There’s a new historic marker in Lower Merion Township at the site of an elementary school that was shuttered in the weeks following Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington.
The Ardmore Avenue School, which almost exclusively served the township’s black population, is being highlighted for its small but important role in the history of desegregation.
In the years leading up to its closure in 1963, the Ardmore Avenue School was in disrepair — and deemed both separate from and inferior to the other schools in Lower Merion.
The 223 students, 80 percent black, 20 percent white were divided up and assigned to four neighboring elementary schools.
Alumnus Charles Smith, now lives in West Chester. He was 11 back then.
“It was about trying to make sure that the students that attended the elementary schools in Lower Merion Township were getting equal education,” said Smith. “It wasn’t about the building. It wasn’t about the teachers, it was strictly about education.”
But back then, Smith says he didn’t really understand what was going on. But he did notice this: sending students to four different schools meant kids who were tight with one another spent less time together
“We were too young to realize the true impact of what was really happening, for us it was that our school was closed and we were being sent to different schools.”
Smith was happy to watch the unveiling of the new historic marker, followed by a march to one of the township’s brand new high schools.
Disputes over which Lower Merion students study where are not just left to history. In 2009, families of nine African-American students sued over a school redistricting plan, saying it unconstitutionally used race to determine which kids were to be bused away from their neighborhood schools. Courts ruled against the families and upheld the district’s plan.