WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – In the heart of a West Columbia community lies a hidden treasure whose beginnings were birthed out of the dark history of segregation in the South, but its foundation is rooted in the resilience and successes of the harvest it helped yield.
Its unassuming presence and seemingly ordinary building was the safe haven which cultivated the young minds of Black children in the Brookland-Cayce School District – a place that alumni say instilled a sense of purpose and self-worth during a time when Black lives were undervalued.
And now the legacy of the former Lakeview School – a community cornerstone now affixed between North, Batchelor and Senn Streets – is sealed in South Carolina’s archives as the first historically segregated African American school to receive a state marker in Lexington County.
“I can’t tell you how elated I am. I really can’t. I’m honored,” said James Melvin, who attended Lakeview from 1960-1965.
With the addition of the “Lakeview School” marker, there are now four historical markers with important associations to African Americans in the county. The most recent and notable acknowledgment was bestowed in Batesburg-Leesville in 2019 recognizing the life and legacy of Sgt. Isaac Woodard, a World War II vet who was beaten and blinded by a White police chief in Batesburg after having been honorably discharged from the Army.
Members of the Lakeview Alumni Association say this dedication has been decades in the making and a long-awaited honor for an institution whose teachers and administrators helped shape their formative years.
“I’m just overwhelmed … it has been a 25-year pursuit to try to make this happen,” 1964 graduate Bennie L. Sulton said. “We’re so happy to get this marker because it will help preserve the history of Lakeview.”
And the current brick edifice is far from its humble beginnings as a modest wooden structure thought to have been built around 1925, 89-year-old West Columbia researcher and historian G.L. Locklear said.
After moving from Lacy Street in 1949 to its current location, additions to the original building were funded by the state equalization program, an effort to fund construction of schools for Black children to avoid desegregation.
But the world within the confines of Lakeview were vastly different from the realities of racism that awaited beyond the haven found within its structure.
“Schools like Lakeview were built and thrived despite the challenging socioeconomic conditions that were clear in that period,” University of South Carolina history professor Bobby Donaldson said.
“And I think even in segregation, the families in West Columbia and Cayce … they knew that Lakeview was a way out, a way up for their children and it served a critical role during segregation.”
‘THEY KNEW THE WORLD WE WERE GONNA HAVE TO FACE’
Peeping through the windows of his home, a home surrounded by a fence hand-built by his father to protect his family, Rev. Dr. Charles B. Jackson, Sr., then a child, could witness the harsh realities of racism in his West Columbia community, painful and vivid memories he still reflects on today.
“I grew up in Lexington County with the frightening experience of watching members of the KKK burn crosses in the field next to where we lived,” said Jackson, calling it a “painful experience.”
“We actually saw it … but we knew that it was a part of the intimidation.”
As children, they knew how to navigate within the parameters set by society. For the pastor of Brookland Baptist Church, it was not turning left upon leaving the driveway so as to not cross into the White side of the neighborhood, a path not welcoming to Black kids of Double Branch Road – even if it was the shortest distance to get to their destination.
Walking to school along the unpaved, dusty dirt roads, rain would often pool in the holes and crevasses on the ground, and as the school buses of White children road by, the wheels would kick up the mud and grime, splashing Jackson, who recalls being heckled and laughed at as they drove by.
Old textbooks and materials were passed down from the White schools, some still baring the etchings of students’ names.
“That’s all we knew,” 73-year-old James Melvin said.
However, teachers and administrators taught their students to never allow their situations to be an excuse not to learn, 74-year-old Sulton added.
“Our teachers told us, ‘if you read this book from cover to cover, you can compete with anybody, no matter if the book is a year old or two years old. You just learn everything it says.’ ”
It’s making a way out of nowhere and building inward, Donaldson said.
“Think about Lakeview producing young, gifted and Black students in that context. Even in stark segregation, African Americans understood all the impediments, social, economic, educational impediments around them.”
Love, compassion and discipline propelled the students of Lakeview forward, as well as a deep sense of self-worth and purpose reinforced by a curriculum of character and pride despite navigating seemingly insurmountable odds, the former students said.
“My first-grade teacher was named Ida A. Bull. She set the tone for the rest of my years as a very loving and compassionate disciplinarian,” Jackson said as he reflected on one of his earliest memories of attending Lakeview in 1958.
“The reason we could receive her discipline is because she had demonstrated to us how much she loved us, and the love was so obvious that it brought out the best in all of us.”
Lakeview has produced a distinguished class of alumni from executives, clergymen, physicians, lawyers, politicians, educators and a film producer – fulfilling their life’s purpose through sacrifice, service and leadership in spite of their humble beginnings.
“That’s why we call it the hallowed halls of Lakeview,” retired Diebold Nixdorf executive Sulton said.
‘UNITY IN COMMUNITY HAS BEEN RESTORED’
Tears of joy and gladness filled the eyes of the alumni of Lakeview as they walked through the halls of their former school, reminiscing on the memories of their past, said Jackson recalling the moment he and his classmates were reunited with what had always been dear to them.
It was a full circle moment for Jackson when Brookland Baptist Church purchased the former Lakeview School in 2007 amid talks of demolishing the old facility by district leaders – a move that would have erased their history and destroyed their legacy, Jackson said.
And while acquiring his former school was not on his radar, it was destined having always felt a sense of ownership over the precious possession that holds such fond memories and shared life lessons in the West Columbia community.
“Everything good that took place in our neighborhood, revolved around the Lakeview school. It was the hub of all activities,” Jackson said.
After years of educating the minds of Black children of Lexington County, the doors of Lakeview formally closed in 1968 when South Carolina public schools were in the process of integration, sending Black students to new schools in unfamiliar surroundings.
“After the school closed in 1968, we lost that spirit of unity. And we became distant from one another in the neighborhood. And that spirit of unity has now been returned in greater measure.”
The former Lakeview School is now the Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center, an epicenter of ”civic and cultural engagement” in the West Columbia community – a place revitalized and untarnished, but informed by its hallowed past where all are welcomed, its leaders say.
“The foundation, the legacy of the Lakeview School, has compelled us to be where we are today,” Executive Director of the Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center Dr. Cindye Richburg Cotton said.
From housing a community food bank, hosting after school tutoring, mentoring and athletic programs as well as the James B. Adams Senior Center – a place for elders in the community to gather and fulfill their spiritual, physical and emotional needs – Lakeview’s legacy continues to reverberate through the services and successes that operate within its renovated frames.
“There’s still a sense of service and a sense of education still at the BLEC and so much of what was there in the past,” Cotton said.
In fact, though still in its beginning phases after opening in 2018, the Lakeview Museum continues to be filled with artifacts from Locklear, alumni and members of the community who continue documenting the history of the former school, Cotton said.
And while its history has always been preserved in the hearts and minds of those who attended the school, generations from now, those who pass through the small West Columbia community will have a permanent reminder of the legacy of Lakeview School.
The once dark history of segregation has turned into a beacon of light.
“We are grateful to the Lord that unity in community has been restored,” Jackson said. “It has returned, and it’s an exciting time now around the school.”
The marker inscription reads:
This was the last site of a segregated school for Black residents of Brookland-Cayce School District with roots to at least the 1900s. First called the Brookland or New Brookland Colored School, it was located on Lacy Street by c. 1931 when it served grades 1-8. Grade 11 was added in 1938-39, making it then a 4-year high school with 4 initial graduates. In 1939, the community renamed the school “Lakeview” for its location overlooking nearby “Horseshoe Lake.” Lakeview left its wooden facility on Lacy Street in 1949, when the school moved to a new brick building at this site. A new elementary building in 1953 and other later additions were funded by the state equalization program, an effort to preserve segregation by upgrading the quality of African American schools. In 1968, the school district closed Lakeview amid efforts at desegregation. A year later, the campus was repurposed for the new Northside Middle School.
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