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YWCA Location To Change, But Its Role In Community To Continue
1/8/2015 11:28:30 AM

Members of YWCA of Greater Charleston observe Founder’s Day for the organization 37 years ago.
By Barney Blakeney

In about six months the end of one era will come and another will begin when the YWCA of Greater Charleston moves from the home it’s known since its 1907 inception. Yes, “the Girls Y, the Coming Street Y” will move from its location at 106 Coming St. in downtown Charleston. The property has been sold and the YWCA of Greater Charleston must find a new home.

July 4, 107 years ago the Coming Street YWCA was founded to serve the Black community by a group of Black women of the YWCA Women’s Auxiliary. It’s first president was Mrs. Felicia Goodwin, grandmother of Herbert U. Fielding and his brother Bernard Fielding. The women established the community fixture that would become known to generations of residents in a house at the YWCA’s current location.

In time, the Coming Street YWCA would acquire more land and occupy another house at the location. In 1964 it built the current facility. Generations of girls and women would come to know the Coming Street YWCA as both refuge and resource. Between 1918-1920 the Coming Street YWCA became affiliated with the Central YWCA (Society Street) as the racial segregation of the times dictated. Until 1969 it functioned as a branch of the Central YWCA.

But during those years, the YWCA was at the forefront of most social movements - from voting rights and civil rights to pay equity and violence prevention. The Coming Street YWCA has been a powerful force for women’s rights and equal opportunity. Mrs. Christine Jackson, who led the Coming Street YWCA 37 years from 1966-2003, said she supports the upcoming change.

The building was two years old when Mrs. Jackson became its executive director. Her primary responsibility initially was to insure the new building’s mortgage was paid, she said. But she led the organization to unprecedented growth as well. It is one of only three YWCAs in the state,

In 1967 racism led the Central YWCA to disaffiliate with the national organization rather than integrate. The George Street YWCA, as it was called, then became the Christian Family Y and refused to share its swimming pool and gymnasium with Black members.

“I couldn’t believe it, but their racist views were so strong they even tried to take our building,” said Mrs. Jackson noting that the Central YWCA had held the Coming Street YWCA’s deed to its property over 49 years since 1920 when it paid off the Coming Street YWCA’s founder’s initial $3,000 mortgage. It took several years of legal wrangling to secure the deed.

“Their racist acts blew my mind,” said Mrs. Jackson. “We had a powerful name, but their actions did not represent who we were.” The separation proved beneficial. Not only has the Coming Street YWCA survived joining others in Sumter and Greenville as the only affiliates in the state, it has thrived.

Beyond the high school dances that color the memories of several generations of peninsula residents, the YWCA’s programs continue to inspire new generations to become strong leaders and advocates for opportunity and equity for all women, said Executive Director Kathleen Rogers.

Rogers said the Coming Street YWCA facility met the community’s needs when it was built in 1964, but as the organization looks to continue its service into the future, it must have a facility that can accommodate its focus on technology, the arts and its other programs. “For example we want to develop a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, but we can’t do it because the building is not equipped,” she said.

The organization must vacate the facility in six months and will move to a temporary location until a new site is found. The generous purchase price it got for the 106 Coming St. location ($8.5 million) will allow the YWCA to build or buy a state of the art facility, Rogers said. Remaining on the peninsula is a priority, she added.

“The Coming Street Y always has been a place for people to come and socialize, where various classes such as dance were offered. And it has been a center for the Civil Rights Movement and women’s rights. We will continue to play those roles,” Rogers said.

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