By: Candace Cunningham
University of South Carolina
South Carolina’s 1940s teacher salary equalization campaign was one of the state’s most vibrant and impactful moments of black teacher activism. The state’s first three equalization cases—Malissa Theresa Smith, Eugene C. Hunt, and Viola Louis Duvall—originated in Charleston, but Duvall’s case was the only one to make it to federal district court. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) won Duvall’s case in 1944, but they were eager to guarantee salary equalization. When Albert N. Thompson, a teacher at Columbia’s Booker Washington Heights Elementary School, submitted his salary equalization petition to the Richland County School Board on June 7, 1944, the NAACP was more than willing to offer legal support. Thompson’s case would serve as the final nail in the coffin for unequal teacher salaries in South Carolina. The NAACP abandoned the local appeals process, and instead directly petitioned the federal district court.
On May 26, 1945, Judge Waites Waring ruled in Thompson’s favor, concluding that Columbia’s black teachers were entitled to a fair salary plan. Waring believed that since Duvall’s case, the school district had made an effort to alleviate unequal pay, but there was still a “startling disparity” between black and white teachers’ salaries, even when they had the same amount of experience. The Board had to begin a new classification system, effective spring 1946.
The state based the new classification system on the National Teacher Examination (NTE). Some white officials, such as Columbia school superintendent A. C. Flora, were hesitant to support the exam out of concern that it could prove that black teachers were better trained than some white teachers. But despite the overwhelming evidence that black teachers were dedicated professionals, they were also the products of an unequal education system. Ben D. Wood, the NTE creator, predicted that black teachers would score lower than white teachers. The South Carolina State Board of Education did a two-year study that supported Wood’s prediction, and beginning in 1945 all the state’s teachers were required to take the exam. Rev J. A. De Laine—the Clarendon County teacher who became the foremost leader in the state’s desegregation case, Briggs v. Elliott—rightly called the new certification program an “effort to legally dodge an equal salary decision by the Federal Court.”
South Carolina’s use of the NTE not only facilitated unequal salaries between black and white teachers but also emphasized the black community’s preexisting economic disparities. The gap between the highest and lowest paid teachers widened. Those who did well on the exam and earned higher wages were better financially situated to pursue advanced degrees and increase their earning potential. These additional economic and educational achievements helped legitimize the state’s use of standardized testing since white officials could now present this as proof of the exam’s alleged objectivity. Therefore, while race remained the defining factor in teacher salaries, post-NTE remuneration was also bound to individual socioeconomic status.
Nonetheless, the teacher salary equalization campaign also revealed the shifting tides of civil rights activism. These suits helped to increase the NAACP’s southern membership. They were sometimes the first experience African Americans had in formal protests and provided the foundation for a broader protest movement. Indeed, those who participated in the campaign found it transformative and defining. For NAACP secretary Modjeska Simkins the equalization campaign served as a catalyst—a move from racial uplift to protest politics. Furthermore, many of the individuals who helped realize teacher salary equalization—civil rights attorney Harold Boulware, teacher/activist Septima Clark, journalist/politician John McCray, military veteran/activist Osceola McKain, and Modjeska Simkins—would become seminal figures in the state’s civil rights movement. As this campaign transformed activists it also transformed the whole movement.
These individuals are only a few of the people who played a vital role in Columbia’s rich cultural history. To learn more about them and other black Carolinians please join Historic Columbia for one of its Lunch & Learn Series as it celebrates Black History Month, February 21 & 28, 12-1PM at the Mann-Simons Site, 1403 Richland Street.
Today, South Carolina remains one of the most diverse states in the union. According to the 2015 census, nearly 37 percent of South Carolina’s residents identified as a racial minority. Approximately, 28 percent of the state’s population is African American. The state’s racial diversity is grounded in the history of the founding of the colony.
Closely linked to the island of Barbados, South Carolina was the only colony where blacks outnumbered whites at the turn of the eighteenth century. The arrival of African slaves and free people of color from Barbados and a limited number of white women in the colony all contributed to a society that was accepting of racial diversity and interracial relationships. Unlike other southern states including North Carolina and Virginia, South Carolina never adopted a one-drop rule and did not have an anti-miscegenation clause in its constitution until 1865.
Indeed, South Carolina society had changed by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Racial slavery was embedded in its society and whites viewed slavery as their key to prosperity. What did not change about the state, however, was that as such, South Carolina offers a unique opportunity to study race, law and society during the antebellum period.
To learn about the common-law definition of race and how it related to social and political thought on race in antebellum South Carolina, attend Historic Columbia’s Lunch and Learn series from noon – 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. This session will be led by guest presenter, Rochelle Outlaw, J.D., Ph.D. Candidate at the University of South Carolina and will be held at the Mann-Simons Site located at 1403 Richland Street. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit historiccolumbia.org/BlackHistory, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-252-1770 x 23.
This year’s Black History Month recognition comes at an exciting time for Historic Columbia. Only a few months ago, Historic Columbia reopened the Mann-Simons Site with newly installed exhibits, interactive touchscreens, recorded audio and numerous visuals – enhancing the overall experience for each guest. I recently had the opportunity to take a tour and was blown away by the comprehensive updates Historic Columbia had incorporated into the renovation. Each and every display came to life, allowing me to better understand the people, places and stories directly associated with the house I had entered and was exploring.
Two such women the tour discusses are Celia Mann, and her eldest daughter, Agnes Jackson. Both – and so many more – laid substantial and necessary groundwork for African American women, and African American’s in general. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to highlight their stories by sharing my tour experience. My hope is that this story will encourage you to visit the site and help further broaden Historic Columbia’s message regarding the importance of history, preservation and progress.
On the way to the Mann-Simons Site, I made a concerted effort to turn off my normally hectic inner dialogue, so I could fully engage in the experience I was stepping into. Because the site was undergoing a renovation, slated to reopen with new interactive and social components in a few months, I had the privilege of having a personal tour with a few representatives from Historic Columbia. Historic Columbia manages, maintains and preserves five historic landmark sites in downtown Columbia. Starting the tour outside, I was immediately introduced to the woman for whom the site got its namesake. I did not realize at the time, but later grasped, I would forever remember – Celia Mann.
One of the first things discussed was the fact that Celia was once enslaved in Charleston, South Carolina. After managing to purchase her freedom, she, as well as her husband, Ben Delane, left Charleston and ended up settling in Columbia. Around the property were various ghost structures – steel frames outlining and representing buildings her future family members would own and occupy. Hearing this information gave me chills. The will and resourcefulness to not only survive enslavement, but face odds to make a life for herself, her family and posterity better, as a newly freed African American woman in the divided and very broken South, was somewhat unimaginable.
We made our way around the side and then to back of the house, finally stepping inside the site. With the wood beams creaking and cracking under our feet, we started our way through the interior. Period pieces and replica furniture told of times past; simple, yet obviously difficult and constantly trying.
In the front room, I was told of Celia’s profession as a midwife, a position traditionally held in high regard throughout the community. She, for years, cared for the needs of both white and African American families, in addition to caring for her own children and family. I did not say much as we kept moving through the home, but I could not help putting myself in Celia Mann’s shoes. Her strength – mental, physical and spiritual – was endless.
As we walked in the last room on the tour, the conversation shifted to the latter part of Celia’s life and her offspring. I stood there, taking in the information, when one note caught my eye. It made mention of Celia’s passing stating, “The Daily Phoenix publishes note saying: “Death of a Respected Colored Woman—Celia Mann, an old and respected colored nurse, who was present at the birth of many of our citizens, departed this life yesterday.” A flood of mixed emotions came over me when realizing this formerly enslaved woman had finally received the respect she so deserved. A caged song bird for so many years, finds the will to escape, and soar – not because of that recognition or their acceptance, but because she sought better for herself and her family and achieved what so many came up short in trying to do. It was a true testament to her unwavering perseverance.
While Celia had four daughters, the majority of information presented focused on her youngest, Agnes Jackson. Embodying many of the same traits and qualities as her inspirational mother, Agnes, aided Celia and her family on the site we were standing, in downtown Columbia at the corner of Richland Street. A few years prior to Celia’s death in 1867, Agnes moved in to assist with family matters.
Following in the similar business-minded footsteps of her mother, Agnes provided for her family by becoming a skilled baker and a laundress. Standing tall as another example of a fearless, headstrong and determined African American women, Agnes served in all respects of the word as the ‘head of the household,’ raising, shaping and being an example to her six children – one of which, John Lucius Simons, went on in later years to open a thriving lunch counter on the grounds.
Driving home I couldn’t help but think back on these truly phenomenal women. I knew it was grossly unfair for me to compare my life, my current situation and my circumstances to theirs, however my mind wandered there. Could I have done what they did? Endured what they endured? Pushed as hard as they pushed if the roles were reversed? While I’ll never know the answers to those questions, I could say with complete certainty that I was incredibly thankful to know more about what they overcame for me and my family, my future and for those generations to come. Having had that greater exposure to this particular history, I, by principal, could never forget it. It was imperative I remember it and carry it with me each day. After all, I was one for whom these women fought for.
What is it about chili that causes temperatures to rise and elicits such passionate responses? Why do Americans from generation to generation have such a steadfast belief in what is the right and true way to make a proper chili? People throughout history have made their mark on the culinary evolution of this simple dish – from Lyndon B. Johnson claiming no one outside of Texas can make it, to Stephan Crane and O’Henry writing about it, to famous frontiersman Kit Carson exclaiming with his last breath “Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.”
Join Historic Columbia’s Palladium Society Saturday February 11th at the Music Farm to continue the tradition of perfecting the ever elusive quintessential chili. While South Carolina might not be seen as the hotbed of chili creations it is known for its ability to think outside the box and come up with some creative concoctions. Local ingredients like the Carolina Reaper (the hottest pepper in the world) and a ‘famously hot’ temperament give Carolina chilis their own unique flair. The competition heats up every year as 20 to 25 local cookers compete for different categories – from best vegetarian to hottest chili there is an array of opportunities to show off that Carolina culinary pride.
While local celebrities will be on hand to judge all categories, the people’s choice award comes down to the voters. When you are done tasting and sampling stay around to listen to the live music provided by both the Kenny George Band and the Nick Clyburn Band. Enjoy the all-you-can-drink beer and wines that will be on tap that evening and learn more about the roll that HC plays in creating a stronger foundation for the City of Columbia and Richland County. And if your taste buds aren’t on fire by the end of all that then dig into a heaping bowl of the TPS famous house ‘Godzilla Chili’.
The Palladium Society is a dynamic organization of young professionals that supports the mission of Historic Columbia through educational, social and fundraising initiatives. Now in its 19th year, the Palladium Society’s Chili Cookoff has become one of Columbia’s most popular events, and by attending, not only do you get to enjoy delicious chili but you are also supporting the projects and programs of Historic Columbia, including the rehabilitation and reinterpretation of the Hampton-Preston Mansion. To find out more and to get your tickets online, please CLICK HERE.