Booker T. Washington High School
Preserving the Legacy and the Lessons 1916-1974
By USC historian Bobby Donaldson
“A building is but bricks and mortar, subject to decay and destruction. A spirit is indestructible so long as it is cherished in the hearts of men and women. So it is with the Booker T. Washington High School. The building is gone, but the spirit of community service and pride which its students learned within its walls still lives.” ~ Booker T. Washington Plaque Dedication, June 16, 1978
From World War I until 1974, Booker T. Washington High School produced thousands of graduates who distinguished themselves in a wide array of professions in Columbia, S.C., and across the country. Established in 1916 on a 4-acre track at Blossom and Marion streets, the school taught both elementary and high school age students.
Under the leadership and guidance of dedicated administrators and teachers, the school developed an ambitious educational mission that included innovative academic courses, extensive vocational training, creative and performing arts opportunities and an award-winning athletic program.
The African-American landmark attracted highly acclaimed educators, including C. A. Johnson, the first principal; Celia Dial Saxon, a 1877 graduate of the South Carolina Normal School; J. Andrew Simmons, a Fisk University graduate and the founder of Booker T. Washington’s John Works Chorus; and civil rights activists Septima Clark and Modjeska M. Simkins.
From World War I until it closed in 1974, Booker T. Washington produced nearly 7,000 graduates. Some of the distinguished alumni include:
▪ Fannie Phelps Adams, a retired Booker T. Washington administrator and a member of the USC Community Advisory Board;
▪ John Hurst Adams,an African Methodist Episcopal Bishop;
▪ J.C. Caroline, an NFL standout with the Chicago Bears;
▪ Dr. Edward Sawyer Cooper, former president of the American Heart Association;
▪ Emmett J. Rice, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors;
▪ M. Maceo Nance, former president of South Carolina State University;
▪ Matthew J. Perry, a U.S. district judge;
▪ Lt. Col. Charity Adams Early, the first African-American officer in the Woman’s Army Air Corps; and
▪ Paul Livingston, a member of the Richland County Council
In the aftermath of school desegregation and urban renewal campaigns in the 1960s, Booker T. Washington witnessed a drop in enrollment. In 1974, the high school closed, and the University of South Carolina purchased the complex from the Richland County School District. Of the structures that existed on the campus, only the auditorium, constructed in 1956, remains standing. In 1978, USC and the Booker T. Washington Foundation unveiled a plaque on the original site of the school that read, in part: “To the young men and women of several generations, Booker T. Washington was the source of learning and intellectual development, a home for the greater part of the day, and a community center.”
The restoration of the Booker T. Washington auditorium and adjacent area brings renewed attention to a vital chapter in Columbia’s history. As a refurbished lecture hall, the Booker T. Washington auditorium enhances the university’s teaching and community outreach programs. Along with an exhibit space, the restored auditorium preserves and chronicles Booker T. Washington’s remarkable history for future generations.