1931 Courthouse

The Montgomery County Courthouse was built in 1931 by the construction firm J. J. McDevitt Company, based in Charlotte, N.C. using local labor. The project provided an opportunity for African American laborers in and around Rockville to find employment during the initial years of the Depression, when such prospects were becoming more and more scarce.

Skilled and unskilled laborers like the ones seen in these photos built the courthouse. Rockville’s black carpenters, masons, welders, electricians, plumbers, machine operators, and others contributed to the completion of the building. Black artisans helped install the beautiful terrazzo floors, marble accents, and birch and walnut courtroom interiors.

In addition to its construction, the courthouse is significant in African American history as the site of many important events and trials in Rockville and Montgomery County dealing with segregation, civil rights, and equal employment opportunities. One case demonstrates the fight African Americans had on their hands achieving some of these basic rights.

Gibbs v. Broome, et al.
While Montgomery County claimed to have a “separate but equal” approach to education for its black and white students, there were obvious inequities in the system. In the 1930s, issues regarding disproportional teachers’ salaries came to a head. At that time, black and white teachers had to meet the same standards for hiring, yet white teachers received on average double the salary of equally qualified black teachers.

With support from the NAACP and the Maryland Teachers’ Association, William B. Gibbs, teacher and principal of Rockville Colored Elementary School, took on the task of demanding equal pay. In December 1936, he petitioned the Montgomery County Board of Education to pay all teachers equally, regardless of race. The Board denied the petition, so with representation from NAACP attorneys Thurgood Marshall (later a Supreme Court Justice), Charles Houston (Vice Dean of Howard University Law School) and others, Gibbs sued the Board of Education in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Rather than fight what would surely be a losing battle, the Board settled the case out of court through School Superintendent Edwin Broome. The Board agreed to increase the salaries of its African American teachers to equal those of white teachers by phasing in a salary increase over two years.

The battle for equal pay, however, was not without its casualties. Although not plainly stated to be a result of the lawsuit, Gibbs was fired the year following his case against the Board of Education on a technicality.

Return to the African American Heritage Walking Tour

Directions to the next stop: Continue the Tour west on Courthouse Square, take a left on South Washington Street, cross to the south side of West Jefferson Street and turn left on West Jefferson Street to see stop 3 (Adam Robb’s Tavern) along the landscaped wall of the new District Court Building.