The Charleston County School Board opened C.A. Brown High School in 1962 as part of its “equalization” effort, aimed at avoiding having to racially integrate schools.
But despite the unsavory reason for building the school, C.A. Brown became a nurturing and stabilizing force on the city’s East Side, said Louester Robinson, dean of Trident Technical College’s Palmer Campus. That campus sits on the site of the former high school, which closed in 1982.
Trident Tech, the C.A. Brown Alumni Association, the Eastside Neighborhood Association and the Preservation Society of Charleston celebrated the legacy of the high school Thursday by placing a historic marker on the campus. This year marks 50 years since the school opened.
The event was part of the Palmer Campus’ annual Spirit Week, which included a day Thursday to focus on the East Side community.
Robinson said that before C.A. Brown was built, all black students who lived on the peninsula attended Burke High School, which was overcrowded.
The school district built C.A. Brown as “a last-ditch effort to remain separate but equal,” she said.
“That’s the elephant in the room we don’t like to talk about,” Robinson said, “but we’re talking about it.”
Aurora Harris, community outreach manager for the Preservation Society of Charleston, said between 1951 and 1962, the school district opened 25 new schools for black students. The equalization effort ended in 1963 and the district began the process of integration, she said.
The high school was named after Charles A. Brown, who was white and chairman of the school board. Brown died while the school was under construction. His son, Charles A. Brown Jr., attended the unveiling of the marker.
Alumni of C.A. Brown were focused Thursday on celebrating the life of the school and its contributions to the community.
Retired Air Force Gen. Henry Taylor, a 1967 graduate of C.A. Brown, spoke at the ceremony. He was there, as an eighth-grade student, the day the school opened.
He said many successful people, including doctors, lawyers and educators, graduated from C.A. Brown, and he thanked the teachers who worked there and “grew an Air Force general.”
Robinson, who researched the life and history of C.A. Brown High School as a diversity scholar for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, agreed with Taylor on the important influence of teachers.
They were an extremely important part of the black community in those years, she said. They nurtured students not only academically but in all aspects of their lives.
“They groomed us like Motown singers,” she said, teaching students how to speak and dress properly. “They taught us we were going to go somewhere, but when we got there, we would be on stage.”
Joey Washington, a 1980 graduate and president of the school’s alumni association, said graduates are fiercely loyal to their alma mater. “We are determined to keep our legacy and the spirit alive.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.