every February. The Kent County News reported that Marion Spriggs, an alumna of and a teacher at Garnet said that what Hawkins had taught her gave her “a solid foundation” and that she appreciated “the respect as a teacher that was shown to her.”

Garnet Alumni present portrait of Elmer T. Hawkins. Source: roadtocompromise.wordpress.com.

“He was quite a disciplinarian,” Rev. Clarence Hawkins told the Kent County News in 2011. “If you didn’t toe the line you might get a spanking.  Then, it was in loco parentis when you were in school.  The principal or the teacher was your parent.”

Rev. Hawkins and his children were all delivered by Marjorie Hawkins.

Rev. Hawkins (no relation) was not only a student at Garnet, but became an important Kent County teacher and administrator.

Kent County was fortunate to have had Elmer and Marjorie Hawkins’s positive voices to sustain its community and call it their “home.”

Thanks to all who have voiced their admiration for our black history heroes during February’s Black History Month.

The Kent County History Quiz is a weekly local brainteaser sponsored by The Peoples Bank. Kent County historian and author Joan Horsey, local newsman and history sleuth Kevin Hemstock, and columnist Kate Meehan contribute to the quiz’s development. Our goal is to create an opportunity for local learning and discussion.

Do you have a Kent County history question? Send it to steve@kentpilot.org.