Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School & Education Center
900 Dunbar Street
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The Myrtle Beach Colored School served African-American students in the Myrtle Beach area for more than 20 years. Now, a new Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center provides a window on that past, as well as a door to the future for all. Thanks to leadership from the City of Myrtle Beach, vision from former students and a partnership among public and private entities, the old school has been preserved in spirit and recreated in fact and continues to fulfill an educational mission.
The original four-room, wood-framed Myrtle Beach Colored School opened in 1932 as a product of segregated times. Previously, African-American students were educated in local churches, since they could not attend the official “white” schools. Having a school to call their own was a great advancement and source of pride, and the Myrtle Beach Colored School fulfilled a vital role in the African-American community during that period of transition and growth.
The need for the Myrtle Beach Colored School was eliminated in 1953 with the opening of Carver Training School. No longer in use, the old schoolhouse served as a warehouse for a while, but eventually languished in the heart of the neighborhoods that it once served and fostered. Yet former students never forgot their class time there, even when the building itself, untended and unpainted for two decades, had become an eyesore. They wanted to preserve this tangible piece of Myrtle Beach’s past and, with crystal vision, could see beyond the building’s now-shabby outward appearance to its essential role and function as a cornerstone of the community.
As early as 1978, a group of former students tried to save the school, but the task of buying property and raising restoration funds was too great. In 2001, when the building’s days truly were numbered by an imminent road-widening project, the City of Myrtle Beach answered their call for help. City Council appointed former students, community representatives and other interested parties to a newly created committee charged with the task of saving the school. Council also provided $10,000 in “seed money” to help the committee with fund-raising.
Unfortunately, as everyone discovered when the old school was surveyed, the building itself could not be saved. Time and weather had taken their toll, and the wooden structure had deteriorated beyond salvage. Even if the committee could find the money to restore the original, it was in no condition to be moved from the site. With this option gone, the City of Myrtle Beach contributed $27,000 and the South Carolina Department of Transportation added $10,000 to deconstruct the building and store the pieces in a donated warehouse until funds for a new building could be raised.
With the site of the old school about to be halved by the new road, Burroughs & Chapin Company, Inc., offered to donate a site nearby, less than two blocks away, where a new “old” school could be rebuilt. This land donation, valued at $93,000, along with City Council’s pledge of up to $350,000 in construction money, gave the former students hope that their dream might be realized. Toward that end, the group renamed itself the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center Committee, as proof of its intentions.
The former students were adamant about two things. First, they believed the school should retain its original name. To them, it had always been the Myrtle Beach Colored School, and they were unconcerned with whether that name might be uncomfortable or politically incorrect. Segregation was wrong, but it happened, and changing the name now was an unthinkable act of revisionist history. Second, they strongly believed that the school should continue to serve in an educational capacity. It wasn’t enough to create a museum to the past; the new building also should provide a service to the community.
With the city’s help and guidance, the committee’s efforts succeeded. The Horry County School District agreed to contribute $120,000 for the project and to base its Myrtle Beach-area adult education programs in the school. Centex Homes, one of the nation’s largest residential developers, committed nearly $200,000 worth of labor and materials to the project and actually built the structure. The city even received an $11,000 matching grant from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control for an innovative grass paving system to use for the parking area, so that the historic look and feel of the structure would not be compromised by contemporary asphalt. Construction finally began in 2005, and the historic building opened to applause and joyful tears on June 24, 2006.
SCHOOL BEGINS AGAIN
Thanks to the contributions and teamwork of many individuals and organizations, both public and private, the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center is a point of pride for everyone in Myrtle Beach. One of the rooms literally is a museum to the school and its students, now senior citizens, who take turns staffing the museum and welcoming visitors. They are thrilled to tell the story of their old school, as well as the story of their new school. Artifacts from the school and the period are on display, and a reference library of African-American history is available to the public. The museum is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Monday Wednesday and Friday.
Much of the rest of the building is used by the Horry County School System as the site of its adult education programs for the Myrtle Beach area, as well as by Horry-Georgetown Technical College for some of its continuing education classes. The original Myrtle Beach Colored School may not have had computers, but the new one does. Also sharing space in the building is a grassroots non-profit group called “A Father’s Place.” This local organization gives non-custodial fathers access to the resources and tools they need to be good parents.
The former students of the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center Committee contributed to the fundraising, too, thanks to a cookbook of traditional Southern recipes. The city assisted with the design and publishing of the cookbook, which made its debut at the building’s 2006 ribbon-cutting ceremony. The 164-page book has been well received, with more than 1,200 copies sold, and is now in its third printing. Funds from cookbook and notecard sales have helped to furnish the museum, buy reference materials and pay for an official historic marker at the site of the original building.
The Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center is a tangible example of how citizens, neighborhoods, businesses and governments can work together to preserve the historic record and create new opportunities. The new old school is a functioning part of the community and a proud addition to the neighborhood. You couldn’t ask for a better recipe for community partnership and public service.