The 1960s: A Tumultuous Decade in Education

Apr 2, 2018 by Contributing Writer on The Nickelodeon Blog
Dreher High School Yearbook, 1968

Dreher High School Yearbook, 1968

On April 10 the Nickelodeon celebrates the 50th anniversary of Frederick Wiseman’s High School,  a 1968 documentary filmed on location at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, as part of its nonfiction film series “For the Record.” In advance of the screening, Margaret Dunlap of the Walker Local and Family History Center at Richland Library considers the experiences of Columbia-area high school students during the late 1960s and local yearbooks as an important historical resource.

In August, 1964, 22 black children enrolled at previously all-white Richland District One Schools. A federal mandate to integrate the schools led to a school choice option that would permit black students to enroll in white schools, and vice-versa, if they chose. These few pioneers were encountering an educational system that had been built on their separation for almost a century. That same year most African American high school students in Columbia attended all-black Booker T. Washington High or C. A. Johnson High, whereas white students in the city attended Columbia High, Dreher, A.C. Flora, Olympia, Dentsville, Eau Claire, University High, and others. Over the next 4 years the school choice system gave way to enforced integration, with the student bodies of the previously all black schools and mostly white schools being mixed together in shared educational institutions. Redundant schools were closed or repurposed and redundant teaching positions were eliminated. Students were left to reckon, face to face, with a new social construction and try to get an education while doing so.

What was it like attending school in these years? In novelist Jim Grimsley’s memoir, How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood, published in 2015, Grimsley recounts the author’s school years during the 1960s in Jones County, North Carolina. First, he recalls the resistance by the white community, including himself, to allow black students to attend white schools. He witnessed the effects of the court-mandated desegregation of his school, with the resulting white flight of the affluent white kids to private schools and the entrance of a few brave black students to his previously all-white school. Grimsley, who was not from an affluent background and whose parents could not afford the private school escape route, recalled the first school days of his sixth grade year as two new black students entered his classroom. Grimsley, who had been raised to see segregated educational facilities as the natural way, grew to expand and change his world view as he came of age. He also began to question the authority that had created the old world he was leaving behind. By 1968 Grimsley’s school was completely integrated. With most affluent white kids long gone the remaining white and black students learned to adjust to the great social experiment that was their childhood.

In the Walker and Family History Center at Richland Library, a local yearbook collection allows anyone to look back through the years in our local schools. Several school yearbooks are also online in our digital collections. Follow the links to browse the 1967 Hopkins High School yearbook or the 1968 Dreher yearbook. If that piques your interest you can stop by the library to find the 1968 or 1969 yearbooks for A.C. Flora, Booker T. Washington, Dentsville High, Lower Richland High and Olympia High.

Booker T. Washington High School Yearbook, 1966


Dreher High School Yearbook, 1968


1968 Blue Devil:

1967 Eagle:

Margaret Dunlap
Walker Local and Family History Center
Richland Library