In honor of Black History Month, Reflections looks back at the accomplishments of a master educator, Dr. Agnes Hildebrand Wilson Burgess. She spent the majority of her life motivating and inspiring a countless number of students who clamored to get …
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In honor of Black History Month, Reflections looks back at the accomplishments of a master educator, Dr. Agnes Hildebrand Wilson Burgess. She spent the majority of her life motivating and inspiring a countless number of students who appealed to get into her class. Her personal approach to education continues to endear her to students she has taught; they affectionately refer to her as "madame."
Dr. Wilson was born in Chapin, the daughter of Rev. Benjamin Franklin Hildebrand Sr. and Agnes Brogdon Hildebrand. "As a young teacher, she met and married the love of her life, the Rev. Thomas English ("T. E.") Wilson, the first African-American in Lee County to receive a college degree." They had been married for 22 years when suddenly Rev. Wilson died. Dr. Wilson remained a widow until she married her childhood sweetheart, the Rev. Christopher Columbus ("C. C."). Burgess remarried when she was 75 years old and Rev. Columbus was 78.
Dr. Wilson completed her undergraduate studies at Allen University before attending Temple University for her master's degree. She did additional studies at the University of Missouri and Rutgers University. Wilson took a job as a teacher in 1947, accepting a position in a local rural school. Here she demonstrated her exceptional teaching skills by tutoring and providing encouragement to the 12 members of the school's senior class. Her intent was to prepare and encourage these students to enroll in college. Following graduation, all 12 would follow her example and enter college. She later transferred to Lincoln High School, where she worked for most of her 32 years in teaching. She became an instructor in French and journalism during her tenure at Lincoln High in Sumter. She was selected as a Fulbright scholar in 1955 and studied at "the Sorbonne in Paris where she earned a diploma in French language and civilization." Dr. Wilson became the first black to be selected as South Carolina's teacher of the year and was named as a National Honor Roll Teacher in 1969. "That same year, she became the first person of color to be elected president of the South Carolina Education Association, during which time she served as the first salaried and full-time leader of the state's 30,000 teachers, supervisors and administrators."
While at Lincoln, she became the adviser to the school newspaper, and under her supervision, "the school paper earned the highest ratings from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for 12 consecutive years. She also wrote and directed student plays in addition to establishing a student-announced radio program." In 1973, she was selected as a delegate to the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession in Nairobi, Kenya. Again in 1975, she accepted an invitation to teach at the University of South Carolina's College of Education and served as director of the Center for Community Education until her official retirement in 1979.
Dr. Wilson and her husband reared five foster children. These children were at one time students of hers. "Our house was theirs. Every student is an individual," she observed. "You don't have a class. You have 30 individuals, and every contact you make with a student is decisive. This is a staggering realization." One letter Dr. Wilson received from a former student who wrote upon learning of her selection as South Carolina's Teacher of the Year offers a summary of her impact on students. "There is no one kinder, friendlier or more dedicated than Madame Wilson. In fact, I have made Madame Wilson my pattern "
Dr. Agnes Hildebrand Wilson Burgess died on Oct. 6, 2012; she was survived by a daughter and brother. Also surviving were numerous grandchildren and countless friends and admirers. Palmer Memorial Chapel of Sumter was in charge of arrangements.c
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