From the beginning in 1916 until it’s closing in 1974, Booker T. Washington High School was a center for the education and training of young African Americans of Columbia, South Carolina.
The historic school began with elementary grades and became a standard high school in 1924. For many years it was the largest public high school for Blacks in South Carolina, and one of the few schools in the state accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
The BTW campus was developed in the southeastern section of Columbia at the corner of Marion and Blossom Streets. In 1923, a three-story fireproof building was erected to house the industrial department of the school. An annex containing 12 classrooms, laboratories, cafeteria and auditorium was built onto the main building in 1927. In 1939 a gymnasium and auditorium were added to the campus. A larger shop building was constructed in 1941 to house vocational classes for boys.
One of the underlying factors which aided the school’s progress was the dedicated faculty and staff of highly trained men and women who were committed to helping students develop and strengthen their basic skills.
BTW had seven principals during its history: Mr. C.A. Johnson (1916 – 1931); Mr. W.J. Cochrane (1931 – 1932); Mr. J. Andrew Simmons (1932 – 1945); Mr. John H. Whiteman (1945 – 1950); Mr. Harry B. Rutherford (1950 – 1965); Mr. Stonewall Richburg (1965 – 1972; and Mr. Samuel A. Heyward (1972 – 1974).
Public school desegregation in the state and the expansion of the University of South Carolina led to the closing of BTW in 1974 and utilization of the school’s facilities by USC.
The main classroom Builing was too old to save and had to be razed, but other buildings on the BTW grounds were used by three departments of the University. Facilities in the cafeteria and hom economics building were utilized by the USC College of Education for its early childhood education program. The locker rooms in the gymnasium, the auditorium and the vocational education building were converted to classrooms and administrative areas for the Art and Theater departments, and into research space for the USC School of Medicine.
The gymnasium was razed in the spring of 1999. The auditorium building is the only one remaining on the campus. Although Booker T. Washington High School no longer exists, its spirit lives on in the hearts of thousands who were educated there from 1916 – 1974.
The 1974 announcement to close Booker T. Washington High School created a furor of disbelief and indignation which permeated a community of loyal Washingtonians, their families and friends. The outcry protesting the sale of the school to the University of South Carolina without any eminent plan to rebuild or relocate the historic African-American landmark resulted in countless public meetings to resolve a highly charged conflict. The student body, alumni, and faculty were distraught. Community leaders rallied and spoke against the decision. On March 12, 1974, Frankie B. Outten, representing the faculty, presented to Richland County School District One Board of Commissioners “A Testimonial to Booker T. Washington High School” which captured the concerns and sentiments of those who were most injured by the school board’s decision.
Recognizing the exigency to preserve Booker T. Washington High School’s tradition of academic, vocational, athletic, and cultural excellence, Doris Glymph Greene, class of’59, envisioned a foundation to keep the memory of the school alive. She drafted a concept proposal which the Columbia Pan-Hellenic Council unanimously adopted. The Council immediately set about establishing the Booker T. Washington High School Foundation, counseled by Attorney Franchot Brown ’61, who rendered his legal services pro bono.
The Columbia Pan-Hellenic Council is an influential organization which represents more than 1000 members, many of whom are BTW graduates. It is the umbrella entity of eight Greek-letter public service, African American giants: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Considering it historically important that the Booker T. Washington High School tradition and her contributions to the city, county, state and nation be commemorated by positive community action, the Pan-Hellenic Council prepared and funded an appropriate closing ceremony for the school- the 1974 Rededication to Booker T. Washington High School’s Tradition of Service, held at the Columbia Township Auditorium. Hundreds gathered for the emotional farewell which featured former principals Harry B. Rutherford, Stonewall Richburg, and Samuel A. Heyward. Former Choraliers and band members rendered the music, and the Reverend John C. Williams ’55 aroused the audience with a poignant tribute.
In the summer of 1974, representatives from the Pan Hellenic Council and BTW alumni elected the first Board of Directors of the Foundation. The Board committed to a twofold purpose: to preserve the rich history of Booker T. Washington High School and to enshrine the school’s memorabilia. The formation of an alumni association, the creation of a scholarship program and heritage banquet, the revival of the John Work Chorus, and the establishment of a building fund were the thrusts of the Board. A task force chaired by Dorothy Hollis Davis ’49, the first Alumni President, worked untiringly and determinedly throughout the summer to identify, collect, and catalog artifacts to be housed in a museum. The school district provided storage space.
In June 1975, the first annual Heritage Banquet was held at the Masonic Temple. The first scholarships were presented to Sheila Bates and Walter Curry. Julius Jefferson ’41, Catherine Thomas (Columbia Pan Hellenic Council) and the Class of 1974, the last graduating class received the first Heritage Awards for outstanding contributions to the Foundation.
The 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 scholarships were awarded to students who would have graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and were zoned to A. C. Flora or Dreher High School. Fannie Phelps Adams ’34 served as the first Scholarship chairperson. In 1968, The BTW Scholarship program was renamed for Mrs. Adams whose formative years (first – eleventh grades) were spent at BTW and were followed by a lifetime teacher/counselor/administrator career at her alma mater.
Heritage Banquets have invited renowned alumni as guest speakers, including football standout J. C. Caroline, Federal Judge Matthew Perry, Kellog Medical Scholar Dr. Carroll M. Leevy, Corporate Executive Gilroy Griffin, Jr., Corporate Attorney Joshua Martin, Hall of Fame Coach George E. Glymph, and religious leader Reverend Joseph A. Darby.
In 1984, the Foundation recognized 92 living faculty and staff who had taught at Booker T. Washington. In 1985, 15 families were recognized for their prolific number of BTW graduates. In 1986, the two South Carolina African-American astronauts were presented the Heritage Awards: Lt. Colonel Robert E. McNair of Lake City and Columbian Lt. Colonel Charles F. Bolden, Jr., the son of BTW alumni Charles F. and Ethel Martin Bolden.
The Foundation celebrated the 75th anniversary of Booker T. Washington High School in 1991. Two highlights were the Diamond Jubilee Comet publication and the 200-voice John Work Chorus performance. Janie P. Jones ’67 researched and compiled the rosters for all the graduating classes, 1919-1974, into one document which appeared as an insert in this collectible edition of The Comet.
Many people deserve special thanks for their lifetime dedication to fostering the goals of the Booker T. Washington High School Foundation. Several should be noted for their 33 years of uninterrupted service (1974-present): Fannie Phelps Adams ’34, Celia Phelps Martin ’37, Alonzo Phelps ’55, Mary Cooper ’41, Inez Goines ’41, M. LaNelle Kohn, ’68, Eunice Primus Robinson, Columbia Pan Hellenic Council. For more than 20 years of service: Geraldine Parker ’64, Susie B. Freeman ’32, Pertell Nesbitt ’61, Doris Andrews ’64, Ida Spells English ’65, Mary C. Hammond, ’51, James A. Green ’58, Herbert Nelson ’46, Josephine Hall ’43, Ida B. Johnson ’38, Wilbur Tucker ’54, Robert Weston ’52, Susie Mills ’51, Doris Greene ’59, Gus Roberts ’61, Oretha Young ’55, Agnes Richardson ’41, Sylvia Watson ’70, and Earl F. Brown, Columbia
Pan Hellenic Council. During the organizing years, Columbia Pan Hellenic Council members Harold A. White, Catherine D. Thomas and Edward E. Taylor rendered exemplary service.
Mr. Taylor served as the Foundation’s treasurer for more than 18 years. The first major fundraisers were initiated by Isaac McGraw (doormats) and Julius Jefferson ’41( The Grandbaby Contest ). For years, Nelson Squire, ’58 was designated as the Foundation’s official photographer.
The Foundation has been served by six presidents: Doris Glymph Greene ’59 (1974-1984); Earl Felton Brown, Columbia Pan Hellenic Council, (1985-1992); Gloria Graham Boyd ’65 (1992-1994); Gus Roberts ’61 (1994-2003); Henry Wolfe ’72 (2003-2204) and Albert Griffin ’55 (2004- ). The Alumni Association has been served by three presidents: Dorothy Davis, Oretha K. Young and Ida Johnson.
The Booker T. Washington tradition flourishes through the class reunions, heritage banquet, John Work Chorus, alumni picnic, and scholarship programs. The reunion weekend and the high school foundation have served as prototypes for other historic black schools lost to the confusion of desegregation. The preservation of the Booker T. Washington High School legacy thrives under the visionary leadership of the current Board of Directors, President Albert Griffin and Annie P. Kelley ’60, Weekend Heritage Celebration Chairperson. Lest we forget …