The Original History Is Credited to the Late Ms. Pearl Leola Lawrence McClease,
Interviewed by Ruth I. Carson in 1998
Those of us who continue to "Lift happy voices, praises unfold...." honoring Wilson High School’s Purple and Gold should know that there is no mistake about the spelling of WILSON. Why the problem?
Public high school education for Blacks in Florence, SC had its beginning in 1866. A school bearing the name of Jillson was named for Republican Justis K. Jillson, who was from Massachusetts and was elected State Superintendent of Education. His term in office was filled with defeats because of his liberal views. However, he served until 1876. A school bearing his name did operate in the Black Creek section of Florence near Central Baptist Church. The school was called Jillson School. The late Mrs./Dr. Iola Jones and Mrs. Annie Teal Robinson Davis (aunt), were teachers.
Wilson was named for the late Mr. Josh Wilson, a Black Post Master, in Florence and the father of the late Dr. Roscoe Wilson.
In 1866, Dr. W. F. Holmes became principal (Holmes Elementary School was named for him.) The first records of Wilson School were recorded on November 1, 1869 when Mr. J.E. Wilson was principal. In 1866, Dr. W. E. Holmes became principal.
Records also revealed that as early as 1869, there was a public school for Black children on the corner of Palmetto and Dargan Streets. The school housed the children of the recently Freedom Foundation. According to a recorded statement in "Little Red School House Revisited", the school which some Florence historians say was named Wilson, for the late Mr. J. E. Wilson, a Black Post Master serving in Florence, continued on this spot until 1906, when the building was razed (the corner of Palmetto & Dargan) to make room for the new “Central Graded School for White children". The same report indicates that "a new school for Blacks, Wilson Graded School, was built in 1906 at the corner of Athens and Fraser streets”. A conflicting article appeared in the Florence Morning News in the 1970's and stated "In 1913, the Negro School on the corner of Palmetto & Dargan Street, built in 1904 by the Freedom's Bureau burned. Wilson Elementary School was then constructed to take its place.
A more recent article appeared in the local newspaper indicated that Wilson High School was originally located on Roughfork Street. Again, this is not true. Teachers who were a part of the faculty are available to attest the location of the school in 1939 report that Wilson was not rebuilt in 1939. Due to the increase in enrollment, in 1906 Wilson was moved to Athens street site. It was the only High School in the Pee Dee area and served students within a 25 mile plus mile radius (including Effingham, Pamplico, Johnsonville, Hemingway, Marion, and Claussin).
The teaching principal from 1866 to 1906 was the late William Francis Holmes of Charleston, SC. The location of the high school is where Poynor now stands. The first class of six graduated in 1900. Some of the pioneers who graduated and or studied under Prof. Holmes are as follows: the late Dr. Arthur A. R. Howard, Roscoe Wilson, Dykle Wilson, the Green sisters, Susan & Ida Lee; the Teal sisters, Laura, Lucy and Annie; children of the late Rev. C. R. Brown, Henry, Theresa, Jumbo, Washington, Corrine and Clarence.
Prof. Holmes left the educational scene, entered Maharry Medical College and returned to Florence where he practiced medicine and supported public education until his demise.
Prof. Walter Singleton (1907-1918) followed as principal. During his tenure, graduates included Maggie Bates Porter of Latta; Camille Levy; Fannie McCleese Coker; Henry, Johnny, and Eugene Miller; and Dr. Howe, a dentist. Another school in that area which, like Jillson School, was a feeder school to Wilson School was Red Hill School. Red Hill School was located in the vicinity of the new WHS. The teacher principal was Mrs. Laura Teal McCleese Lawrence, who had done similar service in the Savannah Grove community along with the late Mrs. Augusta Mullins Gandy and the late Mrs. Ila Mae Hunter Herbert.
In the meantime, little or nothing is recorded about Black public education in other sections of Florence County, namely, St. Beulah, Tans Bay, Palmetto Pamplico (Gibbs), Aimwell, and Mars Bluff.
Prof. Walter Singleton was followed by Prof. George Pegues (1918-1923) of Seneca, SC. The first class to graduate just prior to his death in 1923 was Thelma McClain, the late Marian Wise Miller, Hosea Burnette, and Edith Eaddy. Following Mr. Pegues was the late Prof. John W. Killingsworth (1923- 1927). During his administration, the first football program was started. Students who excelled in the game were: Mr. Andrew 'Hoss' Huggins, Eston Williams, Capt. Joseph Jones, Daniel Montgomery, James McBride, N. Karl Green, Fred `Jazz' Sexton, Fritz Buster McCants, Thinel Anderson, and Herman Pam. Coaches Included; Mr. Cunningham, a math teacher from Mississippi, Mr. Colclough, and Mr. Reid. As they left Wilson, great things continued to happen.
Prof. (Rev) Felix Alexander Kurtwright (1927-1928) of Atlanta, Ga. was principal for two years. He was followed by Prof. Leonard E. Davis (1928-1938), of Jacksonville, Fl. and Charlotte, NC.
Wilson became an accredited high school during Davis’ tenure. He also added a school band, the first in the State in a secondary school with a prepared band leader/director, Mr. Andrew Royal, a graduate of Claflin College, with a degree in music. Through Mr. Davis, an activity's bus was made possible. He also instituted a well organized/trained choral club with Mr. William R. McIver as Director. (Mr. McIver, a Florence native was a graduate of Fisk University and had been a performer with the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers.) Miss Clemmie Strother and later Russell Nichols were pianists. Coaching responsibilities were in the hands of Proctor Jordon of Charleston and eventually James A. Miller of Clarke College, who eventually became the principal of Holmes Elementary School, (the first Florence native to be hired in Florence District #1.) The second and third were William R. McIver and Andrew A. Huggins, who later became Head Coach.
Male athletes who made names for themselves and the community were; Walter 'Snook' Alston, George `Hustler' Dennison, Jake `Chair back' McClain, Alexander Washington, Horry Mack, Leo 'Cow' James, Thinel Hines, Abraham Steward, and Chester Harrell.
Prof. Lloyd F. Buckner followed Prof. Davis. He was a graduate of Clafflin College. Coming to Florence in 1931 to teach science, he made commendable impacts on students in chemistry and physics. He was the first Black to complete the requirements for the masters' degree in chemistry in nine months. In 1936, Mr. Buckler was made supervisor of science in the Florence school system. In 1937, he became assistant principal attendance of Wilson High School, and in 1938 supervising principal of colored schools. He remained until 1942 at the Athens-Fraser site. In addition to what has been revealed about former greats in sports at Wilson, it is important to note that the late James Lawrence and the late James `Hum' Rowell were stalwarts in football and continued their prowess at Benedict and A & T Colleges respectively. K. P. Richardson, Jollie Alston, Dr. Robert Dawson, Dr. Prince Williams, and George Wilson were also well known atheletes.
In Girls’ Basketball, the late Mrs. Tressie Boyd Perkins, James A. Miller and Andrew Huggins can never be forgotten for the tremendous contributions in the development of sportsmanship and character building. Players who were developed by them included: Mary Coker, Effie Flowers, Annie Mae Rainey, Alice Robinson, Mattie Hill, Omega Stackley, Josephine Thomas, Etta `Piano' Flowers, Magnolia James, Geneva Grant,, Essie Myers, Georgiana Wright, Lillian `Hun' Johnson, Marion Burgess, Melvenia McFarland, Esther McFarland, Catherine Hickson, and many others.
In 1942, Dr. Gerard A. Anderson became principal of Wilson High School and remained until 1966. During his tenure, Wilson grew to new heights. Championships were won in sports, the school size grew, and great things happened. In 1943, the last mid-year term graduation was held. 1947 was the last year for 11th grade graduation. There was not a graduating class in 1948 due to the fact that the 12th grade was added to the school system. 1948 was the first year to have a 12th grade graduating class. In 1950 Wilson received its initial accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
In the fall of 1954, ground was broken for a new school located on North Irby Street, and in January, 1956, the Grand March took place to the "New Wilson". The `Old Wilson became Wilson Jr. High School. The class of 1956 was the first graduating class at the 'new' school. However, the class of 1957 was the first full year class to graduate over 100 students (105).
Mr. James D. Hammond as principal for one year (1966), followed by Dr Luns C. Richardson (1966-1967). Then came Mr. Robert A. Durant who served from 1967 until 1974.
Mr. Allie Eugene Brooks, Jr., a 1964 graduate of Wilson, became principal in 1974 and has remained to present He has served his Alma Mater well.
Under his administration, Wilson has made its mark in the city of Florence, the state of South Carolina, and the nation of the United States. Mr. Brooks has been an excellent administrator and leader for his students and their parents. Wilson has been recognized for its excellence in education (Academic) and extracurricular activities, including all sports, the chorus/choir, and its Alumni Association. There are Alumni Chapters in Florence (home), Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, Washington/Maryland, and one soon to be organized in Atlanta, Ga. We, the Alumni, are very proud of our heritage and as our Statement of Purpose states:
"TO CONTINUE THE LEGACY OF EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION, BUILDING CHARACTER, PROMOTING COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND SUPPORTING WILSON HIGH SCHOOL BOTH FINANCIALLY AND PHYSICALLY".
WHSAA History Florence Chapter
It is known that Wilson Alumni started meeting in 1972. That year a dance was held along with other weekend activities. The dance was held in the gymnasium of WHS on North Irby Street.
We have very little information about the meeting, but we have confirmed these officers:
- President – John Wesley Miller
- Secretary – Bettye Law Hennigan
The Organization (WHSAA-FC) began with a meeting called “All Wilsonians” at Williams Jr. high in 1978. The officers elected were:
- President – Saul Jones
- Vice President – Lawrence A. Hawkins
- Recording Secretary – Mary Singleton
- Corresponding Secretary – Mary Hines Taylor
- Treasurer – Albert B. Hines, Jr.
A planning committee was also created.
In 1979, the first reunion was held at the Landmark Resort Hotel in Myrtle Beach, SC on July 6-8th. The speaker was the late Rev. Dr. Wescott A. Johnson. We give credit to this reunion to the late Collins Swinney and Saul Jones. Returning to Florence, we closed with a “BLAST” at Ace’s.
The Florence Chapter was really moving. There was “No Stopping Us Now”! The next affair was held at Myrtle Beach on July 24-26, 1983 (again at the Landmark Resort Hotel). Officers were:
- President – Saul Jones
- Vice-President – Henry Earl Moses
- Recording Secretary – Lawretta Redden McFadden
- Treasurer – Ernest “Motto” James
- Planning Committee Chairperson – Lawrence A. Hawkins
During 1979 – 1983, there was much growth in membership. The speaker in 1983 was Dr. Martha Jean Adams Heggins. It was during this time that we fondly remembered one of us, the late Collins Swinney. We closed out the weekend in Florence by celebrating at Jack’s on West Sumter Street. New officers were elected after the 1983 reunion.
To plan for the 1987 reunion, the members put their organization in the hands of the following:
- President – Lawrence A. Hawkins
- Vice-President – Andrew ‘Neboy’ Thompson
- Recording Secretary – Annette Martien (Carol Greene)
- Financial Secretary – Bettye Law Hennigan
- Treasurer – Miriam Thomas Downs
- Co-Business Managers - Larry A. Johnson & Leroy McClain
Our speaker in 1987 was Rev. Hezekiah B. Johnson, Jr. The reunion didn’t end until we returned to Florence and left our footprints at Jack’s.
This was a new day with new officers, and our membership was growing.
Our president, Lawrence Hawkins, secured the charter for the Wilson High School Alumni Association on June 30, 2987.
We had a very successful Gospel Extravaganza at WHS. It was spear-headed by Terry Law.
The year 1991 was here and we were again hosting at the Landmark Resort Hotel, Myrtle Beach SC. The dates were July 12-14th. Our speaker was Rev. Dr. John W. Heyward, who was introduced by his sister Peggy Heyward Farmer.
Officers for the 1991 reunion were:
- President – Lawrence A. Hawkins
- V. President – Andrew ‘Neboy’ Thompson
- Recording Secretary – Carol Greene (Ruth Carson)
- Financial Secretary – Bettye L. Hennigan
- Treasurer – Miriam T. Downs
- Chaplin – Henry E. Moses
The reunion in Myrtle Beach in 1991 has everybody talking. We had mesmerized the Wilsonians and others with a dynamic play, “The Trip” – a comedy in one act by Crystal V. Rhodes. The cast was dynamic. Each person matched the part they played and did a terrific job. The cast consisted of Bertha Hines Wilson, Ruth Carson, Lawretta McFadden, and Annette Martien. The director was Maggie Wallace Glover and the assistant director was Ava Martein Greene. What a reunion! A Good time was had by all. We closed the weekend in Florence at the Universe on Palmetto Street.
The reunion officers for 1991 led us up to 1995. Our speaker was Senator Maggie Wallace Glover. Little did we know that this would be our last gathering as Wilsonians at the Landmark. But somewhere a little voice was whispering, and we heard the sound as this was the year we started Sunday Morning service, on the beach. Our first speaker was Dr. John “Jack” Heyward. We ended in Florence with a ‘romp’ at Bentley’s, formerly ‘Jacks’ on W. Sumter Street.
We elected new officers in August, 1995. To carry us through the new millennium, we elected:
- President – Larry A. Johnson
- Vice President – Marion Johnson
- Recording Secretary – Ruth D. Carson
- Financial Secretary – Lawretta R. McFadden
- Tresurer – Elizabeth Muldrow Thomas
- Chaplin – Helen Johnson
- President Emeritus – Lawrence A. Hawkins
- Chairperson of Correspondence – Annette J. Martien
The slate of officers have been busy, also the committees. We started meeting monthly, every 1st Sunday.
Since 1995 our membership has more than tripled. We started celebrating Wilson Homecoming annually, with a weekend that has been very successful, an annual “Tiny Tots Extravaganza & baby Contest” that has showcased the talents of our children.
Our Homecoming weekend consists of attending the Homecoming game, where the first year (1996) attendance exceeded 7000 persons, the largest crowd ever, and has increase every year since.