Laing School is an ignored part of local Black History. The second oldest formal school for Blacks in the Charleston area, Laing celebrates its sesquicentennial anniversary this year having been established in January 1866.
For much of its early years, Laing School served its constituents in the shadow of Avery Normal School and Burke School which were the more popular schools for Blacks in the Charleston area after the eradication of legal slavery in the United States. Laing School was the unassuming alternative for formal education to Blacks living east of the Cooper River. From the mouth of the Cooper River up the coast to McClellanville, Laing School represented the first of several area schools for Blacks east of the Cooper River from Charleston in Christ Church Parish, now called Mount Pleasant.
The school has been known by several different names throughout its history. Among those names: The Negro School, Laing Industrial and Normal School and Laing High School. It began in a bombed out church, Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church located at Hibben and Church streets in Mount Pleasant’s old village, that had been abandoned after the Civil War.
A young white woman, Cornelia Hancock who had served as a nurse at Gettysburg, Pa., was Laing’s founder. According to the story Hancock came to Mount Pleasant on her way to Port Royal in Beaufort County where she was to teach at Penn School, but decided to stay in Charleston. She founded Laing School with 50 students and was its first principal.
The school was housed at that original site only a few months before moving to a mansion at Bennett and Venning streets. In 1866 The Freedmen’s Bureau built a two-story school building at Common Street (now Royall Street) and King Street on land donated by the Town of Mount Pleasant.
The enrollment grew to some 200 students. Known as the Industrial School, it offered classes up to seventh grade in courses that included sewing, cooking, shoemaking and manual trades. The building was destroyed by the earthquake of 1886. A new structure was built and remained at the site until 1953. That site would house the school for the next several decades.
Laing School continued to grow as it served Black students east of the Cooper River. By 1945 it needed additional space. A second facility to house elementary students was built at King and Greenwich streets. Eight years later as school integration approached, a new facility, Laing High School was built at U.S. Highway 17 and Six Mile Road. The old elementary school and Jennie Moore Elementary school served as its feeder schools until 1970 when Laing Elementary School was closed. Four years later, the old high school became Laing Middle School.
As Mount Pleasant has changed and grown, Laing School also has changed to reflect the population and diversity of the community. In 2009 it transitioned to become Laing Middle School of Science and Technology. Now located in a new facility located at 2705 Bulrush Basket Lane in Mount Pleasant, Laing no longer serves a predominantly Black student population, but it continues to serve students east of the Cooper River with distinction.