While in power for only one term (1896-1900), the Maryland Republican Party officials “were correct in claiming that they had made greater appropriations for public education than any previous administration,” wrote Margaret Law Callcott in "The Negro in Maryland Politics, 1870-1912." And, the students at Mt. Nebo Colored School in Queen Ann Town were some of the beneficiaries of those changes. Here is an account:
By sunrise, after finishing chores on his farm, John W. “Big Dirty” Brown routinely travelled to Mulliken to pick up the mail. He usually returned to Queen Anne Town along Collington Road, coaxing his team of horses around the corner onto Queen Anne Bridge Road, then slowed as he drew near to the home of Dr. William Lane Watkins and his wife, Jane Ellen (Jennie). She would always be standing out front with the keys, awaiting his arrival.
“Big Dirty” unloaded some wooden crates from his wagon, addressed to Dr. Watkins, along with the locked box, filled with the usual piles of letters and advertisements. As Post Mistress, Jane Ellen would take it from there: the postal box would be (get) unlocked, and the mail sorted and readied for Jim Roberts, who carried it around to the mailboxes in Queen Anne Town.
He used a crowbar to open the nailed wooden boxes to find brand new books for the students at Mt. Nebo Colored School. The crowd was both surprised and joyful, almost worshipful.
The wooden crates, stacked on the porch, however, stood idle most of the day, immediately arousing the attention of neighbors and passersby alike. Speculation abound.
Family and neighbors quickly congregated for the unveiling soon after Dr. Watkins returned to his home that evening. He used a crowbar to open the nailed wooden boxes to find brand new books for the students at Mt. Nebo Colored School. The crowd was both surprised and joyful, almost worshipful.
Dr. Watkins had been teaching at Mt. Nebo for almost twenty years by 1896. At no time before had he been able to distribute new books to all of his students, free of charge. He was elated, but also realized, that the revered books symbolized both a political victory and, ironically, a badge of honor for a growing constituency who wanted to reinforce the notion of a “separate but equal” society. He did not share his thoughts with the crowd, but joined in the celebration.
The books were the direct result of the stunning Republican victory in the 1895 elections. Led by Governor Lloyd Lowndes, Jr., the Republican Party was now in total control in Annapolis, having trampled Democrats, ending that party’s thirty-year political domination in Maryland. Historians credited high turn-out and massive Negro (male) support in the southern and eastern counties of the state for the stunning Republican victory.
Prior to 1896, both White and colored children were required to pay for their own books. Now, for the first time, the Maryland General Assembly appropriated funds to provide free textbooks for all students in all grades regardless of need. As a result, school enrollment increased in every county.