Below are the tennis courts at the Smith-Hazel Recreation Center in Aiken, part of a public park and community center. However, the land was once the location of a school that educated the city’s black students during the era of segregation. Completed in 1925, the school was called the Aiken Graded School and served students from first through seventh grades. It was also one of more than 5,000 Rosenwald schools built across the southern United States between 1917 and 1932 to educate rural African-American students, most of whom had no other schooling options at the time.
The schools were the idea of Booker T. Washington and built with the help of Julius Rosenwald, then-president of Sears and Roebuck. Rosenwald provided a portion of the funding for the schools, and these funds were supplemented by money raised in the community. In this case, the business magnate contributed $1,500 towards Aiken Graded School, seen below during its construction. Dr. Charles Catlett Johnson, an Aiken physician, donated $3,500, the “white community” gave another $1,500, and the town generated the remainder through a levy.
Interestingly, Dr. Johnson’s contribution was considered a donation from the “black community,” and he was regarded as a local black doctor. However, Dr. Johnson’s father was Irish and his mother, Scottish. Following the death of Johnson’s father when he was only five years old, his mother married a black man named Nicholas Poindexter. Together the couple had more children, and Johnson considered himself part of the black community from the point of his mother’s second marriage. He attended medical school at Howard University, an historically black college in Washington, D.C., and was the Grand Master of the local Colored Masonic Order.
The Aiken Graded School was built under the supervision of Elliott Ball, an African-American mason. Rosenwald school buildings were designed to maximize light and ventilation for the benefit of the students. The Aiken Graded School was a two-story brick school and considered one of the best in South Carolina. The school opened for the 1925-1926 school year with 271 pupils and more expected to enroll during that term.
As schools consolidated during the 1950s and integration was enforced in the early 1970s, student enrollment at the Aiken Graded School dwindled. By 1969, the school was closed, and in 1973 it was demolished to make way for recreational grounds to accommodate a growing community. The Aiken County Historical Society unveiled the above marker commemorating the school in 2013.
Aiken Graded School Info
Address: 400 Kershaw Street Northeast, Aiken, SC 29801
GPS Coordinates: 33.565504,-81.709967
Aiken Graded School Map
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