Among them are the forebears of the PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk and the leader of the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic
June 8, 2023
A dedicated board of directors is redoubling efforts to draw attention to and restore the Goodwill Parochial School building, now known as the Goodwill Cultural Center, in east Sumter County, South Carolina.
The school, founded in 1867 and constructed around 1890, was closed when combined with another school in the early 1960s and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. For decades, Goodwill Parochial School, with support from antecedents of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., a predecessor of the PC(USA), educated thousands of African American children whose parents and grandparents had not long before been freed from enslavement.
“We have forgotten so much that the Black church has done over the years,” said the Rev. Dr. Johnnie Monroe, who chairs the board of directors of the Goodwill Educational and Historical Society Inc. “The Presbyterian Church used to have elementary and junior high schools throughout the country, particularly in the South. … It was at the Goodwill School where we learned Black history, dignity and self-respect.”
The board is actively fundraising to complete the restoration work envisioned for the school, which still stands despite the challenges of time and hurricanes, including Hugo in 1989. Monroe notes that the grandfather of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was pastor of the nearby Goodwill Presbyterian Church in Mayesville and the principal of the school.
The Rev. Warren Lesane Jr., executive and stated clerk of the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic, is a product of Goodwill Presbyterian Church, one of at least 32 Presbyterian ministers who can claim that heritage. He also attended Goodwill Parochial School for a time.
“It gave Black Presbyterians their identity amidst social and economic struggles,” Lesane said. “That school and church gave me a sense of identity and dignity and a willingness to take the hard stands that are sometimes contrary to the larger community. It’s a unique place.”
“The school and the community, the school and the church — they were intrinsically tied together,” Lesane said. “There was not the separation of the three institutions the way we see in our larger society.”
A recent board meeting held via Zoom proved to be informative. The Rev. Richard Dozier, a retired pastor who served the Goodwill church for about five years following his retirement, said his board service stems from “trying to give new life to the old schoolhouse.”
“I owned the home next door,” said DeeDee Bevan. “I am here to support this organization how best I can.”
Deloris Pringle, a native of Sumter, is providing grant services to the organization. “This project is very dear to me,” Pringle said. “I look forward to them getting the kinds of funds they need to restore fully the old Goodwill School.”
Rudy Wheeler grew up in the community and attended Goodwill Parochial School “as did older family members. I became a teacher and coach and a school administrator. My goal is to work with the community and the cultural society in any way I can so the old schoolhouse can become a landmark and provide service to the people of east Sumter County.”
During that same meeting, board members also discussed the work before them, including the installation of bathrooms and wireless internet. Pringle updated board members on local, state and federal grant opportunities.
As Monroe notes, the Goodwill School “is perhaps one of the only Black Presbyterian schools of that era still standing, and we feel it is a testament to the work of the Presbyterian Church among, to and with African Americans. In a time when our government is seeking to erase Black history, I believe the Goodwill project will stand as a monument to the rich history and culture in that era.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Restoration of the Goodwill Parochial School building
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