Nina Honemond Clarke, renown educator and historian, passed away on March 4, 2021, aged 103. She was respected by educators, historians and preservationists in Montgomery County and greatly admired for her accomplishments, tenacity, and grace. MPI is one of many organizations that recognized her contributions to our history, especially African American history.
Mrs. Clarke was born in 1917 and raised in a small Black community in Montgomery County, the 9th of 11 children born to Percival J. and Sara Copeland Honemond. She graduated from Rockville Colored High School in 1934 and attended Bowie State College where she received a teaching certificate. At the age of 19, she was smitten with her first elementary school students. Later she completed a BA and MA in education, then took additional courses at local universities. This extraordinary teacher never quit learning.
She achieved these goals when it was a major challenge, and the story of that effort left listeners humbled. Her message to every audience inspired respect and courage to act, continuing long after her retirement. She was the first Black teacher to be assigned to a White class. Her students loved her, and many remained close to her long afterward.
Nina Clarke was a force for Black education and shared her experiences and insights freely without blame or rancor. She spoke to local history groups and wrote about Montgomery County’s African American schools and churches, the heart of most communities. She described for us the struggle to live and work here despite the barriers of discrimination. At her talks, often given while in a rocking chair surrounded by youngsters, listeners wondered how anyone could deny this intelligent, beautiful, dedicated woman who loved and embraced education for all. Montgomery County benefited from her lessons of a hopefully bygone day.
She was also dedicated to her church, Jerusalem-Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church in Rockville. Starting as a bi-racial congregation in 1835, and joining the Washington Mission Conference after Emancipation, Jerusalem became the center of civil rights activity in Montgomery County in the 20th century. Miss Nina’s history of her church expanded into a more extensive effort, History of Nineteenth Century Black Churches in Maryland and Washington, DC. With Lillian B. Brown, she researched and wrote History of the Black Schools of Montgomery County, Maryland, 1872-1961. Both are now out of print and priced as rare books if they can be found.
When the church parsonage was damaged by fire, she campaigned to raise funds and convince people to save and reuse the hand-constructed building. The insurance company declared it a total loss and offered a check, but today it remains in use as Cordelia House.
For all of this and more, Nina Honemond Clarke was awarded the Montgomery County Award for Lifetime Achievement in Heritage Education for her leadership, and for her oral and written histories of a time when your skin color mattered more than your dedication and contributions. She had both qualities along with the love and respect of her colleagues and friends. MPI and all who appreciate history and education will miss Nina Honemond Clarke. MPI sends our condolences to her family. We, and Montgomery County, share your loss.