Located in the Eau Claire section of Columbia, this structure was first known as New Hope School. Built circa 1890, it was initially used to educate white students affiliated with Union Church. New Hope School closed in 1914, but in 1921, it reopened as Nelson School under the leadership of Rachel Evelyn Hull (sometimes spelled Hall) Monteith. The student body eventually grew to 100, and the school served African-American children in grades one through seven.
Nelson School had three rooms and three teachers, with Rachel Monteith also being principal. As a public school, it was part of the Hyatt Park School District. In 1932, Nelson School was re-named in Rachel Monteith’s honor. By 1936, her daughter Rebecca (1911-1967) also taught at the school. She became principle when her mother retired in 1942. Hyatt Park was annexed by Richland County in 1947, and Monteith School closed in 1949.
The building sat empty for 30 years until it was purchased by members of the Monteith family in 1981. Around 1983, the Booker T. Washington Foundation bought the school and spent the next decade restoring it. The building was relocated from its original location across the street (6505 North Main Street) in 2002 (some sources say 2003) and now serves as the Booker T. Washington – Monteith Cultural Center.
In addition to being a teacher and principal, Rachel Monteith was a prominent community activist and served as a leader in the Columbia branch of the NAACP. She was also a founding member of the Niagara Movement, which strove for full integration and voting rights. Rachel and her husband Henry, a brickmason, had five daughters and three sons. Their oldest child, Modjeska Monteith Simkins, followed in her mother’s footsteps and became both a teacher and an activist. In fact, her work for social justice and healthcare reform was so important that she is often called the “Matriarch of the Civil Rights Movement” in South Carolina.
Monteith School – Historical Marker