Joan Hash Unveils Forgotten History of Harriet Tubman High School


Joan Hash. Photo by Sarah Rubin

Filled to the brim with exhaustion, she got up for school at five in the morning. The bus ride was long, and she used it to get some extra rest, or sometimes to catch up on homework. In school, the days were long, with some classrooms that lacked resources, and others that were moldy and falling apart. Though she wanted to learn and try new things, simply existing was enough to deny her those privileges that some other students could take advantage of.

Joan Hash, one of the fifty students from the final graduating class of Harriet Tubman High School in Columbia, Maryland, came to Wilde Lake on February 20, 2020, to speak to students about the challenges she faced growing up in a completely segregated Howard County. Though it seems like that would be a long time in the past, she graduated in 1965, which was only fifty-five years ago.

“The story of Harriet Tubman High School is a story of denial, defiance, and deliverance,” she says. The school’s students only ever got the “leftovers” from the two other high schools in the county at the time – Glenelg and Howard. All textbooks, lab equipment, and any other classroom necessities were received as hand-me-downs from the other schools, only after they’d got- ten new supplies. Students at Harriet Tubman had to fight each day for the opportunity to get an education, going to rallies and protests just to be allowed to continue going to school.

Hash also mentioned that participation in extracurriculars, though highly encouraged, was unrealistic for many students, as the distance to and from the school was too great to travel for families with already limited resources. Some morning bus rides to the school alone took close to or longer than an hour, as there was only one bus to carry all the students that went to Harriet Tubman High.

However, she also mentioned that the atmosphere in the school was great, even though they didn’t have a lot in terms of materials. “Sometimes struggle is good,” she says, “… because it teaches you to appreciate.”

Since graduating, Hash has gone on to become a renowned chemist, and she enjoys speaking at school when the opportunity arises. She says, “I enjoy telling personal stories so people can connect, and hopefully take something away from the life that I’ve led.”