“Dear old school, we hate to leave you, but the time is drawing near. We will always think of Knightville and the ones we love so dear. Parent, teacher friend and loved ones parting time is almost here. We will always think of Knightville and the ones we love so dear.”
That was the graduation song for the class of 1948 written by Mrs. Reed, one of the four teachers at my primary school. The little building with three rooms was located behind Campbell Hill Church on Orangeburg Road and had no name, but being one half mile from the white school, we called it Knightville Elementary for the Colored. Our days began with a word or two from the Bible and then we placed a hand over our hearts to pledge allegiance to the flag we did not have before singing the National Anthem.
I received my early education at Knightville. It had no playground equipment to grace the yard. Only trees and fields of corn and beans surrounded the small building. I still remember Mr. MacGryvens making a ball out of worn out socks and rags so we could play baseball. It was a good ball until we left it in the rain. At recess we created the games we played, like “Ring around the Roses,” “Little Sally Walker,” and “Lost My Pocket Handkerchief.”
The people in the community had great love and respect for the little school and its teachers. I have no idea where our teachers came from, but they were the best. They were more than teachers. When a little girl was cold after walking three miles to school there would be a teacher waiting by the door with a hug and a kind word for her. When a little boy got hurt on the playground a teacher would be there to fix it and tell him it would be okay. They were also strict disciplinarians not sparing a few licks with a sapling switch when they felt it was needed. We didn’t have police officers patrolling the hallways because our parents believed it was the teacher’s job to teach academics in the school and the parent’s job was to teach discipline at home.
There is an old saying, “You should pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” The purpose of the school was to train children how to do just that—earn their boots and then pull them up by the straps with pride. On graduation day, the little building was overflowing with pride. I will always remember Roosevelt Shepherd marching down the hall waving our new flag in the warm spring breeze as the six graduating pupils walked in line behind each other. There was not a dry eye in the building as Reverend Campbell gave his speech. At the end of the program parents and children walked over to the lunchroom for refreshments, said their goodbyes and went home. I got in the back of my Grandfather’s 1939 Ford and watched from the back window as the old school faded into the distance. I wondered if I would ever see it again.
It was twenty years or more before I returned to the little community I once called home. After visiting with my family and friends I went looking for the school. When I arrived where the road used to be it was gone, but the church was still there. A new road on the other side of the church led me to where the school once stood. The building was gone and in its place was a trucking business. The owner greeted me and I told him about the schoolhouse. He said he remembered seeing a house in the woods behind his house. That house was probably Mr. Ben Payor’s where we got our drinking and cooking water. As we were talking a truck pulled into the yard for service. I thanked him for his time and shook his hand.
I started my journey to Schultz Lake Road. I was walking down the old Orangeburg Road when suddenly an old pick-up truck passed me with its horn blasting and the driver calling my name. It was an old schoolmate of mine. All at once, we were hugging each other, jumping up and down, shaking hands and lying to each other about how good the other looked. After all the hand shaking, hugging and lying we sat on the old truck’s tailgate and talked about the school. He said he didn’t know what happened to the record. After integration there was no need for the school or the record. As far as the state of South Carolina was concerned the school did not exist, but it still existed to a little boy from Schultz Lake Plantation who walked six miles to school every day to learn his multiplication tables from the back of a twelve cent notebook. It was a school where Mrs. Eliza Wynns taught me the difference between a perpendicular line and a parallelogram. I learned about people like Robert Small, W. E. B. Du Bois, Thomas Wolfe and James Weldon Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The song is a testament to the struggles and achievements of Black people past, present and future.
Graduating from our school was typically the end of one’s education. Alston High School in Summerville, which was five miles away, was the only school available to Knightville graduates. However, there was no transportation for the children attending Knightville Elementary until parents started a carpool so their children could get to school on time and have transportation home when classes ended. Due to their commitment to our success my class was able to graduate high school.
The old auditorium at Alston High School was filled with all of our parents. Graduation for Knightville Elementary students symbolized our finally earning our boots and the straps with which we could bend over and pull ourselves up pridefully. However, most of the elders knew the time was not yet ready for a black child with a high school education to be accepted in a work force controlled by a white Southerners. After graduation a few of joined the military, some went on to college, others went north and some began work in construction and other seasonal jobs. Regardless of where we ended up we knew one day the education they received from that little three room school would matter.
The future of the black community is the South where our ancestors made their greatest contribution to American culture, where they suffered the damnation of slavery, the frustration of Reconstruction and the lynchings of Jim Crow. Black people watered the soil of the southern United States with their tears, nourished it with their blood and tilled it with their hands. We all knew it would be a long time coming, but a change would come.
About the Author
Sinclair Mack is a 1959 graduate of Alston High School. His early childhood was spent on Schultz Lake Plantation known today as “The Pond.” He worked as an Electrolyte Tech with Occidental Petroleum Corp for 22 years.