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Reviving Goodwill

The school in Mayesville, South Carolina, once had a prominent space in the community’s heart. A group of alumni are working hard to renew its mission.

The board of directors for the Goodwill Educational and Historical Society Inc meets at the school that produced at least 32 PC(USA) pastors. Goodwill Parochial School closed in 1961 following the Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling that ended school segregation.

It’s 1 p.m. at the Sumter, South Carolina, Shoney’s and getting to the lunch buffet requires you to run a gauntlet of book club gatherings, family lunches and on-break construction workers, all of whom seem to be politely squeezing past each other in the antechamber or at the salad bar, “thank you, sir-ing” and “yes, ma’am-ing” to beat the band.

It’s tricky to plan lunch here. It’s usually packed. Sometimes the yams are a hit; sometimes, not so much — not enough sugar for some folks’ taste.

But on this day, the effort is worth it as six members of a committee working to continue the legacy of Presbyterian-supported Goodwill Parochial School have gathered to tell that history to a reporter.

The Goodwill Educational and Historical Society is on a mission to renew and revitalize Goodwill Parochial, a two-story wooden schoolhouse about 15 minutes outside of Sumter in Mayesville, population 550, and the town where groundbreaking Black educator Mary McLeod Bethune was born.

Goodwill Parochial closed in 1961, a result of the Brown v. Board of Education decision seven years earlier that racially segregated and separate schools were inherently unequal.

Just like in many small, close-knit towns, it seems everyone at this day’s gathering is either related, dated someone related to another board member, or – in classic Presbyterian fashion – has far flung mutual friends.

The “do-you-know?” game can take a while …

“You know a man they call T-Bone?”

“T-Bone Crawford? I been knowing T-Bone.”

And they’ve “been knowing” each other, also. They all grew up in the Mayesville community; all attended Goodwill Parochial School and Goodwill Presbyterian Church. Some are family – board members Ellaree Hampton and the Rev. Carnell  Hampton – are siblings.

Goodwill Parochial was the space that brought all of them together every school week from first through ninth grade, and Goodwill Presbyterian Church was a binding tie on Sundays.

All but one board member attended Goodwill through ninth grade, from the 1950s until the county shut down the Presbyterian school and sent the students to the new, county-owned Eastern High School in eastern Sumter County.

It was a move that was inevitable, as states lurched through integration. It was a move that has these sons and daughters of the school and church pondering ways to restore and rebuild what was lost and beloved.

But it was also a move that knocked out one of the three pillars – church, school, community – that gave the community its strength.

The Church

Reverend Carnell Hampton is a graduate of Goodwill Parochial School and is one of more than 30 PC(USA) pastors whose foundations are in this Mayesville, South Carolina, school and church.

You must first understand their roots in the soil that borders the Sandhills, Lowcountry and Pee Dee areas of South Carolina.

The story begins with Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, which sits about two miles from Goodwill Church, on Brick Church Road in an area once filled with plantations and farms that produced cotton, tobacco and timber.

The original church in the area, Salem Black River is a stately, Greek Revival brick church – hence its nickname “Brick Church” – with four substantial columns, sitting back from the road in a glen that’s home to no-see-ums – pesky blood-sucking gnats – and tree frogs.

Unlike the no-see-ums — it’s impossible to miss.

To understand the resolve of a school and church that served post-Civil War, newly emancipated Black Christians and prospered through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Great Depression, you must understand their roots … those enslaved during the pre-Civil War era, and during the war, attended Salem Black River, along with the White landowners.

As in many churches of the time, they were “along with,” not “alongside” the White members, relegated to a segregated balcony.

Salem Black River, however, took it a step further: a unique interior of facing balconies, with a separate outdoor entrance.

“I’ve never been in a church where you couldn’t get to the balcony from the inside,” says the Rev. Hampton.

It was a design that was perhaps based on fear.

In an area where the enslaved outnumbered the planters and farmers, the worries of rebellion ran high, perhaps because of the slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey in Charleston, not so far away.

So those who were enslaved and on plantations and farms on the church’s south side sat in the southernmost balcony. Those from the north side used the other. Separate doors, separate entrances to God’s house.

After the end of the Civil War, as Reconstruction took hold in the South, the newly emancipated decided the time had come to step out on faith and move ahead with their own worship plans. In 1867 – just two years after the ratification of the 13th Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery – 100 Black members of Salem Black River requested to leave the church. They wanted their own space of worship.

Salem Black River granted that request, and the former members walked the two miles to a two-acre site that had been donated by the owner of Coldstream Plantation.

The School

The original Goodwill Day School was set inside the original church building. By 1872, more than 350 children were learning their numbers and letters, and Goodwill School was considered among the most successful of several parochial schools in South Carolina supported by the Presbyterian Church.

What is lovingly known as “The Old School Building” was built in 1890 and, between support from the denomination, from community and congregants, thrived.

And the school continued to hold its place of prominence, despite a 1932 decision by the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. – the “northern church” – to cut financial support of schools under its umbrella.

Board member the Rev. Johnnie Monroe isn’t sure how that was possible. The denomination’s funding never came back, and Goodwill was not a state-supported school.

“But they kept that school going,” said Monroe, now retired and living outside Philadelphia in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. “The local church and the area around it kept the school going.

“I remember the school bus, the coal to heat the building — I’m not sure the members were able to do all of that, but that school kept going. It’s likely they had other sources of local income.”

And it continued, right until 1961, when Goodwill closed its doors, and the last of its students were sent to the new Eastern High School, a public school in Sumter County which – although public and post-Brown – still was technically segregated. All the students were Black.

The high court’s ruling was a step in righting one of the myriad systemic wrongs placed upon Black lives: integrated schools had new books, for starters and state money for trips and conferences.

But Goodwill and other majority-Black schools offered something that state money couldn’t buy.

The Community

Black schools, alongside the church and the communities, formed a three-pronged support system. Children were known because teachers not only taught in the community, but they lived there — and often were related to the students. Some went away to school – many to Morris College in Sumter – but came back to the Mayesville community. Many people attended Goodwill on Sundays. This circular journey cemented a decades-long relationship between the college and the parochial school’s staff and families, which continues today.

And the structure cemented a life of faith and community.

“Every morning, we’d gather in the chapel and have a devotion,” Ellaree Hampton says in her quiet voice. “The teachers were concerned about the education, but they looked after our entire wellbeing, emotional, physical … the teachers were dedicated.”

“You had reinforcement,” said the Rev. Richard Dozier, who attended Goodwill school. “Your teachers were also in church with you on Sunday. And sometimes, they were your cousins, your aunts …”

“You had [support] from the community, church, school. Those three institutions really worked together.”

“We had teachers who cared about the whole person,” the Rev. Hampton said. “We lost that when integration came about. Teachers had a genuine concern about the whole student.

“[But] with integration, teachers were working for the pay, not for the whole student.”

There are nods around that Shoney’s lunch table.

“Academically, before the schools integrated, and you were a young man with good abilities and academic skills — the other guys looked up to you,” said Rudy Wheeler, an educator who attended Goodwill. “You could wear that like a badge. But it seems that somewhere down the line that guys who were academically proficient were looked down upon.”

And they began hearing a new phrase: “We would hear people say “you were trying to act White,” he said.

Ellaree Hampton, who taught in the integrated school systems, said she wouldn’t go to the teachers’ lounge because she’d hear the White teachers talking about the Black students.

“Before integration,” the Rev. Dozier said, “the teachers would listen to you and your stories.” He recalls a student who was upset one day, throwing desks. The teacher called the principal, who was Black. And the principal sat down and talked to the student.

The student was having trouble at home, and he had come to school hungry.

“We knew teachers who knew our story,” Dozier said.

The tripod of church, community and school had expectations of everyone, “and you didn’t want to disappoint them,” Hampton said. “Whether it was to be a pastor, a teacher, a farmer — the school expected students to have a plan, and the church did, as well.”

Challenges to the church today

But support of the church has become more of a struggle, also. With church attendance down across the board, the smallest churches suffer the most. In a community such as Goodwill and Mayesville, people leave the area at higher rates than those moving in.

“Many of our churches are losing members, even as small as they are,” Monroe said.

And the involvement across generations has shifted. Younger Black adults report being “less engaged in Black churches than older generations,” according to a 2023 story in The Hilltop student newspaper of Howard University. The reduction is noticeable. And a Pew Research Center study shows 46% of Black Gen-Zers and 49% of Black millennials say they never or rarely attend religious services.

“A lot of people don’t understand the role the Black church played in the lives of Black people,” Monroe says.

“A lot of people don’t understand the role the Black church played in the lives of Black people,” Monroe says.

“Many people made it because of the church. It was the center. And people don’t remember the history.”

The Pew study states there is agreement that Black churches have been extremely valuable in the fight for racial equality, and survey numbers show that about 75 percent of Black adults believe the Black church as an institution has played a role in seeking equality.

“That so many Black Americans worship in Black congregations – and value their role in seeking equal rights – suggests that preserving them as institutions might be a high priority,” according to the Pew website.

The goal

The actual Goodwill schoolhouse was built in 1890. Walk up the schoolhouse steps and through the newly painted robins-egg blue rooms, you’ll find a cast-iron stove for heating, stacks of heavy cast-iron-legged desks, and a chalkboard that, although on the newer side, brings up a vision of reading, writing, ‘rithmatic and the scent of chalk dust.

The stove likely hasn’t been moved since it was dropped where it is now — despite decades of hurricanes and tornadoes.

In the back, footsteps fall on aged but sturdy hardwoods, and the back door looks out into a peaceful space of soft grass bordered by tall trees.

“We had teachers who cared about the whole person,” the Rev. Hampton said. “We lost that when integration came about. Teachers had a genuine concern about the whole student.

The board of directors meets here, hooking up a conference call in one room, spreading snacks on a table in the next. They’ve been working diligently and graciously sharing with guests to turn the old school building into a community and cultural center, a hub of multi-generational educational and social opportunities in the quiet countryside.

Through grants, community support and Goodwill Educational and Cultural Society membership, the board has been able to make needed repairs and add a security system to protect the school and the 17 computers that have been installed through a partnership with Morris College in Sumter.

The computers can be used for high schoolers doing research, or younger children who need extra help in math or literacy skills, and anyone who wants to improve their tech savvy can come take classes. The Head Start educational center that sits between the church and the school could also benefit. The school can be used for events such as reunions. The idea of grandparenting classes has taken root. This multigenerational space intentionally draws inspiration from days not so long ago, when interaction between age groups was simply a way of life.

And there is the possibility that Goodwill can become a lab school for students majoring in education at Morris College. The board also hopes they can work with history majors at Morris to teach the history of the community, the church.

But there’s the hurdle of finances. Restoring and maintaining a historic building is costly. Updating it to safety standards — costly. Keeping programs going — costly. For a larger church with deeper pockets, restoration and upkeep might be a drop in the bucket, or a write-off for several members. For a small church, the budget is tight.

This year has been one of movement, however. Along with updates, the computers and a security system, the board received a grant to hire a consultant who will take them through the next steps of fundraising, public awareness and support.

Wheeler, the one Baptist in the group, is here partly by way of his work at Morris College (he is a liaison between Morris’s information technology and education departments and Goodwill) and his one-year attendance in first grade.

His mother taught in Clarendon County but after his only year at Goodwill, he began going to school with his mother because a new school opened that was closer to his mother’s job. It was different there.

“They had indoor plumbing and water,” Wheeler says. “Indoor, running water.”

“What he’s telling you,” Hampton said with a laugh, “is we had an outdoor toilet, so we had to go down to the branch.”

That’s not necessary any longer. There are two bathrooms on site, and inside, and they work just fine.

The past wasn’t that long ago

Goodwill Presbyterian Church

Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, from which Goodwill congregation sprang, isn’t far, only a couple of miles past fields of four-o’clocks – sunflowers, as they are more commonly known – densely packed, seemingly holding on to each other, and it takes a moment to adjust to their beauty, gold petals reflecting gold sun reflecting gold petals in the late-afternoon glow. It is impossible not to pull over to the side of the road for a picture. There are no cars to be seen or heard. The air is fresh.

Despite the silence, or perhaps because of it, the swarm of cicadas is close to ear-piercingly loud. Tree frogs add an occasional croak. Crickets, not quite overpowered, also have their songs to sing.

Without a plat map, there’s no way to tell, but it’s entirely possible these exact fields had once been nourished by sweat pouring from a Black person’s body. It is entirely possible that a mother made an escape plan and fled from these fields. How many people prayed for what lay beyond the horizon?

Salem Black River Presbyterian Church cannot be missed. It sits in a solemn grove, a gravel drive curving toward the steps. Today, it holds services twice a month.

The Goodwill community is known for the large number of PC(USA) pastors who grew up in the church and school – 32 at last count – and one Methodist pastor. Monroe, Hampton, the Rev. Warren Lesane and, at one point, the grandfather of former PC(USA) Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson Jr., who was school principal and pastor of Goodwill Presbyterian.

Nelson returned to this road a few years ago, to march in solidarity with a congregation that gave so many their foundation in a shifting world.

And, oh yes, the yams were good on that day.