Tahliha Smith thrives on deadline pressure. She loves the rush of filing a story as much as she resents the stroke of an editor’s pen.
Smith, a 17-year-old senior at Burke High School, never thought she’d like being a journalist. Newspapers, after all, are “boring.”
“Very boring,” she clarified, without missing a beat, “because I, for one, don’t read newspapers. At all. Whatsoever. And they just seem so old, so old-fashioned.” Ouch.
Smith never signed up for Burke’s newspaper production class. In fact, neither did any of her classmates. Even their teacher, Lou Ann Brown, from the computer technology education department, was surprised when she was assigned to teach journalism this semester.
Yet three months later, with help from a veteran newspaper reporter, Brown’s class of about 15 students has resurrected the Parvenue, Burke’s historic student newspaper, after a decades-long hiatus.
First published in 1935 as Spotlight and renamed the Parvenue in 1941, Burke’s “guide to ideas and ideals” was an avenue for student expression on politics, policy and civil rights at the height of the Jim Crow era — in addition to school gossip and social events. The paper largely discontinued publication in 1983 when students from Charles A. Brown, Rivers and Charleston High Schools were merged with Burke’s.
In copies of the Parvenue, archived at the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center, student-columnists challenged segregation, demanded access to opportunity, decried communism and encouraged girls dating boys to exhibit stronger “moral standards.”
Rudolph “Rudy” Pyatt Jr., the first African-American reporter at The News and Courier and later a business columnist for The Washington Post, wrote for the Parvenue, as did Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie.
“People sort of dismiss students as sort of self-absorbed, uninterested in politics and here, (the Parvenue) refutes that notion,” said College of Charleston civil rights historian Jon Hale. “It also refutes the notion of an inferior education because it shows the political sophistication of the students. So it’s a really profound demonstration of student voice, student awareness and their work in the (civil rights) movement.”
The Parvenue now lives online at theburkeparvenue.wordpress.com. Its stories, a small collection of features and interviews, cover athletics, clubs, honor roll members and general student life at Burke. Lowcountry Tech Academy designed the masthead, featuring Burke’s mascot, a snarling blue bulldog. Principal Maurice Cannon even published a letter, recognizing the newspaper’s long tradition of chronicling “(student) trailblazers in the fight for equality of rights for African Americans in the Lowcountry.”
For the first issue, sophomore Etienna Wheeler wrote about the 4-H class’ chickens, roaming freely in the middle of Burke’s courtyard: “Unfortunately, one of them named Alex died,” Wheeler writes. “Miss Thompson is not sure how she died, but just knows that no one ate her.”
Senior Iesha Seabrook and sophomore Jervon Wright profiled undefeated Burke wrestler Santarion Frasier: “Currently having a record of 46-0, we consider him as a legend, but he doesn’t consider himself as a legend. Instead he calls himself a recordbreaker.”
Freshmen Angel Bryant and Nyirah Gore interviewed juniors and seniors about lessons learned at Burke.
“It’s not easy,” Bryant said, of her first foray into reporting. “It’s kind of hard talking to juniors and seniors because they are like, busy and more experienced than us.”
Steve Bailey, the students’ de-facto newspaper adviser, has been volunteering in Brown’s newspaper production class twice a week since January. A former columnist for the Boston Globe and editor at Bloomberg News in London, Bailey returned to his hometown of Charleston in August, determined “to make a difference.” He reviews the students’ pitches, edits their stories and stresses the importance of fairness and accuracy. Next year, he hopes the Parvenue will have a dedicated staff like other school publications.
“It’s more than a newspaper. It’s gotta be about the whole school,” he said. “We’re hoping to re-create this tradition that was here.”
Bailey admittedly hasn’t inspired any future journalists. Smith said she wants to major in computer science and start her own business. Seabrook wants to be a nurse. Bryant wants to be a fashion stylist. And Wright said he would consider reporting only if his engineering career doesn’t pan out. Regarding journalism, he said, “it’s pretty easy to me.”
But like Bailey, the students are excited to build upon the Parvenue’s legacy. Wright said he hopes the publication will make the entire school “feel special.” Seabrook said she’s not afraid of any critical online commentators. And Bryant believes the Parvenue tells a different story about Burke.
“Bringing back the Parvenue, I think is a big thing for Burke because of all the negative attention that we actually get and people not believing in us,” she said. “We’re not just a school that goofs around and (has) fighting. We actually learn and do something and we’re just like the other schools. We can succeed like everyone else.”
Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.