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Published on December 13th, 2016 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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Students of racially segregated school celebrate reunion

Members of the Richlex Reunion committee celebrate at their reunion held on December 10 at their former segregated school, now known as Dutch Fork Elementary School. (Photo provided)

by Cola Daily Staff

Smiles and laughter flowed through the gymnasium where they once played.

Former students of Richlex School in Irmo, now the site of Dutch Fork Elementary, gathered for a special night at their “Holiday Gala Reunion” on Saturday to celebrate and remember the classes of 1953 through 1968.

Members of the Richlex Reunion committee celebrate at their reunion held recently at their former segregated school, now known as Dutch Fork Elementary School.

Richlex School was established in 1953 as a school for black children in Richland and Lexington counties. From 1953 until 1968, 530 black students received high school diplomas and an additional 603 students received elementary and high school instruction. In 1968, the dual school system structure was abolished as schools were integrated.

Chairperson of the Richlex Reunion, James Washington, gushed from ear to ear as classmates filed their way into the place that gave them opportunity to learn, grow, and develop as students.

“It is so important that we celebrate tonight,” Washington said. “Let’s face it. We are in our twilight years. If we don’t have this reunion now, it would never happen. It is so special to reconnect with what we had, where we went, and where we’re going. But more importantly, we do this because we have to pass this on to our kids. There’s a legacy here.”

Students like Hattie and Willie Metze, who met during their days at Richlex and have now been married for 50 years, were so excited to once again walk the same halls they did many years ago.

“It brings back so many great memories of going to school here,” Hattie Metze said. “It is such a special place.”

A standout basketball player, Willie Metze recalled his playing days in the gym. “It looks exactly the same,” he said. “This is where we played our games and just outside we played football.”

Not only were students at Richlex bonded as classmates, but there were many students who had family members attending the school as well. Mary Richardson had an interesting story to share.

“I was attending Booker T. Washington High School, but I requested a transfer to Richlex because that was where all my friends and family went to school,” Richardson said. “I looked forward to school each and every day because this was the place I wanted to be.”

The star of the night may have been Rubie Shumpert. She taught at Richlex School when the doors opened and just recently celebrated her 99th birthday.

“It was so important to be here tonight because I believe I am the only original teacher left,” Shumpert said. “Our school mascot was the Cyclops, and I remember submitting the logo for it because it was different than all the other surrounding schools. I had no idea they kept it around all these years.”

As the night of celebration rolled along, Larry Haltiwanger, Sr., a Richlex graduate and current District Five Board of Trustees vice chairman, reflected on his years spent at the school.

“It was a place where we came to be educated. That’s all we knew,” Haltiwanger said. “It is really surprising to see all the people that turned out tonight to remember what this place meant to us. The teachers and students had the utmost respect for one another. We looked to the teachers as parents away from home. I will always carry Richlex with me.”

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