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Aiken Graded School — Aiken, South Carolina


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Aiken Graded School

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.

Aiken Graded School Site

Larry Gleason, Aiken Aerial Photography, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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.

Aiken Graded School

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.

Aiken Graded School Marker

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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.

Aiken Graded School Marker

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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



Take Me There

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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4 Comments about Aiken Graded School

SC Picture Project says:
November 2nd, 2018 at 1:09 pm

How wonderful! We would love to hear some stories that you may remember about the school, as well as the song lyrics, or any information you may have. Personal stories add so much in terms of depth to the history of a place and we would love to share your recollections, to your credit, if you were open to it! If you were, would you mind emailing any memory you may have to share@scpictureproject.org?

Annie Brown says:
November 2nd, 2018 at 12:23 am

I attended Aiken Graded. I still remember the school song. My daddy worked for Mr. Ball. He was Mrs. Wessel brother. She was my 3rd grade teacher. Mr. Ball was called Bub Ball. Thank you Jesus. I can remember all of these facts.

Lawrence Robinson says:
October 13th, 2018 at 4:45 pm

I remember those days, I also started in second grade, Ms. Hammond was my teacher. Music teacher Mr. Colman, 1962.

Ernest Drummings says:
July 24th, 2018 at 5:31 pm

I started at Aiken Graded in second grade, Mrs Coleman was my teacher.

My 3rd grade teacher – Mrs Wessel
My 4th grade teacher – Mrs Bland
My 5th grade teacher – Mrs Corbett
My 6th grade teacher – Mrs Eubanks
My principal was Mr Ashe

Reading anything about Aiken Graded brings back memories of days past. Those teachers seem to have that motherly instinct when it came to their students. A lot of those teachers (most) have gone to glory, but I will never forget them.




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