The “Lincoln School” was the first public school for black students in Sumter. The school was built in the late 1800s and started as a frame cottage with four classrooms. By the 1950’s, the school acquired an additional twenty classrooms, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a library, and a band room. The last graduating class under the name of Lincoln High School was the class of 1969. But nine years before the name change, in 1960, Lincoln would be one of 17 high schools in the state to participate in a national survey.
Project Talent is a national study that first surveyed America’s high school students in 1960. Funded by the United States Department of Education, the survey was developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute.
The purpose of the survey was to learn about the American high school student: what they were learning, what their strengths were, and how successful was their transition from high school to college or into the workforce. Private, parochial and public schools participated, that included 17 schools in South Carolina. Sarah Bracey-White attended Lincoln High school in Sumter and said she and others who took the survey, were told they were representatives for the school.
“We got out of class for two days and all we had to do was take tests and I loved it.” It would be decades before White would see her results. Now living in New York, White is an art director and curator. She teaches writing is an author. She said she saw a note about Project Talent looking for past participates and sent them her information.
“They sent me a copy of the report. I was just bowled over because I’d never seen the results of the test; I just knew the project talent name.”
White was invited to a conference on aging; there she met others from around the country who took the initial 160 survey.
“It was such an excitement, underneath, that all of us had about how something we did so long ago had any impact today.”
During the 60s, 70s and early 80s, Student results from the 1960 survey was used to publish thousands of reports, including some linking combat exposure to PTSD as well as early reports identifying income wage gaps between gender and race.
Its been almost 50 years, since the 1960 survey. Today researchers are hoping this aging population can produce more data to help shed light on aging.
White likens Lincoln to what a magnet school today would be like.
"Lincoln was a very well endowded school cosidering how schools frequently are in the South."
She said that was, in part, because of the strong middle class of African-Americans in Sumter. She refered to the area as a "very progressive town," mentioning its Baptist-affiliated, HBCU Morris College.
Despite how progressive Sumter was, African-Americans, including young children, couldn't escape the harsh realities of Jim Crow. Below, White shares how Lincoln came close.
South Carolina Schools That Participated in the 1960 Project Talent National Survey
St. John's H.S.
South Side J.H.S.
North Side J.H.S.
Tamassee DAR H.S.
Florence Chapel H.S.
County Trade Sch.