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Hilton Head Island | Before the Bridge | Education

By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Culturally, having a skill and the ability to read was probably one of the most important lessons that were passed down generationally. Being able to read was at one time against the law, so once the Gullah had access to education, it was commonly understood how it would make a significant difference in the lives of their children. Even before Emancipation, in Mitchelville, the first self-governed town for newly freed slaves, as they established a governmental structure and retail opportunities, they also created South Carolina’s primary structure for compulsory education. 

The importance of education, like religious worship, meant that pride was taken in how they dressed to go to school, which may have contributed to our current practice of wearing uniforms to school.  Pride in appearance, and lessons of “deportment”, meaning how one carries themselves, sits or stands was also a critical element of their education. Memorization was important as well. Knowing and reciting verses from the Bible was a common part of their daily lessons.  

Prior to having designated schoolhouses, praise houses, churches and even dance halls were used. Even the construction of the building was taken into consideration.  The schools were specifically constructed with windows on the east side of the building, so that “the sun would shine over the student’s shoulder” while they studied at wooden tables and benches. The island had a few one-room schoolhouses on the island, in the communities of Honey Horn, Community Hall (Spanish Wells), Pope and Cherry Hill. The Cherry Hill School, which was built in 1937, was the result of Gullah families coming together to raise enough money to purchase the land for the Beaufort County School District. The district, in turn, assisted in the construction of the school with the help of the Gullah community. The Cherry Hill School is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and continues to stand today. 

Children were expected to farm or do their chores in the early morning, go to school and complete their chores in the afternoon. Several age groups were taught within a class of between 25 to 40 students and the primary focus of the education was to learn arithmetic, how to read, write and spell and each day began with the recitation of a Bible verse. Children were educated on the island up to 5th grade and then were sent off island to live with a host family to continue their education at Penn Center or in Savannah.

The teachers, some of which were among the most literate on the island, had the responsibility of not only educating the children, but gave them basic skills that they need in life. The most notable teachers during the 1940s and 50s who left a significant impression on the lives of their students, were Julia Campbell, Reginald Campbell, Dorothy Johnson and Sarah Campbell.

For more sections about Life Before The Bridge on Hilton Head Island | Education, Lifestyle, Medicine, Religion

To read more about Gullah education aThe Cherry Hill School, Hilton Head’s One Room Schoolhouse, click here

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