Hidden in a grove just off Betsy Kerrison Parkway is one of the few surviving remnants of John's Island's pre-development history. Once known as the Walnut Hill School, this one-room schoolhouse was originally built in 1868 to teach children of once-enslaved families on the island. Its first home was further
to the northeast, near River Road; but, threatened with demolition in the 1990's as Bohicket Road was widened to form the Parkway, it was moved to its present site by Seabrook Island native and historian, the late Betty Stringfellow (1921 - 2017), who turned it into a museum dedicated to the history of John's
Island. Now once again derelict, the old schoolhouse has so far avoided destruction but remains threatened.
Another reminder of John's and Seabrook Islands' educational history would hardly attracts a
second glance today, but played a crucial role in providing educational opportunities for Black children in the days before desegregation of public schools. It's a modest concrete-block section incorporated into the former Chez Fish restaurant on the Parkway, the structure once standing on its own as a Rosenwald school for African-American children named the Promised Land Elementary School.
Rosenwald schools were the result of discussions in the early decades of the 20th-century between
philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, then the president of Sears Roebuck, and Black educator Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee University in Alabama. The two men established the Rosenwald Fund and a matching grant model in which local African-American communities would supply the labor to build each school based on plans developed by Tuskegee faculty. Some five-thousand such schools were built throughout the South, including two along River Road in addition to the Promised Land school near Seabrook Island. Their purpose diminished by desegregation, only about ten per cent of the schools are still standing, so we're lucky to have this one small reminder of former struggles for educational equality.
(Sources for this post include Connie Walpole Haynie's "John's Island" (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and "A Place Called St John's", Elizabeth Stringfellow & Laylon Jordan (The Reprint Company, 1998)