The integration of public schools across the south meant that the smaller schoolhouses constructed during the era of segregation were no longer necessary and a majority of these structures were lost as a result of neglect and demolition. The Monteith School, located in the Eau Claire neighborhood, has a history steeped in the struggle for equality in education for African American students. Originally known as New Hope School (c. 1890) then known as the Nelson School (c. 1921 – 1932), the Monteith name was acquired in 1932 in honor of the school’s longtime teacher and principal Rachel Monteith
Formerly situated adjacent to 6505 North Main Street, the three-teacher school educated local students beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century until 1949. The exact date of construction has not been substantiated, but R.N. Louis, the school building’s former owner, believes that the land was donated for the construction of the school during the Civil War. In 1921, the school was reopened by Rachael Monteith, and it florurished as a public school for African American children in the Nelson School District until 1947. In 1949—two years after being annexed by Richland County into the Hyatt Park School District– the Monteith School was closed. Richland County allowed the property to remain vacant and neglected for 30 years; it was sold to private owners in 1981. The most recent owner of the school was Mrs. Martha Monteith, widow of Dr. Henry Monteith and sister-in-law to Modjeska Monteith Simkins. In 1983???, The Booker T. Washington Foundation purchased the school, and began a 10-year quest to preserve and renovate the structure. Renovation has been made possible by private funding and grants from Richland County, the City of Columbia, and the Kellogg Foundation.
It is with the Monteith name that the school’s history intersects with that of the Civil Rights movement. Rachael Monteith, a founding member of the Niagara Movement and leader in the Columbia Branch NAACP, was the mother of Modjeska Monteith Simkins and Rachael Monteith. For over 80 years, Modjeska Monteith Simkins worked and advocated for African American public health and social reform, and is regarded as “the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina.” In 1944, Rebecca Monteith, as head teacher at the Monteith School, filed a suit against Columbia School District 2B for equal salary claiming that black teachers were paid less than white teachers solely because of race. In the case, she was represented by Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP who later went on to win the Brown vs. Board of Education decision before the United States Supreme Court. After filing a lawsuit to desegregate the University of South Carolina, Rebecca’s daughter, Henrie Monteith, became one of the first three African American students to be admitted to USC in 1963. Dr. Henrie Monteith became a pediatrician and was also active in the local community.
Because the Monteith School is deeply rooted in the struggle for equal rights in South Carolina through its relation to the Monteith family, and because it is one of only a handful of such African American schoolhouses that remains extant within the state, its preservation is very important. Shortly before its closure in 1949, the school had three teachers and 74 students in the three-room building. Many of the school’s students went on to attend Booker T. Washington High School, the first African American high school in South Carolina.