James Mosher Elementary (#144) was built in 1933. The original brick structure, facing Wheeler Avenue, was constructed in simple Art Deco style. In an era of segregation, it was designated a “white” school; children still were required to travel outside the neighborhood for junior high and high school.
In the early 1950s, Baltimore school officials were described as stunned by the scale and pace of racial change on the west side. A September 1952, Sun article reported a spokesperson as saying that “Baltimore never has known anything such as the population shift within the summer months.” The reporter went on to write:
“The ingress of Negro home owners and dwellers in hitherto white neighborhoods in northwest and northeast Baltimore during the summer months has presented a problem which is bound to perplex the School Board until some kind of relief can be obtained either through construction of new facilities or through the use of portables.”
School #144 was specifically identified as one of several schools where there had been “tremendous turnover” from white to black. By 1953 James Mosher–by then designated officially as a “colored” school–was reported to be tremendously overcrowded.
In 1954, immediately following the Supreme Court ruling that school segregation was unconstitutional, Baltimore public schools became the first formerly segregated major urban system to adopt a desegregation policy. The change had little practical effect on schools already virtually all-black, like James Mosher. In 1955 a much-needed addition was completed along Mosher Street in contemporary architectural style. By then school enrollment had surpassed 900, up from less than 400 a few years earlier.
Two new schools, built nearby in the 1960s, provided further evidence of the dramatic growth in the area’s school-age population. In 1960, Calverton Junior High was constructed on the western edge of the neighborhood. The massive complex housed four nearly self-contained units, each conceived as a “school within a school.” In 1963, Lafayette Elementary School was built, also on the west side. It closed as a standard elementary school in 2003 and reopened as the Empowerment Academy, a public charter school.