The segregated and impoverished world outside the gates may not have been apparent to the new arrivals to Hilton Head. If they had looked, they would have seen a relatively new school building for young black students. The segregated Hilton Head Elementary School, limited to blacks, was built in 1954 as part of the South Carolina School Expansion Program that operated from 1951 to 1954. A new school building might have seemed to indicate a concern for a quality education, but improving the education of black children was not the driving force behind the effort. Indeed, many elected South Carolina officials and others of that era stated openly that they did not want a better educated populace because that might upset the low-wage labor market, and they certainly did not want a better educated black populace. Instead, money was being put into schools specifically to save a segregated system.

The brilliant legal NAACP litigation campaign led by Thurgood Marshall against segregated schools had been having success after success. The South Carolina governor and others wanted to preserve the “separate but equal” doctrine, but it took only a glance to see that black schools were seldom equal to white schools. Acting as if in panic, South Carolina started to put money into black school buildings in hopes of maintaining legal segregation. Not surprisingly, the initiative that on the surface seemed as if it were concerned with a better education, ended in the year that the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education holding that separate schools were inherently unequal. South Carolina and Beaufort County, where Hilton Head is located, fought integrated schools, and it was not until 1972, after my friend’s parents bought in Sea Pines, that the schools were integrated.

What existed outside the gates of Hilton Head resort communities when they were first developed was not just a segregated world, but also a poorly educated one. Before the new elementary school for black students was built in 1954, the kids attended one-room schools that dotted the island. It was not until that year that a black high school of any sort was available, and that was on the mainland. And since the bridge to the mainland was not yet opened, attending school on the mainland was hardly easy in 1954. Moreover, in the days of the one-room schoolhouses, the county only paid teachers to come to Hilton Head for three months each year. Perhaps by the time of Sea Pines development, children were being better educated beyond the gates than in previous generations, but all the existing adults had had almost no chance for a respectable education.

The Midwesterners, of course, had to have known of the segregated world they were moving into. Even the least socially and culturally aware people of the 1950s and 1960s had to realize a civil rights movement was underway. The migrants to Hilton Head, however, while well aware of segregation, may not have known about some of the work conditions on the island.

(Concluded on April 27.)

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