Reasons for Naming
- Born into slavery, Saxon attended the Normal School on the University of South Carolina campus when it was integrated during Reconstruction
- Well-known and dedicated Columbia teacher for 57 years — taught at Booker T. Washington High School, Benedict College and South Carolina A&M College.
- The site of a former elementary school named in her honor is now the location of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center
- Helped found the Fairwold Industrial School for Negro Girls in Columbia, the Wilkinson Orphanage for Negro Children in Cayce, S.C., and the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YMCA in Columbia.
Celia Dial Saxon (1857-1935)
Celia Emma Dial was born enslaved in Columbia just one city block west of the Antebellum era University of South Carolina, but she has become known as one of the city’s most celebrated educators.1 Emancipated at age six, she attended three private schools and O. O. Howard School, the first public high school for Black students in the state. Dial was one of a few women graduates to earn a teaching credential from the State Normal School hosted at the University of South Carolina in 1877. She began a teaching career at age 20 in Columbia’s Black public schools. Celia Dial Saxon’s teaching appointments mostly included secondary schools such as the Howard School and Booker T. Washington High School. 2 Her dedication in the classroom was so great that she only missed three days of work in a 57-year teaching career.3 In addition to her career in primary and secondary education, she taught history and geography to undergraduates, graduate students, educators and others at summer institutes at Benedict College and South Carolina State A&M College4 (now South Carolina State University). In 1926, she was conferred an honorary master’s degree from South Carolina State A&M College.5
As a member of the State Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, Saxon was one of the founders of the Fairwold Industrial School for Negro Girls in Columbia, S.C., the Wilkinson Orphanage for Negro Children in Cayce, S.C., and the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YMCA at the corner of Hampton and Park Streets.6 The location became home to the first public library available to Black patrons in the city; though in a new location, the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Richland Library still stands. She also served as the longtime treasurer of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. She died in January 1935.
At least four locations within the Columbia area have been named in honor of Saxon, including the Celia Dial Saxon Negro Elementary School in Columbia, S.C., which was open from the early 1930s to 1955 on Blossom Street.7 The Columbia Housing Authority opened Saxon Homes, a multi-million dollar 1,400-unit segregated housing project in downtown Columbia in 1954. Saxon Homes was razed in 2000, and a brand-new, mixed-income neighborhood – the Celia Dial Saxon neighborhood – began construction and home sales in 2003; the new neighborhood is home to the Celia Saxon Health Center, a Prisma Health facility.
1 Columbia City of Women. “Columbia City of Women Honoree Celia Dial Saxon.” Retrieved from
2 She married Allen University Professor Thomas A. Saxon.
3 Lillian Buchanan. “Celia Dial Saxon (1857-1935), Richland County,” WPA Federal Writers’ Project on African American Life in South Carolina, 1936-1937.
4 Columbia City of Women.
6 The branch is now located on Woodrow Street but still carries the Wheatley name. Wheatley was born West Africa (c. 1753) and enslaved and transported as a child to colonial Boston. She became a well-known poet.
7 The land occupied by Celia Dial Saxon Negro Elementary School in Columbia’s former Ward One community is currently home to the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center on the University of South Carolina campus.