Savage-Glover Elementary closed after integration, but its impact has not been forgotten

By Erika Johnson Spinelli
Published in the Sumter Item Panorama, Sunday, June 11, 1995

Please note that this article is reposted here unedited from the original article only to make it easier for viewers to access and read.
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Savage-Grove Elementary School

Picture windows afford a gracious view of Savage-Glover Elementary School's old school yard. The windows still open — they serve as the building's only air conditioning; the electric heaters below have long been stripped of their innards and functional ability.

The exterior of the building and its yard are well maintained. But inside, where the roof has begun to cave in, soggy insulation drips onto the floor after a rain, and standing water warps the floor tiles of the hallway and cafeteria. Sunlight sneaks in through the ceiling's holes and lights the cool interior.

The paint is chipping off doorways, the floors are a mushy, muddy mess, and later is strewn throughout the building, but all Lorraine Washington sees is classrooms packed with rambunctious children, little coats hanging from the waist-high wall hooks, and a teacher's desk at the front of the room.

In that moment, the year is again 1966, and her first-grade teacher, Miss Brown, is wondering why she's late to school. Again.

Lorraine laughs when she thinks about her days at Savage-Glover; she was well-acquainted with the office staff due to her chronic tardiness.

"My days at Savage-Glover, I will never complain about them," she said. "People I went there with, I'm still friends with."

She walked through the dilapidated school last week for the first time since her "graduation" in 1972.

In the office, she finds the principal's name and phone number still on a board, along with listings for the district office and the warehouse.

She laughs at the names in the dark, windowless office, barely visible on the worn-out board; she spent of lot of time here as a child.

Lorraine blames those late mornings on having to drag her younger sister to kindergarten, which was held in the portable classrooms that sat outside the Fulton Street building in the 1960s and '70s.

"Just as soon as I'd get her in that classroom and turned around to go to school, she'd be right out after me," she said.

She and her two sisters and two brothers walked to school every day. Lorraine strolled from her aunt's Hoyt Street house, where she lived, and picked up her sister at her mother's Williams Street house. Her aunt watched her walk to Branch Street. Another aunt would watch her walk to the end of Branch, where a close family fnend

ould watch Lorraine and her sister walk on to school.

"I think that is so neat," she said. "They did that for all the kids."

"They" were the older residents of what was once a safe, happy neighborhood where people looked out for each other.

Doors weren't locked shut, and any adult's word was respected with reverence, or there would be a switch to face.

And there was the neighborhood school, Savage-Glover Elementary, with teachers who knew each parent and who didn't hesitate to visit the home if a child was misbehaving. And when the teacher called, children knew they were in trouble; Mama didn't give the child a chance to give his side of the story — she just went straight for the switches.

In the classroom, teachers taught with a vengeance, rapping students on the knuckles with

ulers to get their attention or discipline them.

When Lorraine's fifth-grade teacher, Robert Johnson, called her to the board just before lunch to do a math problem that she could not figure out, he rapped her on the knuckles every time she got the wrong answer. She never did make it to lunch that day.

She doesn’t resent the discipline.

"Teachers took time then," she said. No child was considered dumb. Everybody was there to help each other."

She points to the asphalt parking lot of Mt. Zion Baptist Church next door, and said that was where most of the fights were held. She recalls one in particular, that had to do with her first crush, James McCray.

"He used to beat me up in class," she recalls. "I figured he was just telling me lie liked me."

One day, though, he hit her a little too hard and brought tears to her eyes.

Her cousin told her brother, who told James to "meet him after school."

"In those days, they didn't use knives or guns, you were just told to meet him after school'," she said.

As her brother started seeking revenge, Lorraine began to cry. 'Don't hit him no more! I love him." The young child let loose her secret on the school ground.

Her brother never forgave her for that, and told her never to call him to fight for her again.

t was a time of structure and discipline: children lined up outside before school and filed in. Lorraine filed in (when she was on time), as Arthenia Millican did when she started school there in 1925.

rthenia attended the first year of classes at Savage Glover Elementary School. Built that year, the school was named after two elementary teachers, Martha Ann "Mat" Savage and Mary Elizabeth "Mamie" Glover, who taught second and third grade at the Lincoln School on Council Street.

he two Charleston natives taught Sumter children for 50 years.

"Though both were very thorough, exacting teaches of the 'old school,' Miss Savage was more of a lovable, caring, motherly type of teacher and Miss Glover was a very strict disciplinarian," according to an essay on a history of the two by Dr. Edna Davis.

Savage-Glover's place in history as an all-black school was marked last month by the city of Sumter and the Sumter County Historical Commission with a concrete monument, flag and flagpole and benches.

Shirley Palmer, a member of the historical commission, plans to eventually mark 46 of the more than 100 historically black schools or former school sites in Sumter County.

It came kind of like a vision," Palmer said of the project "It was just pressing on me that our parents did so much with so little, and these schools were phased out with integration. But we should remember them."

This month, she said, the commission hopes to mark Quinn Chapel Elementary School on Queen's Chapel Road; St. Michael's High School on Cane Savannah Road in front of Delaine Elementary School; and Clark Elementary School on U.S. 401 near Clark United Methodist Church. The Quinn Chapel School still exists and is used by a church there.

The Savage-Glover building today is the property of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Pastor ames Blassingame said parishioners one day hope to convert the still-solid structure into a inter-generational day-care facility. But a $450,000 renovation estimate stands in their way.

Not much had changed between Arthenia's first day at Savage-Glover and Lorraine's. Arthenia, too, had her knuckles slapped with a ruler when her advanced first-grade teacher (there were two years of first grade in those days), Helen Usher, caught her attention wandering.

Arthenia stared often at the walls of Miss Usher's classroom. On one side were pictures of

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln; on the other she faced images of James Weldon Johnson and Booker T. Washington. She was particularly taken with the picture of Johnson, the man who wrote the black national anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing."

Years later, Arthenia finally got to write about the man she so admired. She did her doctoral dissertation on his life in 1972, after she had become an accomplished fiction writer and teacher herself.

She attributes much of her life's accomplishments to her days in Miss Usher's classroom at Savage-Glover, as well as to her father, who was a teacher and ghost writer during her younger years (She says she learned more about phonetic spelling in Miss Usher's class than she did in some of her graduate studies courses.)

While the school looked much as its ruins do today when Lorraine went there, Savage-Glover was a two-story building with white columns and a grand portico when Arthenia spent her eight years there.

"It was an outstanding architectural structure for the south side of Sumter," Arthenia said. "It was considered very attractive."

A modern building for the time and its location, it had steam heat and indoor plumbing.

The bathroom was called the "sanitary room." she remembers, but said the children didn't know that word and thought adults were saying the "cemetery room."

Arthenia entered first grade in 1925, the year the school was built. Every morning before school, the students would go to their classrooms, put their books up, and go back outside. There. they lined up by class and height They could hear the marching piano music from the chapel on the second floor, and marched in accordingly.

Then they said the pledge of allegiance. had devotions, and sang patriotic songs During the winter, the older children would take the coats of the smaller children to the cloak room down the hall.

The students stayed in the same classroom all day, with the same teacher. Each teacher taught history, math, English and music.

“They were some of the smartest people I've ever met," Arthenia said.

She remembers one of the special rewards students received for good academic work: appearing on the "big stage" at Lincoln High School, the black high school on Council Street (which is now The Sumter Catholic High School).

Arthenia remembers the song and dance her sixth-grade class did on the "big stage" at Lincoln. Tommy Jackson, who was a music teacher and composer, wrote a multitude of songs for the Savage-Glover children to sing, and her teacher, Isabella McCoy, choreographed dances to them.

Last week, at 75 years old, Arthenia stood up in the living room of her West Oakland Avenue house and sang one of the songs, "There is no one I can love so but you." and did a few steps she remembers.

She recalled how hard the students had worked to earn those rewards, and noted the special bond among the school's nine teachers and to the students.

Teachers had respect for a higher power, and they were involved in the community," she said. "There was a bond of unity there. Each person played his part. We all wanted to be like somebody there."

Aithenta also remembers the "philosophies of life" that Principal Edward Jones told the children over and over.

"Stick to your bush," was one; it refers to picking blackberries: If you stick to one bush, and pick all the good berries off of it before going to the next, you'll fill your bucket quicker, Arthenia explained.

Jones also taught the children that there are no miracles without work -- you have to work to achieve your goals.