What we can learn from saving an historic African American schoolhouse
It is a strange sight for sure.
A century old schoolhouse atop a trailer wobbles down a paved road, dodging power lines and excited onlookers on its way to a prominent new home in the post-slavery, African American settlement community it once served.
“You know, this schoolhouse used to be on what we call the edge of the neighborhood,” says Vera German.
“We didn’t venture that far when we were kids because that was kind of the limits back in the day.”
German’s father attended Long Point Elementary School which opened in 1904 to educate Black children during the Jim Crow era. The property she remembers was sold to developers leaving the historic schoolhouse in danger of being demolished.
But four years ago, the Snowden community came together to save the school from abandon near a Waffle House off I-526.
Located in an unincorporated area of Mount Pleasant just outside Charleston, Snowden is one of several communities where slaves freed after the Civil War bought land, farmed and raised families. Many of their descendants still live there, not far from Boone Hall Plantation.
But communities like Snowden are quickly disappearing and the Long Point Schoolhouse is believed to be one of the last in the area.
"This is very important. Let's keep this alive."Reverend Arthur Pinckney- Former Student
“Every obstacle, every hurdle has been worth it,” says John Wright, the President of the African American Historic Settlement Community Commission. It’s mission is to preserve and protect communities like Snowden.
Wright says saving the school has not only been expensive but complicated. There have been all kinds of issues from permits, to land ownership, even weather.
But perhaps it’s only fitting the school has continued to face obstacles. It was built at a time when Black people were still being denied an education and those who did receive schooling were segregated.
“In 1904, some of their obstacles were Jim Crow,” says Wright. “Some of their obstacles were this predates Brown versus the Board of Education.”
Joseph Palmer grins as he watches the old schoolhouse settle-in to its new address in Snowden.
Palmer was 7 years-old and in the first grade when he attended as one of the last students at Long Point Elementary. The school closed in 1953 when a new, larger one opened bringing Black children together from other communities, although still segregated.
“That was an excitement,” says Palmer. “Kind of scary too. Like wow, we have to make this adjustment to a whole new world.”
Palmer remembers what he calls ,"strange little desks" in the former one-room schoolhouse converted to two by the time he attended with students grades first through sixth.
“In the back, they had outhouses, one for girls and one for boys,” says Deborah Holmes Gambell.
Gambellwi did not attend Long Point Elementary School, but her great-grandfather bought the schoolhouse and part of its previous property not long after it opened. The school stayed in the family even after it closed. Family members renovated and lived in it.
“If you take the old siding off, the original wood is under the old siding,” says Mike Holmes.
The Holmes family has donated the historic schoolhouse to be restored and turned into a cultural education center. Fundraising for that effort is now underway.
“This is very important. Let’s keep this alive,” says Reverend Arthur Pinckney who attended the school for three years.
Pinckney says he is grateful for the education he received even though he later learned it was not the same as what white children were being taught at the time. He remembers white children on school buses pelting Black kids with wadded up pieces of paper as they made their long walk to school.
Pinckney is relieved the historic schoolhouse he feared would be lost, is now closer to his Snowden home.
“Because there is nothing here that connects us to history no more than the Snowden community.”
A community that persevered despite the oppression of slavery, segregation, even development has revived a reminder of hope; hope for a better life through education.