Stone Hill Elementary School was founded in early 1920. The purpose was to serve the African-American community in the Shannontown section of Sumter, which is now where revitalization efforts and community improvement projects are taking …
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Stone Hill Elementary School was founded in early 1920. The purpose was to serve the African-American community in the Shannontown section of Sumter, which is now where revitalization efforts and community improvement projects are taking place.
The school offered classes from first through seventh grade. Some of the early teachers included Principal Isaac C. Bracey. Bracey left his position in 1956 to attend graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a doctorate in education. He returned to South Carolina and accepted a teaching position at South Carolina State College and served there for more than 45 years.
Other teachers included George McCain, who served as assistant principal and basketball coach; Mrs. Pratt, sixth grade; Mrs. Benbow, seventh grade; Mrs. A. P. McDonald, fifth grade; Mrs. Evans, fourth grade; Mrs. Singleton, third grade; Mrs. Jamison, first grade; and Mrs. Rembert, fourth grade and assistant coach.
Principal Bracey and Mrs. McDonald lived on Oakland Avenue and rode bicycles to work. There were not many cars during those days. In fact, later, Bates Elementary School was built so children didn't have to keep crossing Manning Avenue.
In sports, the school fielded boys' and girls' basketball teams. One of the boys in the team photo, Leon Robinson, on the far left, still lives in that area of town and owns the liquor store on Manning Avenue.
Extracurricular activities included a student newspaper, The Stone Hill Gazette. Four students from the paper attended the S.C. Scholastic Press Association's annual meeting on the campus of S.C. State College in 1952. Those students were the editor, James "Jim" L. Felder, Rhunetta Dupree, Ermean Pearson and Willie J. Harris.
Imagine an elementary school with a newspaper. Felder said they were the only elementary school to have a newspaper. I went to Savage Glover Elementary School, the oldest in Sumter, and we didn't have one. Felder also said his school had a small credit union, holding nickels and dimes, where the students themselves would run it and use their money to buy the paper.
There were no middle schools then, so Felder went straight to Lincoln High School after elementary school finished in seventh grade.
Graduates of Stone Hill would go on to become educators. Some of those students were the Dupree sisters, Rhunetta, Mae Thelma and Donella; Pansey Canty; Louella Sweat; Louise Felder; Eleanor Robinson; and Ruth Murray.
Lucious Felder, Jim Felder's first cousin, would become the first black deputy and first black fireman in Sumter County. Willie J. Harris became the first black postmaster in Oswego, Turbeville and Manning.
As for Jim Felder, he was drafted into the Army and had the honor of serving as the non-commission officer who headed the casket team that buried President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He also was one of three African-Americans elected to the state Legislature since Reconstruction.
Sammie Lee Williams was also part of the Honor Guard that participated in Kennedy's funeral.
These former students of this historic school went on to do great things. Stone Hill was once a hub of the Shannontown community, and people are now trying to reinstate it as one. The location where the school used to be is now home to Sumter Berea Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The City of Sumter built the Sumter Aquatics Center and South HOPE Center just south of that at the intersection of East Red Bay Road and South Lafayette Drive.
Sumter County Council and Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments secured a $283,983 grant to tear down 12 vacant and run-down homes in Shannontown so we can rebuild and make the community vibrant again.
We've been working to help residents create neighborhood associations, such as the Greater Turkey Creek Neighborhood Association that voiced concern about those abandoned houses.
When Stone Hill was around, they only played basketball and band. Now, the aquatics center is a great addition to the community. And it's the hub of the area.
Calvin Hastie Sr. is an attorney and councilman for Sumter City Council's Ward 3. The goal of this column is to connect Sumter's African-American history to its present and use it to build a better future. His words and opinions are his own.
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