Greenville, South Carolina Historical Schools List

Sterling High School


Compiled and written by Ruth Ann Butler
The record of Sterling High School is that of struggle and triumph. It covers
a period of nearly seventy-five years.  Reverend D.M. Minus was appointed
to John Wesley Church in Greenville, South Carolina in the early 1890's, the beginning of a great work.  Rev. Minus was born in Colleton County, South Carolina, on June 15, 1848, of slave parents; his father was Elijah and his mother was Sarah Minus.  He was the oldest of thirteen children.  Minus was brought to Greenville to accomplish two things: John Wesley Church needed a new brick building and the children needed a high school in Greenville so they could prepare for life's duties without leaving their hometown.
Several churches in Greenville waited for Rev. Minus to establish a high school.  Finally an educational association was organized.  Each member was assessed a certain amount, an attorney was employed, and then a petition was presented to the Secretary of State asking for the privilege to establish such an institution.

After the charter was received from the Secretary of State in October of 1896, the trustees made arrangements with the officers of John Wesley Church to open the school in the lecture of the church. Rev. D.M. Minus was elected president of the new school called Greenville Academy.  It continued in the lecture room for two years, after which the school got too large for the room, and the trustees of the school bought the church.  The church invested money from the sale to build their new brick building on Falls Street.

Finally in 1902,  the trustees decided to sell the church property on Silver Hill and purchase land for the school outside the city limits.  Mr. B.M. McGee agreed to sell six acres of land, and Rev. Minus had to pay down a certain amount to secure  the land until he could get the help and cooperation of the trustees. Different individuals made donations.  For example, Mr. James Maxwell gave $5.00 to help meet the first payment.  Rev. Minus suggested the names of other good and influential white men, who, he thought, would accept a place on the board.  Every man that he recommended accepted.  Finally, he had seven of the best white businessmen in Greenville on his Board of Trustees.  Minus said that these white men taught him more practical business sense than he ever had.  Mr. James H. Maxwell was his endorser at the bank for twenty-five years.  He assessed himself $20.00 per year for the school and also had the black trustees assess themselves.

Mr. Thomas F. Parker made the largest donation to the school.  He erected a splendid two story building which was worth $2,500, and gave the school a fine mule at $250.
He also secured aid for the institution and had his bookkeeper teach Rev. Minus bookkeeping and how to balance the accounts of the institution each week. He also sent the president to Tuskagee Institute and a school in Durham, North Carolina, to see and study the methods of those great schools.
Mr. Parker also bought several acres of land around the school and divided it into lots and streets.  He named the streets for the President and Founder of the school, and also for the leading black men on the Board of Trustees.  Today these are Sterling, Middleton, Minus, Malloy, and Valentine Streets.  Parker sold the property only to black people, and gave them five to ten years to pay for it.  This created a complete town consisting entirely of blacks.

Mr. C. E. Graham was elected chairman of the finance committee.  He donated $100 to the school.  For eight to ten years he served as one of the white trustees of the school.  Captain James F. Mackey was one of the most useful members of the board of trustees.  He not only gave his time and experience to this institution, but also his influence, his means, and his best talent to help make the school a success.  Every year he donated $25 to the institution.

Mr. T. O. Lawton, the youngest member of the board of trustees, was by no means the least.  He donated $10 to the school annually.  Mr. T.P.Hayne was one of the most intelligent members of the board.  For several years he was the secretary of the Board of Trustees for the City Graded Schools, and perhaps was the most influential man on the board.  Mr. W.G. Sirrine, Attorney, rended priceless aid to the institution.

The black trustees were: Rev. D.M.Minus, President; Rev. J.B. Middleton, Chairman of the Board donated $280; Rev. N.D. Maloy ($150); Rev. W.G.Valentine ($10); Mr. A.B. Davis ($20); Mr. W.R. Sewell ($10); Mr. T.J.Bryant ($15); Mr.J.F. Cureton ($5); Mr. J.W. Johnson ($10); Mr. T.B. Simpson ($10); Mr. A.Tolbert and Mr. Jones W. Thomas,($20).

Several names were suggested for the school.  But finally it was voted to call it Sterling Industrial College in honor of Mrs. E.R. Sterling of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the lady who paid for Rev. Minus's college education at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina.  Rev. Minus said "Mrs. Sterling was a great woman and she deserved all of the honor we could bestow upon her for it will take eternity to tell the good she has accomplished for the uplift and elevation of suffering humanity."   Mrs. Sterling was consulted and finally agreed to have the school named for her, and she gave the first donation of $75.00. At this time she was 87 years of age.

The original building was designed and constructed by Mr. W.R. Sewell, one of Greenville's leading black contractors.  Later, it was remodeled, with additions, and a building especially designed for trades was added to the plant.

With such worthy men as Minus's associates and co-workers the institution continued to progress.  Rev. D.M. Minus will always be remembered as the first founder and president.

Due to the school's growth, Rev. Minus was asked to give up his ministerial work and devote all his time to the school at a salary of $50 per month.  He did this until November, 1913, when he resigned the presidency and returned to ministerial work.  He was succeeded by President Carey Jones. When he accepted another position, Sterling was forced to close for a short period.

In 1915, the Enoree River Baptist Association had bought four acres of land in the City of Greenville with a nine-room building, an orchard and city water. They changed the name to Enoree High School and Rev. E.C. Murray became the president, with Rev. E.E. Riley of Sececa, South Carolina the first principal.  It was a boarding school and had a very successful beginning.  His successor, Professor E.H. Trezevant, was the principal in 1929.  This school was operated for fourteen years.

In 1929, when the School District of Greenville County purchased the building for $2,518.39 and changed the name back to Sterling High School.  Sterling was the first black public high school in the county.  The board elected J.C. Martin as principal.  He remained only one school term.  In September, 1930, he was succeeded by Professor Robert L. Hickson, who caught the same vision as its founder. Under his 10 year leadership term, the reputation of the school was widely acclaimed, and the physical plant was expanded. The name Sterling High School became quite prominent throughout the country. During his administration the famous Alma Mater was written.

Alma Mater
Sterling High School, Sterling High School
Sterling High School, Bless her name!
Whether in defeat or victory.
We are loyal just the same;
So we'll cheer for Sterling High School,
And for her we'll fight for fame
And we'll sing her praises loud in every land
Sterling High School, Bless her name!
.... From 1940 to 1960, Prof. J.E. Beck was principal.  Mr. Beck was from Georgetown, SC. During his tenure, in 1949 the grades were extended from 11 to 12 years.  The curriculum was broadened to include many trade courses.   The Torch was published in 1942.  An extensive physical education program and various branches of science and secretarial training were added.
A 1949 graduate from Sterling High School, Dr. Thomas Kerns, later became the first African-American superintendent of the Greenville County School district serving from 1989-1994.  Sterling was admitted to the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges in 1953.  Going to the famous "Huddle" ( Soda Shop) became the pastime after school for the students.  The football games were played at Sirrine Stadium.  Baseball and Track took place at the Meadowbrook Park.  Sterling became an "AAA" school.

Sterling won many championships and awards in all areas of the educational system.  The Male Glee Club and Quartet were active from 1935-1960, under the direction of Wilfred J. Walker, Sr.  Singers from Sterling often won scholarships to college because of their talent.

In 1960, Rev. H.O. Mims became principal of Sterling.  Rev. Mims was a student, teacher, assistant principal, and then principal.  Under his leadership Sterling continued to grow. The School Board voted to renovate the building in early September of 1967.

On Friday evening, September 15,1967, the Sterling student body danced at a party sponsored by the Senior Class to raise money for the "Miss Homecoming" drive.  At 10:40 p.m. the disc jockey from WHYZ announced this warning over the microphone, "An emergency has occurred. We urge each of you to leave the building quickly and calmly as possible."  Immediately, the students filed out of the building in an orderly and calm fashion. Tears streaming down their faces, they watched the leaping flames engulf their school.  Firemen from the Parker District fought desperately to extinguish the fire. They remained on the scene well into the next day and returned from time to time throughout the weekend.

Although the physical plant is gone, fond memories of our school that served generations still lingers in
the hearts and minds  of scores of people near and far.

There were numerous pleas, petitions and even marches to encourage the Board to rebuild Sterling.  In addition to telephone calls and personal appearances before officials of the Greenville County School District, over one thousands parents and students signed petitions asking to keep the student body intact. Moreover, four-fifths of the student body marched on the County office protesting any hint that they would be disbanded.

Finally, the Board of Trustees agreed to house students on an interim basis at Greenville Junior High on Westfield Street, naming it Sterling Junior-Senior High School.  Mr. Luke Chatman became the principal in 1968.  He was the last principal of Sterling High School.

On February 17,1970, the School District of Greenville County was integrated and at the end of this school year there was no longer a school named Sterling.

A realistic portrayal of the development and growth of Sterling High School can be revealed only in an account depicting the diligent and faithful service of many dedicated teachers and the achievements and successes of the students who bring honor and glory to their Alma Mater.

The yearbooks were printed from 1942-1970. The mascot was the Tiger, and the Newsletter was named The Pinta.  In 1949 the 12th grade was added.

Sterling High School lives on, in those who walked its halls and benefited from the lessons taught within its walls. Meanwhile, with a large part of the older black population of Greenville County continuing to identify with the site either as former students or graduates.  Sterling High will continue to live on.

In 1988, the class of 1955, the first known class to form a combined class reunion, donated a monument and placed it on the site of Sterling High School.  It lists the names of the principals of the school.
Sterling High Notables Online: Jesse Jackson, Dr. Thomas Kerns, Alberta Tucker Grimes, LTC Paul Adams, Lottie Beal Gibson, Eskew Reeder, Jr., John Arthur Jones, Lillian Brock-Flemming, Xanthene Norris, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Theo Mitchell, and other influential Sterling graduates.

Greenville News Articles:

Sterling High Graduates Freeze a Moment in Time
Main Street statue honors Greenville's first all-black high school
Published: Monday, November 20, 2006

By Paul Alongi
Greenville News Staff Writer
Greenville City Councilwoman Chandra Dillard,
Sterling High graduates and friends gathered
Sunday to celebrate the unveiling of a statue
created in memory of  Sterling High School.

It's been nearly 40 years since Greenville's first all-black high school burned down, but the graduates aren't about to forget. Hundreds gathered Sunday at a downtown intersection steeped in black history to unveil a statue that captures Sterling High School students as they were before fire destroyed their alma mater in 1967. Captured in bronze are two students walking down a set of steps, looking hopefully toward the future.

The statue sits at Main and Washington streets, an intersection that's remembered as a flash point in the city's civil rights struggles of the 1960s.

Sterling-ites, we have a lot to be proud of today," said Thurman Norris, president of the school's alumni association. The statue, the first on Main Street to honor black people, sits in front of a building that once housed a Woolworth's. Before blacks were welcome, Sterling High students took a seat at the lunch counter, launching a movement that led to the integration of Greenville's public buildings. "It was the catalyst that changed our city," said City Council member Chandra Dillard, whose parents met at Sterling High. The school was founded as Greenville Academy in 1896 and burned during a time of racial tension. A fire marshal listed the cause of the blaze as faulty wiring, but many have considered the fire more suspicious. In the downtown intersection, now known as "Sterling Square," students used to stage civil rights protests, carrying signs that said, "You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea," Dillard said. The intersection is also where the Sterling High marching band would "show out," giving their strongest performance. Even now, many blacks return to the site to watch the city's annual Christmas parade, Dillard said. Just before a blue sheet was pulled off the statue, graduates stood and sang the Sterling High song, wrapping it up with "Sterling High School -- bless her name."

And the grads, many of whom went on to become community leaders, shrieked like teenagers at a pep rally.

Sterling High memories set in stone
Former masonry teacher helps school statue get a footing

Published: Friday, November 10, 2006

By E. Richard Walton
Greenville News Staff Writer

Former Sterling High School teacher Wilfred Walker, 94, lays a brick for a statue commemorating the school at the corner of Washington Street and Main in downtown Greenville. Alumni and staff look on.  Photo:

It was no coincidence that Friends of Sterling High asked Wilfred Walker to place a symbolic brick Thursday for the Sterling statue. Walker, 94, is the school's oldest living teacher, and masonry was among the subjects he taught at the school, long the only accredited high school in the Greenville area for blacks. The statue commemorating the school will be at Main and Washington streets and is scheduled to be unveiled Nov. 19.

"We gave kids as much exposure as we could," Walker said.

Walker said some of his students helped to build the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. Sterling, which was near St. Francis Hospital, was destroyed by fire in 1967. The Friends of Sterling spent two years raising $150,000 and commissioned artist Mariah Kirby-Smith to depict two life-size students, according to Chandra Dillard, a member of the group and a Greenville city councilwoman. The site is outside an abandoned building that used to house Woolworth's. Ruth Ann Butler, a Greenville historian, said the statue will give visitors a sense of the school's importance in Greenville's history. "The legacy of Sterling will live because of the statue," said Butler, a graduate.

Butler said the school was named after the late E.R Sterling of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who helped to finance the education of the Rev. D.M. Minus, the school's first principal.

Sterling High statue to be unveiled downtown
Published: Thursday, November 9, 2006
by the NEWS Staff

A dedication ceremony will be held for the unveiling of the Sterling High Statue Nov. 19 at 2:00 p.m. at North Main and Washington Streets. The art piece will be the first African American sculpture in the city, according to a statement from the City of Greenville. Prior to the dedication, Sterling High's oldest living faculty member, Wilfred Walker will lay brick at the site. Walker also taught brick laying at Sterling High and two of the men in charge of the construction project were his students.

The northwest corner of the intersection is where the old Woolworth's Department Store is located. Dozens of blacks held sit-ins at the store as part of the Civil Rights movement.

The sculpture depicts two life-size bronze figures of students taking a symbolic walk of confidence down the front steps of Sterling High.

More than 300 guests, many Sterling High students, will attend the dedication ceremony. For more information on the school and the upcoming ceremony and photo opportunity, call 467-5794.


School exhibit brings back 'Sterling' memories
By Kathy Spencer-Mention
Posted Sunday, August 29, 2004

Talk to alumni and teachers about Sterling High School and a floodgate of memories will open. Eyes glow, smiles form, laughter resonates.

It's always been that way. And it's no different today, although the school closed 34 years ago. "I remember how our teachers cared for us and insisted on our doing our best at all times," said Mary McKelvey-Welch, a 1954 Sterling graduate and the biology department chairwoman at Fisk University, where she has worked since 1967.

"I remember so many fond things," she said, including "the Cookie Lady." The Cookie Lady was a woman who lived near the school. She baked and sold cookies to students for roughly a penny a cookie, McKelvey-Welch recalled.

Sterling High was the first secondary school opened to blacks in the Upstate. It opened its doors in 1896 in West Greenville, was destroyed by fire in 1967, and graduated its last class in 1970, when schools were desegregated in Greenville. All that remains of the school's structure is its former gymnasium, which has become a recreation center, located on Jenkins Street.

But in the near future, Greenville residents will have another reminder of the school. Greenville City Council has voted to name the corner of West Washington and North Main streets Sterling Square, and a tribute to the school will be built there.

The Sterling High School Alumni Association is raising funds to erect two life-size bronze sculptures. Camden artist Maria Kirby-Smith has been commissioned to sculpt figures of two students descending steps that represent the school.

"It just breaks my heart that the building is no longer there," said McKelvey-Welch, who will be in Greenville next weekend to speak at the 50th reunion of the class of 1954. She learned to sew in a Sterling home economics class, gathered with classmates at the Huddle Soda Shop, and earned scholarships to attend college, thanks to the help of the school's teachers. Sterling was a school made of mortar and bricks, but the memories of lessons learned behind its walls and the love for faculty and teachers have evolved into a more enduring force. "Burned but not consumed" read a headline in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the building. Those words proved prophetic. Sterling's students have indeed kept its spirit alive.

Not a year goes by that doesn't include a festive Sterling High reunion, an alumni meeting, or an official gathering at the funeral of a faculty member or student. "You have to understand the role that these schools played in the community," said Abel Bartley, history professor at Clemson University and director of the black studies program. "In the African-American community, the school held a special place in that it would be a meeting place, a center of activity that you took a lot of pride in. Because, like schools today, it represented a neighborhood and the community." Also, because there was generally only one black high school in the area, there existed a special relationship between teachers and students, Bartley said.

"Teachers were not just teachers. They were role models. They were surrogate parents for the time they had those kids," he said. Rubye Jones, director of the Headstart program in Greenville, Anderson and Oconee counties, recalls the atmosphere at Sterling, where she taught from l956 to 1966. "We had somebody in that school who could touch every child's life," Jones said, "because there was somebody there that each child loved and respected." Dorris "DeeDee" Wright, of Salisbury, N.C., graduated from Sterling in 1960. She remembers Sterling as a place where she learned to love herself and gained the courage to participate in the civil rights movement to make Greenville a better place for all. "I talk a lot about Rubye Jones, but I so love her," said Wright, who grew up in what is now Jesse Jackson Townhomes as the daughter of a domestic worker.

"At that time, majorettes were chosen according to who your families were — based on the class system in our culture," Wright said. "But Rubye Jones saw beyond what people looked like and where they came from." Jones, who also served as faculty sponsor of the majorettes, tapped Wright as head majorette in 1959. "Becoming a majorette was really a turning point in my life," said Wright, retired executive director of the Community Service Council in Salisbury. "And I think, doing that, in retrospect, was a validation for me of who I was, and what I could do."

Recently, Wright donated to the Greenville Cultural Exchange Center a part of her majorette uniform. It's a symbol of her own strength, the school's impact in her life and the joy she experienced as a Sterling Tiger. It's one of many items included in an exhibit, "Sterling High School, Bless Her Name!", which is a line from the school's alma mater. It is also the name of a 1993 historical compilation of the school's history written by Greenville Cultural Exchange Center founder Ruth Ann Butler. Sewn in white thread inside Wright's majorette uniform is the name "DeeDee." "I sewed that," said Wright, whose mother eventually moved the family to New York. "We got new uniforms that year, and Rubye Jones said that I could have that one."

The Sterling exhibit opened at the Exchange Center on Saturday and will run through the end of November. "There are so many Greenvillians who attended Sterling," said Linda Murray of Simpsonville, whose idea it was to host an exhibit at the black history museum. "The people who have attended Sterling have contributed so much to the community," said Murray. "That's why I feel that Sterling is so important."

"Historically, not a lot of African Americans went to high school," said Clemson's Bartley. "And those who did were sort of a special group, and they knew they were special. If you graduated, you were even more special; that put you in a fraternity of people who had done things that others had not."

Many prominent Greenvillians once walked the halls of Sterling High, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Greenville Mayor Pro Tem Lillian Brock Fleming, former Greenville County Schools Superintendent Thomas Kerns, County Councilwomen Lottie Gibson and Xanthene Norris, state Sen. Ralph Anderson, and Greenville County Schools Trustees Leola Robinson and Grady Butler. Sterling was, and is, a place of significance not only because of the role it played in the lives of blacks, but because of its history in Greenville.

That's what led the City of Greenville to establish the downtown tribute, said City Councilwoman Chandra Dillard. "We realized that a piece of Greenville's history was missing," Dillard said. "So we set out to bring that history into a tangible form, through art, through a statue." Kirby-Smith, who created the likeness of Alester Furman in Greenville, Peg Leg Bates in Fountain Inn and Strom Thurmond in Edgefield, will sculpt the two bronze figures: a boy with a blue "S" on his vest and a girl carrying schoolbooks. The corner where the two will rest is where Sterling students waited to catch the city bus to school. It's also near the former Woolworth's, where many students took part in lunch counter sit-ins to protest segregation.

The total cost of the sculptures is $98,000, said Dillard, who serves on the Sterling Square Committee along with a biracial committee of community leaders. The Sterling Alumni Association and its president Thurmond Norris "have indicated that they want to be the major contributors of this, and I support that," Dillard said.

The committee is seeking to raise a total of $150,000 to cover the cost of a plaque at the square that will tell the significance of Sterling. The goal is to raise $40,000 by February and have the project completed by June 2006. Sterling alumni will be invited to purchase bricks to be included in a "Wall of Pride" at the site, said Dillard, whose parents met at the school.

"One of the reasons that I was so interested in this is because I know that I would not 'be' physically were it not for Sterling," she said. "But, also, I would not be here at Furman University, be on city council — just the opportunities that I've had — without the struggle of Sterlingnites."

Sterling paved the way for additional high schools for black students in the Upstate, including the former Washington, Lincoln, Bryson and Beck high schools, said Dillard, who is also community relations director at Furman, "so it's really honoring, not Sterling the building, but Sterling the spirit.

"Everybody benefited from integration, from the diversity that we enjoy," she said.

Much appreciation is given to Ruth Ann Butler and the
Greenville Cultural Exchange Center for providing text,

pictures and most of all, - guidance in this history project.

Please e-mail additional information or comments to Sterling Web Project.

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Please email additional information or comments to the
Sterling High School Web History Project.


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