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Published on December 16th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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Booker T. Washington High School Centennial Celebration

Pictured: Booker T. Washington 1955 Football Team

“After God and church there was Booker T. Washington,” 
Fannie Phelps Adams (‘34)

Celebrating an era when the school on “the Hill,” was the center of cultural life for Columbia’s African American community, alumni and friends of the former Booker T. Washington High School are preparing to commemorate its Centennial in 2016.

Year-long events are being organized by the Booker T. Washington High School Foundation, an alumni group established when the school closed in 1974 to perpetuate the historical significance, educational traditions and cultural heritage of the school. Event Chair, Doris Glymph Green (‘59) said events will be held at the school’s renovated auditorium on the University of South Carolina campus, the Booker T. Washington-Monteith Cultural Center in North Columbia, and other locations.

Founded in 1916, Booker T. Washington High School “was a special place that was interested in the whole child – the academic, physical and social parts of every student,” recalled one of its most notable graduates, Fannie Phelps Adams, who attended BTW from first through 11th grades and returned to continue the legacy as a teacher and guidance counselor.

In 1924, the school transitioned to a standard high school. For many years, BTW was the largest public high school for black students in South Carolina, and one of the few schools in the state accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

The controversial decision to close the school in 1974 came after offers from the University of South Carolina to purchase the four-acre complex. All of the campus buildings were razed save one, the former auditorium, which underwent a $2.2 million renovation in 2014 to house a “living history” museum. A large portion of the funds, $1.7 million, used to renovate the building came from Booker T. Washington graduate, Rev. Dr. Solomon Jackson Jr.

More than 7,000 students attended Booker T. Washington during its 58 year history. Some of the school’s most well-known graduates and educators include Adams; C. A. Johnson, the first principal; Celia Dial Saxon, an 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; civil rights activists Septima Clark and Modjeska M. Simkins; and Judge Matthew J. Perry.

BTW Foundation President Henry Hopkins (‘50) said “the Centennial Celebration of Booker T. Washington High School will bring together four decades of graduates and their extended families, many of whom live each day with a poem often recited by one of our favorite principals, J. Andrew Simmons,

‘Thank God, a man can grow! 
He is not bound
 
with earthward gaze to creep along the ground;
 
Though his beginnings be but poor and low,
 
Thank God, a man can grow!’”

For more information, contact Henry T. Hopkins at 803-786-7096 or 803-764-7472.

Booker T. Washington High School Foundation | PO Box 1641 | Columbia, SC 29202 bookertwashingtonfoundationsc.org

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